Jun
13
2016
Tidbits from Monday at the 2016 U.S. Open: Oakmont is really hard
By Stephanie Wei under US Open

I have some serious *breaking* news for you guys: Oakmont is a tough track. Yeah, no shit, right? Of course, it is — it’s a U.S. Open venue! No, but seriously, it makes the average U.S. Open course look like the rinky-dink muni you play wearing a t-shirt and cut-offs while you shotgun PBRs. That’s right. Oakmont eats most other venues for breakfast.

I haven’t seen that much of the course yet (walking at least nine with some guys tomorrow morning!), but I’ve seen enough and spoken to enough players/insiders to know how difficult, strenuous and mentally taxing it is. It will certainly be interesting to see how players deal with the part of the game between the ears this week. I mean, it looks like it could be pretty traumatizing if you’re not playing well and things start moving in the wrong direction. 

I now understand why Johnny Miller talks about shooting 63 in the final round of the ’73 U.S. Open at Oakmont to win. That’s unreal. I’d never shut up about it. Most people wouldn’t. He can bring it up as much as he wants. He deserves it. He’s earned that right. I apologize for ever making fun of you, Johnny. Keep reminding us about that 63. I mean, just think about the circumstances. It’s absolutely incredible!

Oh, speaking of which…(h/t Bob Estes):


What makes Oakmont so hard? Well, everything. Yeah, the rough is super thick, but it’s the greens that are seriously scary. I only saw a few today and they looked brutal. Spencer Levin’s dad Don, who played in the ’83 U.S. Open here, was trying to explain them to me and he had a really good analogy/description and I’ll have to make him say it again tomorrow on-camera because I’m not even going to try and do it justice.

(Fun tidbit: as mentioned, Don played in ’83 U.S. Open and Spence played in ’03 U.S. Amateur here, so there’s some good family history at Oakmont for the Levins!)

U.S. Open defending champion Jordan Spieth was not pleased about the amount of sand the USGA dumped into the bunkers. Usually, you’d say, oh yeah, you want to miss it in the sand because it’s usually preferable than a lie in the gnarly rough. Well, doesn’t sound like that will be the case this week.

“Winning a U.S. Open is a different experience than winning at any other venue,” said Spieth on Monday afternoon during his pre-tourney presser. “You learn that literally anything can happen, especially out here where the way the course is set up right now, the way the rough and the bunkers, with the amount of sand that’s in the bunkers, the fact that it’s very rare to be able to hit a green in regulation from a fairway bunker.

“If you don’t hit fairways on the last five holes, you could lose a four- or five-shot lead like that. Just not even doing anything wrong. You can hit decent shots that just barely miss the fairway. And all of a sudden, you have to do well to have ten feet for par.”

Wait, I was talking about the sand. Sorry, I wanted to include that quote because I thought it was insightful.

“Fairways or first cut, I think, is the most important statistic for me to focus on this week,” said Spieth. “But it’s interesting, looking back, it wasn’t that important at the last U.S. Open, and I can’t seem to fathom why. I mean, out of the fairways I’ve missed in these practice rounds so far, I’ve maybe hit a green in regulation once when I haven’t been in the first cut.

“When I played it six weeks ago, there was very compact sand, and that meant that if the ball trickled into the sand, it wasn’t a bad shot. Just barely went into the sand, you could hit the green, no problem. You hit a good, solid shot. They have dumped so much sand into these bunkers, and now it is so tough to get a clean strike on the ball. You could hit it very thin. Or what, ideally, you do is you err on the fat side, if you can get something like an 8 iron on the ball, and it’s just hit or miss if it’s going to come out fat and 60 yards short or you get it to the front of the green.”

The USGA obviously decided to dump that extra sand in the bunkers to make things extra diabolical. I mean, like I said, usually you’d think a good miss is in certain bunkers, but neither sound like good options at Oakmont!


Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve seen all the pictures and videos of the rough. Well, this evening as I was walking back to the media center, a few marshals on 17 pointed out the most ridiculous buried lie they had seen all day. I thought they were joking at first because I couldn’t see anything! IMG_2867 IMG_2868 Again, like I said, the marshals on 17 said they had seen some bad lies on Monday, but this one took the cake. The player who hit it there? USC’s Justin Suh. We wanted him to hit it, but he apologized for passing up on that glorious opportunity — which was completely understandable, especially because he could have gotten injured trying to get that out of the thick grass. Not worth it!

But the thick rough at Oakmont is likely not anything you haven’t already seen on social media. Especially if you follow Justin Thomas or Rickie Fowler or Smylie Kaufman — you know, 3/4 of the SB2K16 crew — on SnapChat? And if you’re not, you should (and me, as well, since I get to Snap all week long, basically!)  Thomas and Fowler have been sharing snippets from their practice rounds. Like these: IMG_2838 IMG_2836


  I caught up with longtime Oakmont member and former PGA Tour pro Bob Friend, who is an absolute wealth of knowledge when it comes to the course. (It’s actually kinda strange Fox didn’t pick him up because I’m fairly certain he knows more about Oakmont than anyone else on their broadcast team.) I streamed it via Periscope, but in case you missed it… I also asked Bob later in the day about the changes in the course from 2007.

*Mowing patterns are different. First cut from fairway all the way into fairway bunkers. No hanging lies.   *6 green was extended past right greenside bunker. Picture from 1906 restoration.   *We removed two bunkers 40 yards short of 12th green. Will invite players to give it a go in two. If they miss green left, curtains.

  In other words, not a lot! I’m sure you’ve heard about the removal of a lot of trees, but we’re talking about the actual course.  


It feels like everyone and their cousin’s mom have asked me who my picks are this week, and I haven’t decided. I’m like, guys, it’s only Monday! I’m a fan of educated guesses! So I’ll let you know Wednesday. Seriously, though, I try to do my research and homework before I make any rash decisions! I know, I probably overthink this crap. Obviously, I like Spieth, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, etc. — you know, the usual and obvious favorites. 

Oh, here’s a Rory tidbit. So, he played in the The Druck Swat at Oakmont a few weeks ago, which is a best ball team event. McIlroy’s group shot 62. With his own ball, he shot 68. Not too shabby. I mean, I basically think anything under par is awesome at Oakmont from what I’ve seen!

If you look at the final leaderboard in ’07, it’s all over the place — bombers, plodders, etc. And of course, Angel Cabrera won with a winning total of +5.  What will be most interesting is how many guys can handle the test, especially mentally.

The USGA does a brilliant job of mind-f**king these guys. It’s quite ingenious. Things are always just *right* on the edge and make you want to go nuts, but it’s the ones that handle it the best and obviously play the best and get the right bounces, etc. that will have the most success, blah cliche, blah more cliches, blah. There’s some truth to that, though. I mean, in terms of which guys can handle literally the toughest test in golf. 

I’m probably a total asshole for hoping that the rain stays away (it’s forecast for Thursday/Friday right now). I just want to see Oakmont show its teeth and not let it get soft and easier. I guess I’m slightly sadistic, but hey, it’s one week a year on the toughest course on the planet. 

Brooks Koepka has been a popular dark horse pick. Man, he was grinding on the range today. I know he’s young and it’s probably normal, but you don’t usually see guys grinding that hard the week of the U.S. Open. I saw hitting balls before Spieth’s presser at 3 and then when I came back to the range, he was working with his swing coach Claude Harmon and bashing balls for another hour (at least?) around 6pm. 

I’m sure it’s no cause for concern since it’s only Monday and he wanted a tune-up before taking it easier the rest of the week. And now that I think about it, I only saw him hitting drivers, so my guess is that he’s been struggling off the tee late in final rounds recently, which has led to inability to close out tourneys?  I have a strong feeling that has to be the case. OK, yep, just looked it up — not very strong driving accuracy in the last two events where he finished runner-up at both.

After his range session, he went to the chipping area, where he spent another hour. (He was obviously one of the last to leave the practice area.)

One writer wanted to chat with him and was patiently waiting for Koepka to finish. I was impressed with his tenacity. I probably would have done the same thing five years ago, but I told him, good luck with that! (In other words, you’re not going to get anything and if you do, it’s probably not worth waiting longer than you already have!) And he ultimately got denied, unfortunately. But we had a good laugh over it.


Another popular topic: The 288-yard par-3 8th! That is right. Two hundred eighty-eight yards or also known as the “drivable par-3!”   IMG_2845 The average players are hitting hybrid if it’s downwind and 3-wood without wind. That means Dustin Johnson probably only needs 5-iron! Okay, fine, maybe 4-iron. Webb Simpson had a funny answer to solve the gripes of some.

Good outlook!


This is not to encourage you guys not actually getting on SnapChat, but I downloaded my Snaps and uploaded them to YouTube. JUST FOR TODAY. I didn’t get all the hype until a 23-year-old social media gal gave me a tutorial in Phoenix, which was actually refreshing since in the past it’s usually been me doing the same with Twitter/Instagram.

By the way, if you’re a SnapChat pro or even if you’re not, I’d appreciate any feedback, constructive criticism, advice, etc. Being able to use VIDEO is all so new to me. It’s exciting! I’m learning as we go, too. Feel free to email me with any suggestions (steph[dot]wei[at]gmail). One thing we can’t do is live stream video or just post video from inside the ropes, unfortunately, but that’s alright, this is already a HUGE step.


 

Hope you’re all following me on social media because the USGA has updated their regulations, and it’s AMAZING. First thing I do when I show up at tournaments now (not like PGA Tour events from week-to-week) that are run by a different organization than usual (all four majors are put on by four different “governing bodies,” so to speak) is ask for clarification on the regulations.

I don’t know why I do that, but you know, it’s better to play it safe and make sure I am 100% clear on exactly what the language means (you’d be surprised). I’m sure I ask really annoying questions and hypothetical situations, but I’ve learned it’s better to be safe than sorry. I’ve never had any issues with the USGA, though. (At least I can’t recall any?)

So, I show up to Oakmont and I almost immediately ask for the regulations. I didn’t know they had changed significantly. At first, I thought I was reading them and/or understanding the USGA officials incorrectly. I’ve been in such a great mood all day because of it.

I know, it sound so stupid and pathetic, but it’s the little things that help make this job easier, and most important, it’s about giving the people (you guys) what they want that makes all the time and effort satisfying. I try my best to bring you guys inside the ropes or make you feel like you’re “there” (or here?) as much as I can, and now I can do that with much more ease.

I truly appreciate the USGA recognizing that times have changed and the way fans consume media is different, so it has been the first in golf to update its policies and brought the game into the 21st century. Woot! And as one friend/colleague pointed out, basically, the new regs don’t impact 95% of the media center. Well, their loss! Which also means less competition!

The various mediums/platforms I’m using this week: SnapChat (username: stephwei — this is SO perfect for what I’m trying to achieve), Twitter, Instagram, Periscope (best way is via Twitter, but username is @StephanieWei), YouTube, Facebook. (I might try my first Facebook Live stream tomorrow! So exciting!) I would follow on those outlets — not just because I’m trying to get more followers — since I’ll be able to post and update those quicker than I do here, where I take extra time to include stuff I didn’t on social media or go more in-depth into a topic.

What would you like to see more of? What would you like to see less of? Which platforms do you like the best? What do you not see that you would like to see? Etc. Any constructive criticism is much appreciated!

Many thanks!