The road to the U.S. Open, Part Three - Championship preview

Posted June 12, 2016 - By Mike Dudurich,
Freelance writer and host of The Golf Show on 93.7 The Fan Saturday mornings from 7-8 AM
Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeDudurich

Arnold Palmer & Jack Nicklaus at Oakmont Country Club in 2012. Palmer and Nicklaus are the honorary chairmen of the 116th U.S. Open.

Golf fans around the world are in for a treat this week.

The 116th U.S. Open will be played at historic Oakmont Country Club for the ninth time, the most of any club in the country.

The reason for that?

"The USGA wants the U.S. Open to be a tough, rigorous test," said USGA executive director Mike Davis. "We want it to be the ultimate test in golf. We believe this national treasure here at Oakmont really will identify that week's greatest golfer."

Davis refers regularly to Oakmont as the gold standard for U.S. Open venues and players like Jordan Spieth have called it not only a very difficult golf course, but perhaps the toughest course in the game.

The treat? We're getting to watch the great players in the game today try to beat an old-school, classic course that has no problems kicking butts and taking names later.

History is Oakmont's middle name. Some of the greatest golfers to ever swing a club have won U.S. Opens here: Tommy Armour, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Ernie Els, to name a few.

And that provides a great backdrop for the proceedings, but that's all it is, a backdrop.

But the stage is now set for the great players of today to shine and take their place in the history of one of the great clubs in the world.

When the first players tee off next Thursday, they will find a golf course mean, brutal, unforgiving and one of the great challenges theyíll ever face.

It certainly won't be the longest at 7,219 yards. But it's not all that far behind the longest, Winged Foot in 2006 which was 7,246. The greens and suffocating rough will make for a long four days without a great deal of controversy. It's an in-your-face kind of golf course.

Most of the players who came in early to get a look at Oakmont have said it's one of those courses that's right in front of them with no tricks.

"It is very severe, and to me, I'll thoroughly enjoy playing the Open here," Adam Scott said. "Itís not a course I'd want to play every day of my life, because it is so difficult. But that's what the U.S. Open is all about. It definitely holds up its reputation."

When the Open was held here in 2007, Oakmont had four of the top nine and seven of the top 20 toughest holes on the PGA Tour that year. That shows what it can be, but despite the best efforts of John Zimmer and his staff, the weather will determine how the course plays.

If it stops raining regularly, the course will be hard and fast like it was in 2007. But if it doesn't, the course will remain soft, the greens will become much less fearsome and the players will take advantage.

And who might be leading that assault? That's a very good question, one without a clear-cut answer.

Professional golf is in this wonderful place where there is no single dominant player. Rather, there are a handful of very good players: Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler.

All are supremely capable of winning a U.S. Open but only Spieth has done so.

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Oakmont is a course that demands long, straight drives and putting with the touch of a jewel thief.

There is no better putter in the game than Spieth, but his driver has been problematic in recent weeks. Day has been an intimidating driver. McIlroy had a complete game his soccer-playing mishap took a chunk of his season a year ago. He's still putting it together.

Watson's length will be a help, but he'll absolutely have to find a way to get those big hooks and slices into the fairway. Fowler is the low man on this totem pole because of his recent play, but two years ago, he finished in the top five in all four majors, for whatever that is worth.

It should be noted that Oakmont has also produced a few lesser-known champions, including the most recent one, Angel Cabrera. So it's not out of the realm of possibility for someone like that or an older player to come from nowhere and win like Cabrera did.

Candidates? How about Phil Mickelson completing the career Grand Slam by winning his first U.S. Open? There couldn't be a more popular winner than Lefty at Oakmont.

The United States Golf Association prides itself in presenting golfers the most thorough examination of their game in the U.S. Open. Many, including defending champion Jordan Spieth, believe Oakmont to be the ultimate of those examinations.

"I know that Oakmont is in the rotation and I know if you win a U.S. Open at Oakmont, you can go ahead and say you've conquered the hardest test in all of golf, because this is arguably the hardest course in America day today," Spieth said. "Normally this is the hardest U.S. Open, at least what history shows. That would obviously be a tremendous honor. Any time you win the U.S. Open, you've won the hardest test in golf that year, but this is potentially the hardest test in all of golf."

Regardless of the weather, the firmness of the course and any other factor, this is the U.S. Open we're talking about. It's annually one of the great sporting events in the world.

We are blessed to be in the Open rotation that brings this massive event to western Pennsylvania every nine or 10 years.

The heavy lifting has been done. It's time to enjoy some world-class golf.