Welcome to Oakmont - and let the bogeys begin


They've heard the horror stories about Oakmont, now they're experiencing them up close. The bunkers that look like they could swallow a football field, the greens where a putt even slightly off line might roll all the way to Pittsburgh.

It's been 13 years since the U.S. Open last visited Oakmont, home of the most fearsome greens in American championship golf. That's plenty enough time for the field to have changed considerably &

Arnold Palmer was still playing Opens back in 1994, and Tiger Woods was an amateur &

and for new myths to be created for golfers who have yet to tread 7,200 of the sport's scariest yards.

"It is stifling difficult, to the point of walking off and feeling like you've got 12 rounds with Ali," Paul Goydos said Monday.

Johnny Miller's advice to all these Oakmont newbies: Believe the stories. Beware of Oakmont.

"Only a couple of guys broke 70 in the whole (2003) U.S. Amateur at Oakmont," said Miller, the 1973 U.S. Open winner at Oakmont. "They know it's going to be a good test. ... There's some brutal holes out there."

Among the major topics of discussion as the field arrives at Oakmont is the length of the rough, which Oakmont superintendent John Zimmers insists has been cut &

he just didn't say if it was last week or last year. Jim Furyk, playing a practice round Monday with Tiger Woods, can't recall seeing rough so threateningly high or thick during a major.

Woods, who has yet to play a competitive round at Oakmont, had problems of his own during his not satisfying tour of Oakmont's hilly terrain. He grumbled about his driver during a round that wouldn't describe afterward, except to say, "I broke 100."

Just another day at Oakmont Country Club, where one-third of the few hundred members are good enough to have handicaps below 10. Not many duffers here, and they delight in watching the sport's biggest names be frustrated every decade or so by their home course, one that can be set up with such difficulty that par becomes an impossibility.

Ask Phil Mickelson how tough and challenging that rough can be.

Mickelson has been at Oakmont since at least Saturday but has yet to play a practice round. His left wrist remains heavily bandaged, the result of trying to punch a shot out of Oakmont's rugged rough during a practice round several weeks ago.

On Monday, Mickelson limited himself to half-shots from the grass on the practice range before moving up to a hybrid club that, by merely being in his hands, made short-game coach Dave Pelz nervous. Mickelson hit his driver only once before returning to 30-yard chips. He hopes to play a practice round Tuesday.

When the record eighth U.S. Open at Oakmont starts Thursday, Miller wonders if some in the field will get off to a start so bad they never recover their confidence or their game.

No. 1, a 482-yard par 4, will be the starting hole for half the field, and Miller calls it "the hardest first hole in the world" &

mostly because of the treacherous slope of the green.

"There's no hole with a second shot like that," Miller said. "If you miss a fairway and leave it short on the downslope, you can't hardly hit the green with a 40-yard wedge shot. That's just the most brutal starting hole of any course in the world."

No. 10 is slightly easier, a par-4 that will play at either 435 or 462 yards and has a meandering slope that can carry putts not only away from the pin but off the green. Either way, No. — or No. 10, there's no easy welcome to Oakmont.

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