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Photographing the Courses and People that Make Men's U.S. Opens Special

Fred Vuich captured the essence of Oakmont Country Club outside of the championship-caliber golfers.

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Silence fell over Oakmont Country Club as heavy fog settled over the golf course.

Photographer Fred Vuich puttered around on a cart before parking between the third and fourth fairways. He leaned back, sipping on his coffee as he waited for the sun to break through on the eerily quiet morning. In 2016, Sports Illustrated sent him to take a drone video of the famous Church Pews bunker before the men’s U.S. Open; however, the weather was not cooperating.

Vuich says it took about half an hour before the fog started to lift. He drove to the fourth hole and sent the drone up. But as the photographer watched the screen, he realized the footage would not work. He decided to bring the drone back down.

Then, the sun broke through, and a new idea came to mind. What about stills instead of a full video? Four drone batteries later, Vuich captured the iconic bunker from overhead, using a modern technique to illustrate an old game.

“It was shocking to me that they put it on the cover of the preview,” Vuich says. “... I saw it when everybody else saw it. I was just like, ‘Holy cow,’ because it's horizontal. So it really doesn't really fit on the cover.”

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But this wasn’t the first photo by Vuich of the Church Pews to grace an edition of SI, nor was it the first time he had photographed the U.S. Open at Oakmont. He first photographed the course at the 1983 men’s U.S. Open as a stringer for the Associated Press and returned in 2007 to shoot the tournament for Sports Illustrated.

Photographing the tournament in Pennsylvania felt like a “home field advantage” since he knew the course, shortcuts and people well. The 2007 men’s U.S. Open holds a special place in Vuich’s heart, and not because he watched Ángel Cabrera win his first major ahead of runners-up Jim Furyk and Tiger Woods. Vuich photographed multiple assignments for that tournament, capturing a full-picture view of how the city prepared for and celebrated having the tournament nearby, how spectators not at Oakmont watched and the live-action at the course.

“There's a golf course built on this bluff overlooking a steel mill that's still operating, and you can see the mill from several holes along the cliff,” Vuich recalls about shooting photos of golf activities around the city leading up to the ’07 tournament. “And the Carnegie Science Center, they have this miniature golf course that’s like four or five holes but each hole has some aspect of science in it. One of the holes is an optical illusion, the way the hole was painted.”

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On Friday, the second day of the tournament, he left Oakmont to photograph how people were watching and experiencing one of golf’s biggest tournaments in Pittsburgh. Vuich’s assistant happened to be an assistant district attorney in Beaver County, Pa., which is just west of Oakmont, and called a few locations to take the photos.

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The first location was a diner that looked like it was straight out of a Hollywood movie set, Vuich says. And while it may be seen as a cliché, he snagged a shot of a man eating his breakfast, thumbing through the sports section of a newspaper that focused on the U.S. Open on the front.

The duo traveled approximately 40 minutes northwest of Pittsburgh to a hospital where they photographed multiple surgeons decked out in their scrubs, watching the U.S. Open before scrubbing in for surgery.

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They eventually found their way back to Pittsburgh, settling into PNC Park for the Pirates' batting practice. Instead of the usual music blasting through the speakers, the U.S. Open aired on the jumbotron, causing a slight distraction for the baseball players below. Vuich recalls how the athletes would watch the screen whenever they weren’t hitting, but when Tiger Woods came on, almost everyone’s attention turned to the tournament.

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Over the years, Vuich has gallivanted all over the country, visiting places like California’s Pebble Beach, New York’s finest Shinnecock Hills and Torrey Pines in San Diego, the site of this week’s U.S. Open, to capture the raw, human angle as some of golf’s biggest names compete for major trophies.

“When you do a bunch of work up there [in Oakmont] away from the championship and then the championship comes around,” Vuich says, “it's kind of nice to see the build up and the excitement grow and then to actually cover it is pretty special.”

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For full coverage of this week’s U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, visit SI.com/golf.

Have questions, comments, or feedback about Sports Illustrated's newsletters? Send a note to josh.rosenblat@si.com.

Full Frame is Sports Illustrated’s exclusive newsletter for subscribers. Coming to your inbox weekly, it highlights the stories and personalities behind some of SI’s photography.

To get the best of SI in your inbox every weekday, sign up here. To see even more from SI’s photographers, follow @sifullframe on Instagram. If you missed last week’s edition on photographing baseball in older stadiums, you can read it here.

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