OAKMONT, PA. Those playing in this year’s US Open will have to negotiate their way around one of America’s most demanding courses. The demands for high level execution start immediately and continue through to the very end. However, there are four holes of particular note where the championship may be significantly impacted.
1st Hole — 482 Yards, Par-4
Opening holes are always filled with nervous energy. As the championship proceeds the demands escalate — especially for players in and around the leaderboard.
The 1st is bracketed by bunkers on both sides of the fairway before plunging downhill to a blind green that runs quickly away from the player. Being longer rather than shorter on the approach is something most players will need to do.
A tough opener that can knock the wind from players looking to get a round started in fine fashion. Aaron Baddeley was the final round leader by two strokes in ’07 — after fumbling the 1st hole with a triple-bogey — Baddeley quickly faded from view and finished with a 80. On the flip side — the 1st was the springboard for Johnny Miller in 1973 as he birdied not only the 1st but the next three holes in succession and jumped into a contending role that would have him ultimately win the championship.
3rd Hole — 426 Yards, Par-4
The famed Church Pews bunker complex hugs the left side and is critical to avoid at all costs. The fairway also pinches in deeper you attempt to hit your tee shot.
Several deep bunkers patrol the right side. Green is elevated above the fairway and falls away slightly from the players. Finding the fairway will mean a short iron and good birdie possibility. Tough to gauge the nature of the approach.
In ’07 Tiger Woods had the lead when teeing off at the 3rd — a short time later he finished the hole with a double-bogey and eventually lost the championship by one stroke to winner Angel Cabrera.
10th hole — 462 (440) Yards, Par-4
Although this stout par-4 plays downhill the fairway is especially hard to find as it moves from left-to-right in the landing area. Bunkers guard both sides of the fairway and the smart play for many will be a fairway metal or even long iron or hybrid. The green falls away and is especially speedy front to back.
It’s crucial for players to get at or beyond the pin location for an easier putt or chip. Missing short means an extremely speedy green which falls away from the fairway.
In 1983 defending champion Tom Watson had just finished playing a stellar front nine going out in 31 — five-under-par. Instead of building upon the momentum Watson bogied the 10th hole which opened the door for eventual winner Larry Nelson to claim the US Open title.
17th hole — 313 Yards, Par-4
The penultimate hole tempts the boldest of plays but will bite back very hard for anything short of pinpoint execution that marries length and uncanny accuracy.
Driving the green is a possibility and the USGA may decide to move tee positions up to tempt even the most cautious. Given the yardage many players will be under the mindset of a must birdie. Those who get too greedy may find this hole a real thorn.
Golf fans are well aware of the Nicklaus / Palmer playoff for the title in ’62. But what’s often forgotten is how contender Phil Rodgers lost the event by two strokes and much of that can be attributed to the quadruple bogey 8 he made at the 17th in the second round. The 17th can provide a range of scoring situations and the resulting strokes made and lost will play a pivotal role in this year’s championship.
M. James Ward, a member of Golf Writer’s Association of America (GWAA) and past member of Met Golf Writer’s Association (MGWA), has reported on golf’s grandest events since 1980 in a variety of forums.