Featured photo: Oakmont is a penal design, with acres of sand and fields of dense rough awaiting wayward little white spheres. (Photo: USGA)
As the assembled golfers take on Oakmont Country Club for completion of the first round and beginning of the second round today at the U.S. Open, they will all know there are two keys to scoring well at the legendary major championship layout that has a reputation for exacting severe penalties on the smallest of errors.
The winner will invariably have driven the ball straight and putted well, two qualities demanded at every U.S. Open, but no more than at the western Pennsylvania layout.
Oakmont is a penal design — acres of sand and fields of dense rough await wayward little white spheres. H.C. Fownes’ design is one of the toughest — if not the toughest — in the world.
Read More: The History of Oakmont Country Club
The fiendish greens eagerly anticipate all shots, good and bad, with the intent to wreak havoc. The key to minimizing the damage the putting surfaces can do it is to hit approach shots close and to the correct side of the hole. No big secret, that’s the path to success on any layout with tricky greens.
So who will be the best at it is the question. So let’s look at this analytically, sort of.
Everyone is going to miss greens at Oakmont, some off the tee and some on the approach. Up-and-downs are the key.
Wading into the statistics on the PGA Tour website is to get lost in a cornucopia of information that might just be a small step above useless when trying to figure who has the best chance Oakmont.
For instance, David Toms is the most successful out of greenside bunkers and Chris Kirk the most accurate with approaches from 100 to 125 yards. They will not win the U.S. Open.
Aaron Baddeley has the highest one-putt percentage. Retief Goosen leads the tour in 3-putt avoidance, but Luke Donald is tops at 3-putt avoidance in the second round. Think any of them have a chance?
Oakmont has produced notable U.S. Open winners — Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Tommy Armour, but it has also been the place where Larry Nelson and Angel Cabrera lifted the trophy. Ernie Els’ first victory in the U.S. was at the 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont.
So who is going to win the 116th U.S. Open? I have two players in my mind that I think can be a wife-hugging, baby-kissing fool come Father’s Day Sunday evening.
Jason Day: The man, ranked No. 1 in the world, can get the ball in the hole and that’s what it’s all about. This is a tournament about pars, not birdies. With three wins this year, Day shows no sign of slowing down, plus he has two small children, a bonus for TV.
Bernd Wiesberger: His name popped up a few times in the PGA Tour statistics that would seem to have bearing in handling Oakmont. So why not the 30-year-old Austrian?
For a non-American perspective, I also hit up Tim Southwell at the English online magazine, GolfPunk.com. He’s going with Kevin Kisner, an American.
“Not a big hitter but very accurate, which will be needed at Oakmont,” he wrote in a message.
There is one caveat that Southwell added about his choice.
“I pick him every major,” he said.