The tournament which has become affectionately known as “golf’s greatest test” returns to one of the all-time great courses in the history of the sport this coming week. Historic Oakmont Country Club, just outside of Pittsburgh, will play host to the US Open for a record ninth time starting next Thursday. Oakmont was designed and created by Henry Fownes in 1903 and in addition to hosting eight previous US Open’s, it has also hosted three PGA Championships.
Past US Open winners at Oakmont include Tommy Armour (1927), Sam Parks Jr. (1935), Ben Hogan (1953), Jack Nicklaus (1962), Johnny Miller (1973), Larry Nelson (1983), Ernie Els (1994), and Angel Cabrera (2007). In a recent Golf Digest article, “America’s Hardest Golf Courses,” Oakmont ranked as the 2nd hardest course, trailing only Pine Valley Golf Club in New Jersey. To illustrate just how difficult this course truly is, consider that the 2007 champion Angel Cabrera won with a score of five-over par.
The course which plays at approximately 7,250 yards features 210 bunkers, many of which sit just off tight fairways and sloping greens, waiting to penalize players for even the slightest mistake. Perhaps the course’s calling card, the “church pew bunkers,” come into play on Holes 3 and 4 and can prove to be very unforgiving should they be found. Players’ ball striking will be tested constantly, both off the tee and with approach shots into the green. Once the green is reached, Oakmont’s firm and fast green complexes will stress players’ abilities to the max and make a two-putt on most holes a great result.
In addition to ball striking and putting being challenged, this course is not made for short hitters of the golf ball. Possibly the greatest example of this is Hole 8, the longest par 3 on the golf course, which has the ability to play anywhere from 252 yards to 288 yards. Each hole at Oakmont presents unique obstacles which will require both a great imagination and unequivocal patience to overcome.
With how difficult this golf course is whoever holds up the trophy late Sunday evening will assuredly have earned it. The question is: who will it be holding up that trophy? While nothing in golf is ever a sure thing (just look at Jordan Spieth at this year’s Masters or Dustin Johnson at last year’s US Open), it is hard to imagine the winner not being one of the usual suspects at the top of the World Golf rankings. The “big three” as they’ve become known, featuring Jason Day, Spieth, and Rory McIlroy, figure to have the best odds coming into the week. Coincidentally, these three comprise the top three of the World Golf rankings, in that order.
None of them are unfamiliar to the major championship stage with Day winning the PGA Championship last year, Spieth being the defending US Open champion and 2015 Masters Champion, and McIlroy being a 4-time major champion with two PGA Championships (2012, 2014) to go with an Open Championship (2014) and a US Open (2011). Not only are they the top three golfers in the world, but each of them has played relatively well recently.
Day won The Players Championship just under a month ago. Spieth took home the trophy at the Dean & Deluca Invitational two weeks ago. And McIlroy was victorious at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open just three weeks ago. Their major championship experience coupled with their recent play makes the aforementioned “big three” fitting favorites at Oakmont next week. However, should the winner not come out of this top group it would not be shocking to see a player such as Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Henrik Stenson, or Justin Rose be crowned champion on Sunday evening. With the exception of Watson and Rose, the remaining three are still in search for their first major championship and doing so at Oakmont would be quite special.
Regardless of the winner, next week at Oakmont will undoubtedly be exciting. The champion will have outdueled 59 of the top 60 golfers in the world at one of the most demanding, and daunting, courses in the world. The players who understand that par is a good score on almost every hole will most likely be the ones in contention on Sunday afternoon. For as incredible as these players are, do not be surprised to see a winning score around even par or slightly under. Clear your schedule next Sunday and while you’re at it, maybe even Monday, because you just never know what’s going to happen…