If you listen to golfers reflect on Oakmont Country Club, the site of this year’s U.S. Open, which begins Thursday, you’d think they were talking about the big, bad, milk-money-stealing school bully who can’t be toppled.
Put another way, the fear is real.
Why is this course so intimidating to so many?
“Well, it’s interesting,” Golf Channel analyst Matt Adams said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “The golf course is being described as a monster. I wouldn’t describe it as the (monster) that’s flashing its way through the city and breathing fire. This is more like the sort of monster that lives under your bed at night. It’s not overly long. It’s not about length, which is normally where people default when they think about (tough courses). That’s not what it is. This is a golf course that’s defined by old-time, old-school hazards – but I don’t mean in the variety of red-line marks or bunkers; I mean in the variety of very, very deep rough.
“Let’s start there because that is the thing that I think has surprised people the most this week,” Adams continued. “Everybody knew that the greens were going to be like putting on a granite counter top that’s on an incline, and the bunkers are brutal and they’ve always been that way. But this rough has graduated. Because of the growing conditions that they’ve had, it is extremely dense. You’ve got a mixture of grasses in the rough, so the chef salad of rough is not only there with variety, but also there with density and it’s there with length depending on how much you are off the fairway line with your drive. It’s just an incredible set-up.”
The previous two U.S. Open sites – Pinehurst in 2014 and Chambers Bay in 2015 – were not traditional U.S. Open set-ups. Oakmont is.
“You couldn’t get more traditional than what they have this week,” Adams said. “It absolutely checks every box. Oakmont rewards a well-struck shot. What Oakmont also does is it is extremely penal to a shot that is off line – probably more so than any place else.”
Which is why the usual suspects – Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy – are favored to win. Spieth is the defending U.S. Open champion, while McIlroy won it in 2011.
“Of the so-called big three, I would tend to default to Rory McIlroy because Rory McIlroy seems to have the overall package,” Adams said. “He’s the weakest of the three in terms of putting, but you have to get to the dance floor first before that even starts to become a factor.”
Dustin Johnson, meanwhile, hopes to atone for this three-put choke at last year’s U.S. Open. The 31-year-old has finished in the top five at all four majors but is yet to win one. When will his time come?
“The issue with Dustin, to me, is Dustin lets strokes slip away,” Adams said. “I think Dustin has such immense natural skills that he relies on it and he lets strokes pitter away here and there, thinking, ‘Well, I’ll birdie this hole or I’ll eagle that hole where nobody else probably will.’ Until he gets an overall strategy of discipline and doesn’t allow these strokes to leak away, I don’t know when his time is going to be. It could be anytime because of how talented he is, but it’s always the six-inch fairway between his ears that’s always the question.”