Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Con­tents - By David Owen

21 years af­ter play­ing at Oak­mont, I’m still de­mor­alised.

AS, Oak­mont Coun­try Club be­gins to bring its greens into com­pli­ance with the ex­act­ing cham­pi­onship stan­dards of the United States Golf As­so­ci­a­tion – by slow­ing them down. That’s what the club’s mem­bers mean when they say that if you want to see the course when it’s truly chal­leng­ing, you have to visit not dur­ing the US Open but dur­ing the men’s mem­ber-guest. I be­lieve them. I’ve played Oak­mont just once, in 1995, and I don’t care if I never play it again. “We like to pun­ish the mem­bers and trau­ma­tise the guests,” the club’s pres­i­dent said 15 years later, when I was still re­cov­er­ing from my round. Shortly be­fore I played Oak­mont, I watched high­lights from the pre­vi­ous year’s US Open, which Ernie Els had won. The fair­ways dur­ing that tour­na­ment were so rm that tee shots seemed to run for miles, and I was look­ing for­ward to hit­ting a few boomers of my own. But rain fell steadily for days be­fore my visit, and on the few oc­ca­sions when I hit a fair­way my ball ei­ther splashed or plugged.The rough was like kelp, and the club’s no­to­ri­ous drainage ditches, whose ap­par­ent pur­pose is to turn not com­pletely ter­ri­ble drives into dis­as­ters, were worse.

Sur­pris­ingly, the drench­ing seemed not to have a ected the greens. Pitch shots ric­o­cheted, like bul­lets bounc­ing o of Su­per­man’s chest, and I never got used to the speed. On one hole, my cad­die told me to stroke a very slightly down­hill 30-foot putt “like a three-footer” – by which he meant a one-footer on a nor­mal course. I gave my ball the fee­blest of taps and watched it roll 10 feet past the hole. “Good putt,” he said. I made one mirac­u­lous birdie (on the 17th, a very short par 4) but no pars, and hardly even any bo­geys. Most of my hole scores were like the un­dead demons in “Game of Thrones”: dreaded Oth­ers.

Wil­liam Fownes, whose fa­ther cre­ated Oak­mont in 1903, once fa­mously said, “A shot poorly played should be a shot ir­re­vo­ca­bly lost. ”The Fownes es’ goal was to build a course that would de­mor­alise nearly ev­ery­one who played it, and suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions of mem­bers have em­braced that prin­ci­ple.The US Open has been played at Oak­mont more of­ten than on any other course, and it’s easy to un­der­stand why, be­cause the masochism of the club’s greens com­mit­tees has been a good match for the sadism of the USGA.The last time the US Open was played at Oak­mont, in 2007, there were just eight rounds un­der par – and two of those were shot by the even­tual win­ner, An­gel Cabr­era, who nished at ve over.

In the minds of some play­ers, ex­as­per­at­ing dif­fi­culty is the high­est goal in golf ar­chi­tec­ture; in­deed, Golf Di­gest (USA) “100 Great­est” list be­gan as the “200 Tough­est.” A lead­ing coun­terex­am­ple, among the world’s best cour­ses, is Au­gusta Na­tional, be­cause Alis­ter MacKen­zie and Bobby Jones, who de­signed it, be­lieved that even a ma­jor-tour­na­ment venue ought to be fun for civil­ians to play. Their shared ideal – which was in­spired largely by the Old Course at St An­drews, and might be thought of as anti-Oak­mon­tism – was “the most en­joy­ment for the great­est num­ber.”

MacKen­zie and Jones be­lieved that, in high-level com­pe­ti­tion, ex­ces­sively puni­tive golf holes also ob­scured the dif­fer­ence be­tween great golfers and merely good ones, by re­duc­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for the kinds of thrilling es­capes that only bril­liant play­ers can pull off. Giv­ing night­mares to su­per­stars is prob­a­bly part of the fun of be­ing a mem­ber of Oak­mont, but it doesn’t usu­ally make for ex­cit­ing tour­na­ment view­ing.

Near the top of al­most any golf fan’s high­light list from re­cent years would be Phil Mick­el­son’s shot to the green from the pine straw on the 13th hole in the fi­nal round of the 2010 Mas­ters, and Bubba Wat­son’s loop­ing re­cov­ery from the trees on the 10th hole dur­ing sud­den death against Louis Oosthuizen in the same tour­na­ment two years later. Af­ter com­pa­ra­ble misses dur­ing an US Open at Oak­mont, both play­ers would have been forced to hit the same shot that you or I would have: a side­ways slash back into play. And, if they had, we wouldn’t be think­ing about those shots now.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.