Oakmont's dual challenge

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 12:11 PM ET

OAKMONT, PA. -- If a golf course's greens are its figurative face, then Oakmont Country Club looks like Hannibal Lecter.

They have an evil sneer.

They'll eat your hopes with some fava beans and a nice chianti.

They have more ups and downs than John Daly's marriages, more humps and curves than Jessica Simpson.

Everybody talks about the rough at the U.S. Open, but when play starts today at the 107th edition of the U.S. national championship, the players' work truly will begin once they get to the shortest grass on the course.

"They are amazing greens," said defending champion Geoff Ogilvy, who won last year at Winged Foot, which supposedly had fast greens.

Those ran like a shag carpet compared with these.

"They run a bit faster than maybe they should in some spots," Ogilvy said. "You're probably better off being off the green under the hole than on the green above the hole. You probably had a small amount of chance from above the hole at Winged Foot. Here you have basically none."

Said Masters champ Zach Johnson: "It's going to be a remarkable test. It's going to be a speed test where you're going to have to make a lot of three-, four- and five-footers for comebacks."

It remains to be seen how much last evening's severe thunderstorm, which superintendent John Zimmers, Jr., said dumped almost half an inch of rain on the course -- will slow down the greens. The course was just starting to crisp up when the storm rolled in around 5 p.m.

When Lee Trevino played here in his prime, he said of Oakmont: "There's only one course in the country where you could step out right now -- right now -- and play the U.S. Open and that's Oakmont.

"First, you'd have to slow down the greens."

In 1994, the previous time Oakmont was host of the U.S. Open, the poa annua (bluegrass) greens ran at about 12 on the Stimpmeter, the simple tool used to calibrate green speed.

The members played them at about 13.5, which makes the members: a) very skilled; b) just looney; c) the same type of people who run marathons in clown's shoes because it's "fun."

"Ladies and gentlemen," said Jim Hyler, the man responsible for the day-to-day setup for the USGA, "these greens are scary."

Is "scary" an official USGA technical term?

"They are by far the most difficult greens I've ever played," Tiger Woods said. "I thought Winged Foot's were pretty tough. Augusta is pretty tough. But both those golf courses have flat spots. Augusta may have big, big slopes, but they have these flat shelves that they usually put the pins on.

"Here, I'm trying to see where a flat shelf is."

Six of Oakmont's greens aren't flat enough to take a measure of their speed with the Stimpmeter -- basically a three-foot metal trough with a notch in it. The ball is put in the notch and the trough is raised until the ball rolls out. That is done in opposing directions and the average, measured in feet, of how far the ball rolls is the reading.

On those six Oakmont greens, the ball rolls off the Stimpmeter and doesn't stop until it gets to a bunker, somewhere down the fairway or the Pennsylvania Turnpike, whichever gets in the way first.

This just might be another week to add to the legend of Oakmont's greens, like this story host pro Bob Ford told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "A guest will put a ball down and look up to say hello. When they look back down, the ball has rolled 30 feet away on its own. It's amazing to see the look on their faces."

The look on the pros' faces this week won't be pretty. They might even wind up looking like Hannibal Lecter.

And needing his straitjacket.


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