Oakmontgate

Most folks thought Oakmont was too tough, but a mysterious club member claimed there was a conspiracy to make it a cream puff
June 24, 2007

My name is notimportant," said the Oakmont member. "You can call me Deep Rough."He was standing in a dark corner of the maintenance shed, his face deliberatelyconcealed in shadow. ¶ "How do I know you're a member?" I asked."Anybody can buy a shirt with the squirrel logo on it." ¶ "Here'show," he said, delivering a swift kick to my right shin. ¶ I clutched myleg and swore through clenched teeth. I hopped around and crashed into a roughmower, whose shiny blades looked clean enough for the showroom floor. "Allright," I gasped, "I believe you." Deep Rough chuckled. ¶ This, Ishould explain, happened late last Friday night, after the second round of theU.S. Open.

I had gotten alunchtime call from a stranger, who told me the Oakmont members were angrybecause their course was playing too easy. "Two guys broke paryesterday," he said. His voice cracked on the word broke. "Paul Caseyjust shot a 66. A 66!" This last lament was pitched so high that I picturedthe Hindenburg going down in flames.

I can't say I wassurprised. Look up sadomasochism in the Physician's Desk Reference, and you'llfind a thumbnail photo of the Oakmont clubhouse along with footnotes on ChurchPew bunkers, overgrown ditches and H.C. Fownes, the Pittsburgh businessman whodesigned the course more than a century ago. Fownes loved his golf course theway Torquemada loved the rack, and he passed his cruel streak on to his sonBill. "The virility and charm of the game lies in its difficulties,"wrote Bill Fownes. "Keep it rugged, baffling, hard to conquer. . . . Letthe clumsy, the spineless and the alibi artist stand aside!"

Subsequentgenerations of Oakmont members have ignored the warning to stand aside. Theyhoot when Tiger Woods takes a massive swipe from ankle-deep rough, as he did onthe 2nd hole on Friday afternoon, and his ball flutters into a drainage ditch.They chortle when Phil Mickelson makes a two-putt bogey on the 9th, as he didin the second round, and has to ask Bones for a wedge between the putts. Theyread themselves to sleep with old stat sheets, like those from two days ofstroke-play qualifying at the 2003 U.S. Amateur, which produced an averagescore of nine-over-par 79 and a 37-hole match-play final with only threebirdies.

I can't talk,"the voice on the phone had said, "but I know somebody who will." Andthat's how I came to be in the maintenance compound after midnight, nursing abarked shin and wondering if I shouldn't have brought a pal to watch myback.

Deep Rough gotright to the point. "We're sick about what's happening," he said,disguising his voice to make it sound like Hal Holbrook's in Designing Women."This course was ready to kick ass. Two weeks ago you couldn't get a ballout of the rough with a backhoe. The greens were 15 on the stimpmeter. If youdropped your cellphone on the fairway, it shattered."

"It's stillplenty hard," I said. "Adam Scott and Colin Montgomerie shot 82 today.. . ."

"It wasperfect," he said, cutting me off. "Geoff Ogilvy came by for somepractice rounds and couldn't break 80. Phil Mickelson hurt his wrist so bad hecouldn't play for two weeks. Tiger Woods sat down and cried."

I was pretty surethat Tiger hadn't cried, but I didn't want Deep Rough to kick me again. I said,"Nobody's under par after 36 holes. The average score is over 76. The fieldis more than a half stroke over par on four holes."

"That's notOakmont tough!" he barked. "Who do you think we are? Winged Foot?Bethpage Black?" He fumed silently for a moment. "You heard what thekid said yesterday? That the course was easy?"

First-round leaderNick Dougherty had, indeed, observed that the course was slightly soft fromovernight rains. But the young Englishman had immediately disavowed the e word,saying, "Goodness, I shouldn't have said that. No . . . the course isbarbaric!"

"He wasmocking us," Deep Rough muttered. "What'd he shoot today, 77? Remindsme of that punk Miller, back in '73. It rains all night, and he comes out infunny pants and shoots a final-round 63. Trust me, if it'd been the clubchampionship he wouldn't have broken 70."

"So what areyou saying?" I asked. "That the USGA comes in and sets up Oakmont toplay easier than normal?"

His hands flew up."Do I have to spell it out for you? Who ordered our super to cut the roughover the weekend? Who made him slow the greens to 131‚ÅÑ2 or 14? Who told youmedia guys that Oakmont would be 'tough but fair?' " Realizing that hisnose had popped out of the shadows for a second, Deep Rough drew back."Fair? Who said golf was supposed to be fair?"

Regaining hiscomposure, he let his voice drop to a melodramatic whisper: "Follow thedandruff."

I nodded. Neitherof us said anything for a very long time. Finally, Deep Rough said, "Youhave to leave first. I'm in a corner."

I spent theweekend looking into Deep Rough's allegations. If there was a conspiracy tomake Oakmont less punishing for the Open, the players certainly weren't in onit. "It's disappointing to have the course setup injure you," saidMickelson, who shot rounds of 74 and 77 and missed the cut in a U.S. Open forthe first time since 1992. "Certainly with this liquid fertilizer and thesenew machines that make the grass stick straight up, it's dangerous. It reallyis."

Paul Casey, whoshould have been swaggering after shooting a tournament-best 66 in the secondround, said, "Oakmont could possibly be the toughest golf course I've everplayed."

But I did findhints of some kind of organized plan. Mike Davis, the USGA man who sets upcourses for the Open, admitted under tough questioning that the second cut ofrough had, indeed, been shortened from six inches to five. He also fessed up tothe slowed-down greens, insisting that speeds of 15 or 16 would have renderedcertain hole locations unusable. Then he made a careless slip, saying,"Whether 10 over or 10 under wins, we don't really care."

I could imaginethe howls of rage when the club members heard that. Or when they heard thatStephen Ames had birdied the par-5 12th hole on Saturday from "the ladies'tee"--Ames's words--a mere 632 yards from the hole. And Deep Rough probablyspit out his breakfast coffee when he read in the Sunday paper that BubbaWatson thought the course "seemed softer, more friendly." ("Thewords Oakmont and soft don't belong in the same sentence," Deep Rough hadsaid on Friday. "When a guest double-bogeys a hole, we pound his backsidewith a cricket bat.") The ultimate insult came late in the final round,when Angel Cabrera, after hitting a mammoth drive from the 12th tee, twirledhis driver while sauntering down the fairway.

Immediately, mycellphone rang. "Is that man whistling?" It was the stranger who hadcalled on Friday. "Is the Argentinian whistling?"

I didn't think so,but I agreed to another meeting with Deep Rough. I found him at midnight in thesame shadowy corner of the maintenance building, only this time I was carefulto stand outside his kicking range.

"I just wantyou to know," he began in his theatrical rasp, "that this week was notrepresentative of Oakmont golf."

"I realizethat," I replied. "The weather was superb, the crowds were huge, andthe players and media had nothing but praise for your course. You must beterribly disappointed."

"Don't getsmart with me," he snarled. "What was the winning score?"

"Five overpar. Same as last year at Winged Foot."

"WingedFoot," he whispered. "Now that was a tournament. Humiliating finishesby the biggest names in the game. Shots off tents and trees. . . ." Hepaused. "Trees! Maybe we shouldn't have cut down all our trees."

Deep Rough wasstill muttering to himself when I left.

An hour later, Ifound an envelope under the door of my hotel room. In it was an engravedinvitation to play a round of golf at Oakmont Country Club. "Bring a coupleof dozen balls," someone had scrawled at the bottom. "You'll needthem."

I called thepolice.

Read Alan Shipnuck's Hot List at GOLF.com

"We're sick about what's happening," Deep Roughsaid. "TWO WEEKS AGO YOU COULDN'T GET A BALL OUT OF THE ROUGH WITH ABACKHOE. Greens were 15 on the stimpmeter."

"So what are you saying?" I asked. "Thatthe USGA comes in and sets Oakmont to play easier than normal?" His handsflew up. "DO I HAVE TO SPELL IT OUT? Who ordered our super to cut therough?"

PHOTOPhotograph by Simon Bruty GettingReligion
Tiger found the notorious Church Pews to be something other thansacred.
PHOTOJOHN BIEVERLEFTY OUT Mickelson gave it a go, bad wrist and all, but was 11 over after 36 holes and missed the cut by a shot. PHOTOAL TIELEMANSPAR-5 AND THEN SOME The field shot a collective 178 over par on the humpy, bumpy serpentine 12th.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)