Gregor and I will begin our journey next Thursday in the 2016 US Open at 8:46 EDT off the tenth tee at Oakmont County Club on June 16th. We are paired with fellow Daly City sectional qualifier Mark Anguiano, who also carded a -9 total for his two rounds. We also have a player TBD, not sure what that means, but I think a player can still qualify for the open this weekend at the St. Jude Classic. In the group in front of us will be some other unknown players, Zack Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and this guy Jordan Spieth.
What a great opportunity to play behind the former world #1, that would like to get back to his #1 spot and defend his title here at the famed Oakmont course. I played this beast in the 2003 US Amateur, and one player out of 312 broke par, and not by much. Why is this track so hard? Well for many reasons, including fast sloping greens from back to front, sloping fairways that only hold shots with the proper trajectory and spin. Very difficult greens to putt and read, especially as the speed of the greens change from day to day. On this course you MUST have a very solid game plan, and stick to it. The USGA will set the course up quite differently each day, with the aim to identify the best players in the world, not embarrass them (so they say).
When I played in the 2003 US Amateur, I did so without the benefit of a practice round, as somehow my clubs got routed from San Francisco to Europe for a few days, and somehow missed the plane heading to Pittsburg. I was terrified about holes 7-9 as I was told repeatedly how tough they were. I got to #7 even on my round, but mentally had no game plan for these holes and let them destroy my round going double bogey, double bogey, bogey. On this tough track, you must limit the damage once your out of position. It will be key for players to have an escape route on each hole, somewhere they can advance their ball to for a chance at a par or bogey. Personally I feel Speith did not have a plan for what he would do if he ever hit his shot in the water on #12 at Augusta. The drop he took, clearly was a mistake, and he paid dearly for it.
The biggest key to Oakmont will be position off the tee, regardless of what club you need to hit to accomplish this. The rough is going to be brutally thick and long, and will only entice the players to make bigger mistakes. For Gregor and I, we will hopefully not be lured into the temptation of exacerbating a mistake and compounding it. You can survive with bogey, but not doubles. Gregor has all the tools in his arsenal, to hit the shots necessary to shot solid low scores here, but patience will be the key to this test. I know you hear it all the time from all the commentators that have competed out there, and its true, patience is a VERY difficult thing to have when you are faced with some many obstacles you’ve perhaps never seen before.
Gregor has the benefit of a very positive experience in the 2011 US Amateur at Erin Hills he qualified for match play with a two round total of -10 and was medalist. Now after a nine under par total to reach the open over two rounds, I feel he is mentally ready for this next challenge. My job will many, but especially to keep him in the moment, and keep him focused on his great tempo, as everything will speed up. I’ll never forget my first professional major, the 2009 Senior Open at Sunningdale, I met Gary Hallberg on the driving range, as we have a close mutual friend. He told me that everything will get very quick, and that I need to move in slow motion, and think and walk slow. I tried, but my first tee shot with a grandstand around me was too much, I duck hooked both my tee shots on this reachable par five opening hole.
We will have four days on the course to come up with every conceivable situation on each hole out there, which will be a lot of work. We have planned a meeting with legendary Oakmont & Seminole head golf professional Bob Ford, who in my mind is the best club pro in the United States, and I believe can provide us with some exceptional insight into how each hole can play, and change during the tournament.
I’m on a flight to Pittsburg tomorrow morning and will be ready to get to work early Sunday morning. Please stay tuned for more on “Inside the ropes – the Cinderella story”