Let’s just call it the Loch Ness Monster.
That’s not to say that Oakland Hills Country Club won’t have any bite today when golfers tee it up for the start of the 1996 U.S. Open. But after 2 inches of rain pounded the Detroit area in less than 2 hours Wednesday, the course appropriately dubbed the “Monster” was gurgling more than growling.
A severe storm hit Oakland Hills around noon Wednesday, driving in golfers who were playing practice rounds on the club’s South Course. By the time the deluge ended, bunkers had been washed out - No. 18 collapsed - and several fairways had 2-3 feet of standing water.
United States Golf Association officials vowed to clean up the mess and start the 96th U.S. Open on time, with the first groups teeing off at 6 a.m. But many players expressed some disappointment that they won’t be seeing the true test of Oakland Hills, with its severe, fast greens.
“The golf course is softer than I have ever seen it,” Tom Watson said.
“The greens were getting some speed back,” Watson continued. “But after this rain, they are going to be hard-pressed to get very much speed back in a couple of days. But I don’t think it takes the teeth out of the course. It makes the greens softer, but it makes the rough more difficult. So I think it’s a wash.”
In more ways than one. Rain is in the extended forecast for today, and the course will not be able to tolerate any additional water at all.
Buzz Taylor, chairman of the championship committee, said that the lift, clean and place rule would never be put into effect at a U.S. Open. So that could make for muddy, difficult conditions even if the sun continues to shine.
“This course and this tournament is a patience test even without the rain,” Davis Love III said. “So then you add the wet conditions and tough lies and mud on your ball and all that, and it is just going to test your patience even more.
“This course is going to beat up a lot of people this week, and it is going to be whoever hangs in there the longest.”
Following Wednesday’s downpour, the USGA closed the course to play so crews could begin the cleanup. Golf clubs from the surrounding area sent pumps and, in many cases, their own maintenance crews to help Oakland Hills officials get the course in playable condition.
Whether the soft conditions will make the course easier or harder was a matter of opinion. But most players agreed that while flying the ball at the pin might now be possible, getting it close enough to try might not.
The course plays extremely long on a good day, tapping out at 6,974 yards for a par-70 tract. Both of the par 5s are three-shot holes for most golfers.
Now, with balls getting no roll in the fairways, players can expect to hit long irons into most greens.
“I think a lot of guys are going to be forced into playing aggressively off the tee because of the length of the holes,” Love said. “It’s going to be tough. Yes, the greens are big and soft. But if you are putting 40 and 50 feet every time because you are hitting 3-iron into the green, you are going to three-putt a lot,” he added.
“I don’t care how anyone rationalizes it. It’s going to play longer and tougher,” Love said.
Then there’s the rough. Any drives landing in the thick, 5-inch deep, wet straw will be next to impossible to get out, let alone advance.
“I drove it in there a couple of times where it was so deep I just threw the ball back into the fairway,” said former University of Texas golfer Omar Uresti. “I didn’t want to hurt myself.”
Historically, plenty of players have been done in by Oakland Hills. When the 1951 Open was held at Oakland Hills, there were only two under-par rounds in the tournament. One was an incredible round of 67 shot in the final round by the champion, Ben Hogan, who gave the course its Monster nickname.
Forty-five years later, golfers are finding out the name still holds, even when it’s at its soggiest.
“I can’t really think of a course that I have played that is harder than this one,” said Corey Pavin, the defending champ. “This course just keeps coming at you - no letup holes.”
Some believe the course does not have the bite as it did when the likes of Hogan and Sam Snead and Jimmy Demaret walked the fairways. Greg Norman maintains that advances in equipment have taken much of the scare out of the Monster.
“Technology has made a lot of the Monster talk obsolete,” said Norman, who noted that many of the tougher courses have been made easier over the years thanks to improvements in equipment. “Take Doral, for instance. They called it the Blue Monster, but it’s all changed because of golf balls, equipment and modern technology. I know I am driving the ball farther now than what I did just five years ago. You’re talking about over a span of 25 or 30 years that technology is really going way ahead of golf courses.”
But others, like Love, aren’t so sure. Winning at the U.S. Open, Love contends, is much more a matter of heart than equipment.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s wet or if it’s dry or if it’s unfair or if it’s fair or if it’s playable or not playable,” Love said. “You are just going to have to do whatever it takes to win. And I am going to go and find a way to do it.”
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