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The U.S. Open kicks off this week and while this event is always the toughest of the majors, this year’s has the added difficulty of being played at the notorious Oakmont Country Club.
In 2007, the last time the U.S. Open was held at Oakmont, Angel Cabrera won with a score of 5-over. While going low is rare at the U.S. Open in general, to hear the players describe the course now, it sounds like this year’s winner could finish even further over par.
Rory McIlroy recently called Oakmont “unbelievably hard.”
Phil Mickelson recently played some practice rounds and add that he thinks Oakmont “is the hardest golf course we’ve ever played.”
There are a number of factors that make Oakmont so difficult. Below we take a look at the most menacing aspects of the course.
The rough is U.S. Open worthy.
It’s the U.S. Open, so the rough is expected to be, well, rough, and Oakmont is not going to disappoint.
During a recent practice round, Justin Thomas posted a video to Instagram that shows how unforgiving the rough will be. While simply dropping the ball, it almost completely disappears in the Oakmont rough. Now imagine a shot from 200-250 yards hitting this rough on the fly. Just finding the ball will be hard. Hitting it will be darn-near impossible.
The greens are like an ice skating rink.
But the toughness of Oakmont doesn’t stop with just U.S. Open-level rough. Oakmont is just as famous for its unforgiving greens.
Sam Snead once joked that the Oakmont greens are so fast, his ball-marker slid away.
Rickie Fowler posted a clip to Snapchat over the weekend, showing a slow-moving putt roll past the hole at least ten feet, and it is still going when the video ends (via The Big Lead).
There is no water, but there are plenty of hazards that are mentally more challenging.
- Chris O’Meara/AP
Oakmont doesn’t have any water hazards of the traditional variety. There are no lakes or streams running through the course. But as the New York Times notes, there are ten holes where drainage ditches can come into play.
Those drainage ditches, which are considered “water hazards” under the course rules, are described as “quirky and vexing,” and some are waist deep.
Since water is not normally present in these ditches, players must decide if they want to try and save a stroke by playing the ball from where it is. But as Oakmont’s course superintendent told the Times, that can be worse.
“Mentally, golfers get tricked,” said Zimmers. “They think: ‘Hey, my golf ball is right there. I can get a club on that.’ But trying to play it out creates all kinds of havoc.”
However, that’s if the ball can be found. As this photo above of nine people looking for Mickelson’s ball during the 2007 U.S. Open shows, the fescue that is growing in these ditches can make a ball simply disappear.
Oakmont has one of the toughest opening stretches in golf.
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Golfers are not going to have the luxury of easing into their round as the first three holes on the course are as tough as they come.
It starts with a long par-4 (~490 yards) that comes with a narrow fairway. That is followed up with a shorter Par-4 and then the Par-3 third hole that has a tiny green that will leave many in the rough.
“There’s no easing into your round here,” says seven-time Oakmont club champion Curt Coulter told Golf.com. “If you get through the first three at one-over, you’re feeling like a king.”
Hitting into the Church Pews Bunker is like hitting into a water hazard.
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Maybe the most famous element of the Oakmont course is the Church Pews Bunker that lines the left side of both the third and fourth holes.
The bunker is 100 yards long, and because of the strips of grass that are perpendicular to the fairways, hitting in between the “pews” leaves most golfers with only one option, to hit the ball sideways and back onto the fairway.
Here is a better perspective on just how deep the bunker can be when the grass is grown out.
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The course has over 200 bunkers.
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The Church Pew Bunker is the most famous of Oakmont’s bunkers but it is not alone. There are over 200 bunkers on the course and they look hungry.
Check out the green at the Par-4 No. 17 above. The hole measures just 313 yards in length, which means a lot of golfers will be tempted to try and drive the green. But if the ball doesn’t stay on the green, it is almost certainly going to be swallowed alive by one of the bunkers.
Even landing the ball on the fairway can lead to trouble.
As if the threat of an unforgiving rough, hidden ditches, and tons of bunkers isn’t bad enough, just landing the ball in the fairway is no guarantee for safety.
While it is often difficult to see on television, Oakmont’s fairways can be narrow and they can be sloped, pushing unsuspecting balls toward the previously mentioned disasters waiting to happen.
In this aerial view of No. 14, we can see most of these elements, including a sloped fairway, lots of bunkers, and a fairway that narrows near the landing spot of most drives, about 270 yards from the tee box. What makes this even worse, is knowing that this is actually one of the “easiest” holes on the course.
In other words, expect to see a lot of reactions like this one this week.
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