Date: June 15, 2016
Author: Mark Hayes, Oakmont

I didn’t know what hard was until now

There were about a dozen ball spotters lining the left of the first fairway at Oakmont today; that might not be quite enough come game time.

It seems every year in the lead-up to the year’s second major, golfers and scribes alike marvel and groan in equal parts about the USGA’s penchant for making the US Open golf’s toughest test.

Put simply, we were all wrong – until now.

Oakmont, hosting its record ninth national championship, could well be the most savagely prepared major course of all time.

It’s a true American classic – a course to be marvelled at by even casual onlookers for its beauty.

But back to the ball spotters …

There are places in the various cuts of rough demanded by USGA set-up guru Mike Davis in which balls can simply not be seen unless you’re standing directly above the ball.

Adam Scott, of all people, lost a couple of balls here last week while practising without the golden spotters.

It would be no surprise at all if one was lost during the tournament proper.

A drive into the rough will require an immense scramble to save par, because greens are, quite bluntly, out of reach. Even mid-irons will be quickly scrapped by savvy caddies.

But that’s just the beginning of the problems anyone without their very best will endure this week.

Elevation changes and the associated blind shots make trust and your bag man key factors.

There’s the famous greens, running at speeds approaching 15 on the stimpmeter – and that’s without slope and wind.

There are the extremely penal bunkers. If you pitch anywhere near the front lip of any – including the famous “Church Pews” which have many – you are effectively chipping sideways.

The greenside traps regularly have treacherous downhill landing areas to pins near their shoulders, meaning sand saves will be rare gems.

There’s the length, the deep water hazards and the narrow landing areas off the tees.

But not even all that contains the biggest challenge.

Having made my Oakmont debut today, generally gobsmacked by its glory, it was the almost impossibly small approach zones to leave your ball remotely near the pins.

Players will putt off the second green; they will run through the first green after landing 40m short; they will have four-putts; some will face longer second putts than first.

It’s true. I promise.

The green of the driveable par-four 17th will giggle as players criss-cross its front from side to side when the pin is tucked forward.

There are just so few places to miss on this course. There is just no escape.

The hole that struck me as incredibly tough at first glimpse was the third, famous for those “Pews” that are almost an automatic bogey for a pulled drive.

What you don’t see on TV is that if you lay back to avoid them off the tee, you’ll have a long iron into a huge false front. If you fly that ball 3m too far up, you’re a moral to run 30m through a tightly mown slope behind the green from which a scrambled par will be a huge achievement despite your perfect lie.

It’s just tough.

But how does that translate to your average golfer, given that most of us will never play it?

I took advantage of the opportunity to chat with Jason Day during his practice round today and asked him what I might expect to shoot off the black tees this week off my roughly nine handicap.

His answer was as short as it was confronting: “130, mate.”

No, seriously?

“Mate, I’m telling you, 130 wouldn’t be a bad score from the tips around here for you.”

The case for the savagery of Oakmont rests.