If you don’t have a ticket for this year’s U.S. Open, simply take a drive on the Pennsylvania Turnpike east of Pittsburgh. The highway, constructed in the 1940s, bisects the fabled course built by iron magnate Henry Clay Fownes in 1903. This vehicular intrusion has not dampened Oakmont’s luster. The venerable course will host its ninth Open (more than any course) when players tee off on June 16.
Perhaps the Turnpike will afford a quick exit for those players falling victim to Oakmont’s notoriously long, thick rough and diabolical greens. Legend has it that this is the only course where the speed of the greens is slowed for the Open to a mere 13.5 – the members like them at 14. And lest you think the absence of water hazards reduces the difficulty of a course, take your chances hitting out of the nearly 200 bunkers, including the infamous “church pew” bunkers between holes three and four.
Oakmont has a rich history in U.S. Open championships. Here is a glimpse at a few memorable ones.
Ben Hogan’s Triple Crown Ben Hogan was lucky to be alive in 1953, much less playing competitive golf. Four years earlier his Cadillac collided head first with a bus on a foggy Texas highway, inflicting multiple injuries. But the Hawk fought back and came to Oakmont with a Masters victory under his belt.
Hogan proceeded to play relentlessly at Oakmont, and led the tournament every round. He sealed the victory with a 3-3-3 finish, besting his rival Sam Snead by six shots. It was Hogan’s fourth and final U.S. Open. The Hawk went on to win the British Open at Carnoustie for his third major of the year, but due to a schedule conflict was not able to compete in the PGA Championship and vie for the Grand Slam.
A Brash Young Bear Beats the King on his Home Turf for His First Major Oakmont is only 40 miles from the epicenter of Arnold Palmer’s kingdom in Latrobe. So when a brash, talented, but winless 22-year old named Jack Nicklaus showed up to challenge the reigning King at the 1962 U.S. Open, Palmer’s hometown crowd was not pleased. During the Monday playoff, steelworkers were seen stomping the ground to disturb Nicklaus while he lined up his putts.
Such distractions did not unnerve the Golden Bear (a moniker yet to be coined), who outdrove Palmer by 30 yards and sent towering iron shots into the air. Nicklaus jumped out to a quick 3-stroke lead in the playoff, then fended off the King’s comeback as three-putts continued to foil Palmer. After the round, Palmer commented that “now that the big guy is out of the cage everybody better run for cover.” It was the first of Nicklaus’s 18 majors, and the start of four frustrating runner-up finishes for Palmer in the U.S. Open.
Johnny Miller Fires Epic 63 in Final Round to Clinch Open During the week at Oakmont in 1973, a young and unheralded Johnny Miller kept encountering a psychic woman who told him he would win. But when he floundered to a 76 Saturday to fall six shots back, he knew the prophet was wrong. Until, on the range, he heard a voice telling him to open his stance. Shots suddenly clicked.
They kept clicking all day, as Miller fired what many consider the most impressive round of major golf history. His laser-like iron shots and flawless putting resulted in the first 63 in U.S. Open history, enough to edge out Palmer, Nicklaus, Gary Player, and a number of other luminaries. His performance was dubbed “The Miracle at Oakmont.” The win put Miller on the map, and he later moved on to a successful broadcasting career.WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?