REIGNING US Open champion Jordan Spieth has suggested Oakmont, host to this month’s US Open, is arguably golf’s toughest test.
“I know that if you win a US Open at Oakmont, you can go ahead and say that you’ve conquered the hardest test in all of golf because this is arguably the hardest course in America day-to-day,” Spieth told the media during his first visit to Oakmont in early May.
“You have to golf your ball around this place, and the person who is in full control of their entire game will win this US Open.”
To give an indication of its degree of difficulty, Argentina’s Angel Cabrera won the 2007 US Open at Oakmont with a score of five-over par.
“I’d sign for even par right now,” said Spieth, who played the course using a local caddie to learn some of layout’s nuances.
“There’s just so many tough holes that par is going to be a fantastic score.”
Of course, Oakmont is famous, perhaps infamous, for its bunkers and that is where the tournament may be decided.
For the record, Oakmont has 210 deep bunkers, personified by the Church Pews – a block of eight lateral bunkers that separate the third and fourth fairways.
The mammoth, unforgiving 288 yards (263m) par-3 eighth hole features a bunker that protrudes into the expansive approach area about 70m short and left of the green.
In 2007, only 27 per cent of players hit the green in regulation.
“These bunkers may as well be bunkers in the UK,” Spieth said. “They may as well be pot bunkers. You just have to hit sideways out of them for the most part.”
Unless it rains, the field will also face arguably the fastest greens in the world that leave players with big-breaking putts. Some of the greens slope from front-to-back, requiring precise distance control.
According to Oakmont architect, Henry Clay Fownes, any imperfect shots should be punishable.
This will be the ninth US Open at the notoriously difficult layout, which is located on the outskirts of Pittsburgh.
The club hosted the US Open in 1927, ’35, ’53, ’62, ’73, ’83, ’94 and 2007. It has hosted two Women’s US Opens, three US PGA’s and five US Amateurs – the last won the Australian Nick Flanagan in 2003.
Since the 2007 US Open, there has been significant restoration in an attempt to give the course its original look.
The course is void of 15,000 trees that, until 2007, lined the railroad bank, the par-5 12th hole and the Pennsylvania Turnpike and connects the two sides of the course.
Now the players must adjust to the perilous winds that will affect club selection.
Oakmont has been the site of historic US Opens like the 1927 tournament won by Tommy Armour with a winning score of 13-over par.
In 1953, a 30-metre putt on the 13th helped propel Ben Hogan to victory.
In 1973, Johnny Miller carded a magnificent final-round 63 on a rain-softened course to win with what many describe as one of the finest final-rounds ever played in a major championship.
Then in 1962, there was the famous duel between Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. Jack edged out the local favourite to earn his first of 18 major titles.
Ernie Els won the first of his four majors when he conquered Oakmont in 1994.
USGA executive director/CEO Mike Davies said Oakmont was, from an architectural standpoint, a masterpiece.
According to Davies, the club’s members relish the tough layout.
“When we come to Oakmont, we virtually don’t have to change anything,” he said.
“These are the same fairway widths that they play every day of the year and they play fast greens every day of the year.
“So when we come here it’s the same old Oakmont. We just put the US Open flag in instead of the Oakmont flag.
“This place is storied with championship drama and I can’t imagine in 2016 that we won’t have another great United States Open.”
At the end of the news conference, Spieth was asked if he would pose for a photo with the US Open trophy, but he declined.
“Posing with the trophy at Oakmont would be very, very nice, but I’d rather not and wait until hopefully Sunday (June 19) if that’s okay,” Spieth said.
US Open fast facts
Out: 3680 yards – 3364m (par 35)
In: 3550 yards – 3246m (par 35)
Total: 7230 yards – 6610m (par 70)
63 Johnny Miller (1973 US Open)
Oakmont’s US Open champions
1927: Tommy Armour
1935: Sam Parks
1953: Ben Hogan
1962: Jack Nicklaus
1973: Johnny Miller
1983: Larry Nelson
1994: Ernie Els
2007: Angel Cabrera