Treeless Oakmont offers new look, but remains difficult

  • Golf
  • Saturday, 11 Jun 2016

Jun 5, 2016; Dublin, OH, USA; Jordan Spieth tees off on the fifteenth hole while the crowd looks on during the final round of The Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

(Reuters) - Oakmont Country Club will offer a similar test at next week's U.S. Open as it did in 2007, barring any late changes, Golf Channel analyst Frank Nobilo said after visiting the course this week.

In other words, the course in the rolling hills of western Pennsylvania will be tough, very tough, with the winning score likely again to be over par.

Thousands of trees, more than 14,000 by the club's count, have been removed over the past couple of decades to give the layout a more expansive look and offer spectators sweeping views of the undulating terrain.

But the tree removal programme should not significantly change the way the course plays.

"From what I saw and who I talked to it's almost the identical set-up to 2007 where 285 (five-over) won," Nobilo told Reuters.

"Fairways are similar width, and there are three cuts of rough, perhaps a touch more generous on the first cut.

"I also noticed was a slight difference around some of the bunkers where it was no longer deep rough ... (which should) allow balls to run in the bunkers as opposed to hanging up on a down slope."

Oakmont is invariably an exacting test, but is it really the most difficult championship course in the world? Phil Mickelson thinks so.

"I think it's the hardest golf course I've ever played, and because of that, I'm looking forward to this year's Open," said the six-times Open runner-up.

As is usually the case at the U.S. Open, accuracy off the tee will be paramount to avoid the punishing bunkers and rough, but that is only the first piece of the puzzle.

Approach shots must be judged precisely to set up birdie chances. The undulating greens are expected to be lightning-fast, running at 14 on the stimpmeter.

The putting surfaces most likely will be firm, barring torrential rain. Target golf this is not. Leaving approach shots under the hole will be paramount.


Defending champion Jordan Spieth believes the bunkers will prove to be the toughest part of negotiating Oakmont.

"These bunkers here may as well be bunkers in the UK (United Kingdom)," he told reporters after playing the course last month.

"They may as well be pot bunkers. You just kind of have to hit sideways out of them for the most part. They are very much hazards."

Spieth said, however, that he would not need to hit driver on many holes, which theoretically at least should make it easier to stay out of trouble.

Perhaps the most famous feature of Oakmont is the 'Church Pews' a long bunker adjacent to the third and fourth holes that is dotted with 12 grassy mounds, which look not dissimilar to church pews from a distance.

Famous bunker though it might be, the 'Church Pews' is not necessarily the most difficult on the course.

"The Church Pews actually potentially could play as easier (bunkers) compared to some of the others, depending on where you go on them," Spieth said. "But it's mainly just a chunked sand wedge out and play the hole in with a stroke penalty."

But do not think that Oakmont cannot be tamed. Though Angel Cabrera won with a five-over 285 total in 2007, the preceding four Opens there produced under-par winning totals.

A score of five-under was carded by Ernie Els in 1994, four-under by Larry Nelson in 1983, five-under by Johnny Miller in 1973 and one-under by Jack Nicklaus in 1962.

The Open was played at par-71 for those championships, but at par-70 in 2007 and it will remain a par-70 test this year at a total distance of a little over 7000 yards each day.

Spieth would happily sign now for an even-par 280, a total he thinks more likely than not will win.

"What a great test of golf and a very tough but fair test," he said.

"I'd sign for even par right now for 72 holes, given the history, but also having played it."

(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)

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