Featured Photo: A volunteer shovels sand in a washed-out bunker Thursday night. (Photo: Lawrence Aylward)
OAKMONT, Pennsylvania — John Zimmers points to the moving blob of green, yellow and red on the weather radar that is closing in on the dot on the computer screen that is Oakmont Country Club.
In a few minutes, Oakmont will be besieged for a third time (or is it the fourth?) by substantial rain, a little wind, a dose of lightning and a dash of thunder — ingredients that added up to delaying play for a third time and eventually suspending play for the first round of the U.S. Open on Thursday.
Plenty of players, including No. 1-ranked Jason Day, never even got started. Only nine players finished. The leader in the clubhouse was Scottie Sheffler, one of 11 amateurs in the tournament, who shot a 1-under 69.
The weather forecast called for rain at Oakmont on Thursday, but Zimmers didn’t expect a total of 2 inches. It all began late Wednesday night around 11 p.m. Zimmers was at home when he heard a bolt of lightning strike close to his home. And then it proceeded to rain buckets for most of the night.
“We were able to get our mowing and rolling done [Wednesday] night, which was huge,” Zimmers says.
Earlier in the week, players who had played the course during practice rounds talked about the severe firmness of the course’s fairways and Poa putting greens. Phil Mickelson, who knows Oakmont well, was one of those players, but he also noted that Oakmont could go soft.
“If it’s wet, you can actually shoot under par here,” Mickelson said. “If there is a little bit of rain, the fairways will hold.”
Mickelson was spot on, as Scheffler’s score proved. At 3-under par was American Andrew Landry, who was on his last hole when play was suspended. Bubba Watson was 2-under par through 14 holes.
“We went from a fast, firm Oakmont to a wet, soft Oakmont real fast,” Zimmers said. “Players were shooting scores, which was expected. [Oakmont] was there for the taking.”
On Thursday morning, Zimmers and his regular crew of 50 and 140 volunteers took to the course to clean up some after the storm.
“We had some bunker washouts. The volunteers and our staff did a wonderful job this morning — just remarkable,” he said.
A chance of rain is expected today, but sunny skies with high temperatures in the low 80s are expected for Saturday and Sunday. Monday’s weather calls for mostly sunny skies and a high of 87.
With the washout on Thursday, there could be play on Monday if not enough golf can be jammed into the next three days.
“We’re taking it one day at a time,” Zimmers said.
Better weather also means that Oakmont will get its mojo back quickly.