TOUGH YEAR IN THE MAJORS
CLASSIC OLD CHAMPIONSHIP VENUES WILL TEST THE BEST IN 2016.
Three of this year’s majors go to venerable championship venues laden with history. No newcomers like Chambers Bay or fancy modern layouts ( Whistling Straits) in 2016. Old- fashioned classic designs – Oakmont, Baltusrol and Royal Troon – will test today’s fearless young brigade of aggressive, long- hitting players. These are courses where par has been ercely protected over the decades.
In 2015 we saw a 72-hole score of 20- under- par win the PGA ( Jason Day at Whistling Straits), and 15-under take the Open (Zach Johnson) at St Andrews. Chambers Bay proved more di cult during the US Open, with Jordan Spieth winning on 5- under, but that had much to do with the complexity of the greens.
Oakmont, which hosts a record ninth US Open in June ( its 12th major), is one of America’s greatest courses. It has never been out of the top 10 in Golf Digest’s ranking of America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses, and it is a championship layout par excellence.
The US Open was first played there in 1927, and since Ben Hogan’s win in 1953, no decade has gone by without a visit by the USGA to this course outside Pittsburgh in the eastern United States. Other champions include Jack Nicklaus ( 1962), Johnny Miller ( 1973) and Ernie Els (1994). And the winning score at Oakmont in the last seven decades has always stayed in a tight band between 279 and 285. In fact, the highest score came in the most recent US Open, that won by Angel Cabrera in 2007, when the par was reduced from 71 to 70, and +5 was the winning score. The 36-hole cut was made on +10.
Narrow fairways, deep rough, nearly 200 bunkers, drainage ditches, slick greens, plus hot and humid conditions, will ensure that competitors again face another penal challenge at Oakmont.
Interestingly, when Els won his rst US Open at Oakmont as a 24-year-old, beating Colin Montgomer ie and Loren Roberts in a playo , it was a heavily treed layout. But the club then went on a treefelling programme to return the course to the way it used to look in older days, and also improve turf conditions: As many as 5 000 trees were removed. Oakmont at the 2007 US Open bore no resemblance to the course where Els had triumphed in 1994.
While it has been only nine years since the last US Open at Oakmont, the game has changed tremendously in the interim, as have the chief protagonists. Of the current top 10 players on the World Ranking, only Jim Furyk and Bubba Watson were prominent in 2007. Furyk finished one behind Cabrera, and Watson was T-5.
Royal Troon, on Scotland’s west coast, which hosts its ninth Open Championship in July, has thrown up some surprise one- time major winners in recent decades – Americans Todd Hamilton (2004), Justin Leonard ( 1997) and Mark Calcavecchia (1989). Hamilton and Calcavecchia stumbled on to those majors through good play and fortune on the nal day, with Ernie Els and Greg Norman virtually giving the titles away through errors of judgment. Both ultimately lost
Royal Troon, like the Old Course at St Andrews, is a pure out-and-back links. The prevailing wind sees the front nine usually played downwind, and the back nine into the wind is a ferocious test. It’s nearly 3 500 metres long, with just one par 5 for the Open. Nick Price’s stumbling play over the closing holes cost him the 1982 Open, when he was pipped by Tom Watson. The winning score that year of 284 was the highest at Troon among the Opens played since the Second World War.The lowest was the 272 by Leonard in 1997. Bobby Locke won his second Open at Troon in 1950.
Troon has one of the most famous holes on the Open rota – the Postage Stamp par-3 eighth, with an incredibly narrow green. A seat in the stand at this hole will provide grand entertainment. EARLY DATE FOR PGA This year, because of the Olympic Games, there will only be a one-week window between the Open and the US PGA Championship, which is played in the last week of July on the Lower Course at Baltusrol. The PGA of America is also celebrating its centennial
Situated in New Jersey, a short drive from Manhattan, it’s one of the oldest championship venues (listed on the national register of historic places in the US), having held its rst US Open in 1903. Both the courses at Baltusrol were designed by A W Tillinghast.
It was a regular US Open site until 1993, when Lee Janzen won, but the USGA had no immediate plans for another Open after that, and the PGA muscled in, having their 2005 championship there. That was won by Phil Mickelson, who had the lead, or share of the lead, in every round.
Baltusrol was always regarded as one of the easier US Open courses – the 72-hole scoring record was broken by Nicklaus in his Open victories there in 1967 ( 275) and 1980 ( 272). Nicklaus opened with a 63 in 1980. Janzen also shot 272 to equal the record in 1993. The reason for the low scoring was the paucity of deep rough. The installation of sprinklers in the rough meant a tougher layout for the 2005 PGA. Mickelson opened 67- 65, but the weekend scoring was high, and two closing 72s saw him home with a total of four-under 276.
The final cherry on the cake this year in terms of golfing highlights will be the Ryder Cup, being played at Hazeltine in Minnesota. The Americans, unlike the Europeans, take the Ryder Cup match to established major championship venues, and Hazeltine has hosted four majors, two US Opens and two PGAs, the most recent being the 2009 PGA won by Y E Yang. Not only did he become the rst Asian to win a major, but Yang set the seal on Tiger Woods’ eventual demise.
Woods was ready to claim his 15th major that week. He was the leader on his own through the rst three rounds, and the odds on him losing from that position were high. He had never lost a major when leading after 54 holes. But Yang, who was playing with Woods, didn’t go away, and took the lead with an eagle two on 14. Yang played better than Woods over the closing stretch, clinching the title with a birdie on 18, and Woods was never the same again after that.
SCOTLAND OPEN Royal Troon will host its ninth Open in 2016. The first hole flanks the shore of the Firth of Clyde.
US OPEN SITE Penal bunker complexes are a feature at Oakmont.
PGA VENUE The par-3 fourth hole at Baltusrol.