July 7 — When was the last time you played a New England golf course with an 80.8 rating, a 147 slope, and greens that run to 14 on the stimpmeter? Okay, The Shattuck boasts a slope of 153 from the championship tees, but the rating is a measly 73.5, so there’s really no contest with Oakmont Country Club, site of this week’s 2010 US Women’s Open.
- It’s hot and steamy at Oakmont CC, as these photos of U.S. Women’s Open golfers illustrate
Beast and a half. That’s what the best women golfers in the world face this week at what LPGA Tour star Christina Kim called “a beast and a half” of a course.
“I have never in all my life seen a golf course like Oakmont,” Kim posted on her Twitter account earlier this week.
Kim was not alone in her assessment of the 6,598-yard, par-71 circuit in Oakmont, Penn.
“Everybody knows this golf course is hard,” Paula Creamer told reporters. “Everybody knows there’s not going to be 20 birdies made.”
What’s so tough about a course on which Angel Cabrera won the men’s US Open in 2007 with a five-over-par score? With pundits projecting this week’s winning score will at least match Cabrera’s, and likely zoom way past it into double digits over par, only everything.
Length. First, there’s the length of the course. The women will play the longest par-5 they’ve ever played, with the 12th hole stretched to more than 600 yards.
A new tee on the second hole means golfers will play from 265 yards to 325 yards, while another new tee at the 260-yard, par-4 17th will challenge golfers to go for the green. The eighth will play as long as 252 yards, which may have many players grabbing drivers to have a go at the lengthy par-3.
Bunkers. Say, how ‘bout those sand traps? Oakmont is known for its Church Pew bunkers, which involve eight grass-covered strips running across a bunker area that measures some 60 yards long and 40 yards wide. The swath will challenge players on the third and fourth holes.
Top-ranked women’s golfer Cristie Kerr had first-hand knowledge about the sandy tortures that await wayward shots into any of the 180 or so bunkers taunting golfers at Oakmont.
“Three times I tried to get it out of the bunker [on the 14th fairway], and I was not hitting it that thin,” Kerr told reporters after Monday’s practice round at Oakmont that include three attempts to escape one bunker using a 50-degree wedge. “Being a hero is not going to win this U.S. Open.
“Just try and save some pars, make some birdies, and just take your medicine,” Kerr advised. “You’re going to have the patience of a saint here.”
Open rough. How many times have you grumbled about the “US Open rough” at your home course? You may want to thank your superintendent the next time out, since the stuff you play bears no resemblance to actual Open rough.
At Oakmont, the first cut is about 1.5-inches high and six feet wide, and the second cut about an inch longer and 20 feet wide. Then there’s the actual rough, which will play at about 3.5-inches tall.
Body heat. Any Boston golfer who’s been to the course in the last few days knows a thing or two about heat and humidity. But at Oakmont, “hot and steamy” are par for the course, according to John Zimmers, course superintendent since 2000.
The course weathered seven inches of rain in June, half of it in the 10 days leading up to June 30, Zimmer said in a statement. Throw in 89 percent humidity and temps in the high-80s, and that’s a recipe for venting the putting surfaces and using fans to dry out the course.
Zimmer promised that, barring pop-up thunderstorms, “we should be able to dry out and firm up [the greens].”
“Oh, goody!” you could almost hear the women cheering.
Greens. Because, then there are the famous, severely sculpted and lickety-split greens. Golfers will need everything they can get from their flat sticks, but playing the correct shots to the greens and deft chipping strokes will be equally as critical.
That means laying up rather than going for pins in two on par-5s, and still staring at 20-foot breaking putts. For sure, golfers will have to hit different approach shots than they usually do, hoping to bounce them off the slopes to get close to the hole, Kerr said.
Sally Watson, a Stanford student who played for the Great Britain/Ireland team at the Curtis Cup at Essex County Club in Massachusetts last month, can attest to the severe slopes and quickness of the putting surfaces. A 30-foot putt above the second hole rolled off the green, according to Golfweek’s Sean Martin. She barely touched her second try and, Martin reported, it still zoomed 10 feet past the hole.
Horror stories. New England golfers Alison Walshe and Liz Janangelo had heard plenty of horror stories about Oakmont’s greens, which will demand as much skill and imagination as those that tortured golfers at Pebble Beach.
“I try to block it out when people talk about [the fast greens and challenging rough],” Janangelo said in a phone interview. “I tend to scare myself, so I’ll make my own opinion whey I get there.”
Wanted: Quick greens. Walshe, for her part, worked on her short game to prepare for Oakmont’s putting surfaces.
“I try to find quick greens because I’ve heard Oakmont’s are undulating and lightning-fast,” Walshe said. “I’m working on putting because the greens are so crazy, and just hitting fairways because the rough will be out of control.”
Bloodbath? With all that, Shane Bacon believes there could be a “bloodbath” at Oakmont that will make the men’s U.S. Open seem as intense as a good walk spoiled.
“If you thought Pebble Beach played hard this year, tune in this week and watch the second installment of the US Open,” Bacon blogged. “I can promise you that it’ll be something you’ve never seen in golf.”
CBSSports.com’s Steve Elling went so far as to predict someone would post a score of 90, or even 100.
Embarrassing? Could be.
“If you have one off day, it can be really ugly,” noted Alexis Thompson, the 15-year-old phenom who turned pro immediately after the Curtis Cup. “You can putt it off these greens easily. So if you struggle, it’s not going to be very pretty.”
In the end, it appears that the course will be the boss of the players
“You have to take what the golf course gives you,” Creamer concluded. “It wants you to do more, but you have to kind of, you know, be less aggressive. You can’t be a hero. You have to go out there…and just hit the fairway, hit the green, get your two-putt, and move on.”
Good omen. Walshe has history on her side. On her bag this week will be Carl Laib, who caddied for Patty Sheehan when she won the Open in 1992 at Oakmont.
“I snagged him because he knows the golf course,” Walshe said in a phone interview with Boston Golf Examiner.
Read more about what the top golfers had to say about the severely testing conditions at Oakmont.