Traditionally, the US Open is billed as the game’s ultimate golfing test. With good reason. The course set up by the USGA demands a layer of strategy and respect that is way above that which most touring professionals would ever bring to their normal weekly routines.
The fact that Oakmont is hosting a record ninth US Open this week should give you some understanding of the status of this notoriously difficult Pittsburgh venue where legends such as Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazan, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus have been crowned champions.
It’s a seriously tough golf course, one which demands that all aspects of your game — your driving accuracy, your distance control with the approach shots, your short game and most especially your long range putting — are on top form.
But if the 2007 form-guide is anything to go by (just six players finished better than 10 over par for the tournament), we can safely assume this week’s test will be as much about a sound strategy, endless patience and no shortage of character.
With Oakmont offering so much by way of penal bunkering, demanding pin positions and greens that are expected to stimp out at a head wrecking 14, it will be fascinating to watch the players determine the different play strategies, for their ever-changing environment, especially later on in the week.
On almost every hole, every day there could be a difference of opinion, with each player deciding a strategy that best suits their game strengths in the hope that their tactic is the one that works best.
For the likes of Day, and more especially Spieth, that may mean sacrificing distance for accuracy over the likes of McIlroy, who won’t want to curb his natural aggression, as there is a great advantage to be gained at Oakmont from hitting shorter spin controlled approach shots to the green. However he must use his brain in order to keep his ball competitive. Being out of position makes a recovery shot almost impossible; being in the right position only gives you a chance.
So expect the players to be constantly concerned with where to miss especially on putting surfaces that are so large, so fast and so challenging that three-putts will be plentiful, even from a seemingly good lie.
With temperatures forecast to be in the high-70s to mid-80s with a 60% chance of showers today and Friday and a 90% chance of some storms tomorrow, the weather could well determine the level of difficulty of the course. But you should have no doubt that everyone would prefer a softer and more pin-receptive test even if that means tougher pin positions and tougher rough.
So don’t be too surprised to expect the terms “brutal” and “the toughest test I have ever played” to be trotted out regularly in interviews this week from the mentally drained players coming off the course. They should know to expect no sympathy from Mike Davis or the USGA as they regard the US Open as being the ultimate test to challenge a player’s physical and mental skills. The better players have a tremendous advantage this week because they are the ones accustomed to staying calm and to executing their game plans in the most pressurised of environments.
They will understand that Oakmont has the capacity to take every player out of his comfort zone but it will also reward those who have the strategy, the skills and the bravery to win on a course that undermines every decision you make.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved