"It was a great win for Oakmont."

Gerry Dulac reports that the folks at Oakmont are quite happy with Angel Cabrera's Masters win. For a while there, they were thinking maybe they'd have to rethink all that over-the-top rough and the narrow fairways for giving them a one-off major champ. But not now...

Club officials have been wanting to bring Cabrera back to Oakmont so they can officially -- and ceremoniously -- present him with their own version of the green jacket, symbolizing lifetime membership in the club. Oakmont does that for all players who have won a major championship at its club.

They also want to show him the room in the club's newest guest cottage, overlooking the swimming pool, that bears his name. Located on the second floor, the Angel Cabrera room is right down the hall from rooms that bear the names of Steve Melnyk (1969 U.S. Amateur champion) and Gene Sarazen (1922 PGA), other past winners at Oakmont.

Angel has to know he's made it when he shares something in common with Melnyk.

Oakmont East Closed...For Good?

Oakmont East From Googe Earth (click to enlarge)
Mike Dudurich
reports on Oakmont Country Club closing it's neighboring 1938 Emil Loeffler public course, possibly for good.

The 18-hole public layout, which borders historic Oakmont Country Club's 3rd hole, was closed for play in the fall of 2006 as preparations began in earnest for the 2007 U.S. Open.

It has not opened in 2007 and, while no decisions have been made beyond 2008, the possibility exists that it may not reopen at all.

"With all of the considerations for the 2010 Women's Open (which will be held at Oakmont CC), at least for 2008, we are not going to open the Oakmont East golf course," said Oakmont CC general manager Tom Wallace. "It would require rebuilding the course so that it's safe again for play and then it would be put back in use for the Women's Open. We need a clearer picture about what the footprint will be for the Women's Open before we make any long-term decisions. We're reviewing all options."

If the USGA Executive Committee were in touch with reality, they might understand that the closing of a public course to make it a one week permanent tent village every few years or could ultimately reflect poorly on them and their all important corporate partners.

Shipnuck on Cabrera

aug14_cabrera_299x238.jpgI finally got around to Alan Shipnuck's SI piece on Angel Cabrera, which unfortunately was relegated to the Golf Plus Fed Ex Cup stand alone issue. Unfortunate because it's an oustanding and revealing read that should have made the main issue. Well, those NFL training camp spreads are pretty special.

Anyway, don't miss this. And because I'm kind, the link is to the single page version to save you the trouble of the nine-page version.

"It seems likely an 18-or even 36-hole playoff would have been arranged."

Leonard Shapiro considers whether they would have played a U.S. Open playoff had Tiger tied Cabrera and Elin went into labor the Monday after.

If there had been a playoff, he would have been in Pittsburgh, likely asleep, when the call came. It has always been assumed that if one of the players doesn't show up at the first tee for an Open playoff, no matter the reason, the player who does is declared the champion.

Apparently, that's not necessarily so.

On Wednesday, U.S. Golf Association Executive Director David Fay said it was not that simple, and that the USGA would have faced a dilemma had Woods been unable to play on Monday.

The organization faced the same potential scenario at the U.S. Open in 1999, when Phil Mickelson's wife, Amy, was in the final stages of her pregnancy. She also delivered their child on the Monday after that Open. Mickelson missed a playoff by a shot in a tournament won by Payne Stewart, and like Woods, also had said he would leave the Open at the first indication his wife was ready to deliver.

"I really don't know what we'd do," Fay said. "I'll hide behind the fact that it's a hypothetical. But I suspect that [if their opponent didn't show up] Angel [Cabrera] and Payne [Stewart] probably would have said, 'I'm not going to show up for the playoff either.'
Ouch! I have to stop rolling my eyes when I have my contacts in.

Yes, a man who is trying to win his first major, who has worked most of his life to reach that point, is going to pass up the chance to have the trophy handed to him and accept a postponement so some billionaire with 12 majors can be at the hospital when his wife is screaming untoward things as she delivers their child. Right!

When they ask, that's when Angel says, "no habla English!"

"That would have forced our hand. And I can tell you we would not have said, 'We're not going to have an Open champion this year.' The good news is that it didn't happen. And the most important thing is that Sam Alexis is doing fine."

Oh, nice we're already a first name business with Tiger's daughter!

While neither Fay nor anyone else in the USGA was publicly prepared to say what might have happened, it seems likely an 18- or even 36-hole playoff would have been arranged.

36? Is that a new by-law?  When Tiger or Phil are having a baby, we'll play a special 36-hole made-for-TV playoff at a future date?

I'm sure NBC would love to come back in two weeks and setup their gear again.

"Will they be talking about the 2007 US Open in 2042?"

Uh, that's a no!

The New Zealand Herald's Peter Williams is bored with excessive major setups and issues a warning that will inevitably go ignored because it's way too nuanced.

Golf, like all sports, is in the entertainment business. Its money comes through being an exciting spectacle on television.

The best TV sport is always when the best players perform at their optimum in conditions fair to everyone. I don't think those conditions prevailed at Augusta in April and certainly not at Oakmont last week. In two major championships this year, nobody has finished under par. That's entertainment? Give me a break. It's survival and not much fun to watch or play.

The story goes that after Johnny Miller shot 63 to win the 1973 US Open at Oakmont, the USGA and Oakmont membership vowed that never again would they be embarrassed by somebody ripping a championship course apart.

Embarrassed? That was brilliant play; engaging, exciting and still talked about 35 years later. Will they be talking about the 2007 US Open in 2042? About the greatest player of all time not able to make a birdie in his last 32 holes because of greens so fast you couldn't hit a putt firmly enough to hold the line?


"It is making us look like fools."

I didn't catch these comments from Michael Campbell during the U.S. Open coverage:

"It is on the edge of embarrassing some of the guys," Campbell said.

"It wasn't much fun out there, put it that way. I used to enjoy coming to major tournaments and playing them.

"But when you are out there grinding your butt off for bogeys and pars it is not very nice.

"We felt that at Augusta this year. Normally you get a guy charging on the back nine and shooting 30 like Jack Nicklaus did in 1986. To me that is exciting TV and for the players and the spectators, too.

"But now there are just guys making bogeys and it is making us look like fools."

But don't you see Michael, that's the very point. You and your cohorts had to go and make all that money, get the babes and worst of all drive the ball 350 yards, making these governing body dudes look bad. You must pay! 

"[His comments] got me, they got our membership and they got the USGA"

Golfdom's Larry Aylward caught up with Oakmont superintendent John Zimmers and the USGA's Mike Davis after the U.S. Open and he asked about Phil Mickelson's remarks.

"[His comments] got me, they got our membership and they got the USGA," Zimmers told Golfdom. "Simply put, 99 percent of the players said it was the hardest U.S. Open they have ever played in. But it was absolutely the fairest one, too. It was a true test of golf."

To that, Zimmers said Tiger Woods came up to him after the tournament, hugged him and said, "That was tough." But Woods made the comment as a compliment, not a complaint.

Davis told Golfdom that the USGA thought Mickelson's comments were "perplexing."

"Maybe in this litigious society, where you're not responsible to anything that happens to you, maybe this was just something where he didn't want to be responsible and he wanted to put the blame on someone else," Davis said. "I don't think the USGA is ready to all of the sudden have no rough at the U.S. Open because somebody hurt his wrist in it three weeks before. But having said that, I will say Phil is a good player, and he was playing such great golf coming into the U.S. Open that it's too bad he hurt his wrist. ... Sometimes we all say things in the heat of the moment that, in hindsight, maybe we take back."

"It was frustration talking."

Thomas Bonk notes in his LA Times golf column that Phil Mickelson is apologizing for something he shouldn't have to apologize for.

Mickelson, who after missing the cut at the U.S. Open blamed the USGA for his wrist injury because of the length of the rough at Oakmont during his practice rounds, backed off his comments on his website Wednesday. He said he was simply upset about being hurt: "It's probably why I said some of the things I did on Friday and some of them may have been a little out of line. It was frustration talking."

Uh, frustration was also talking Wednesday night on The Golf Channel.

More importantly, as one golf scribe said to me today, these calls for Phil to apologize for saying what was on his mind (and what was clearly the case since two players WD'd because of rough-induced wrist injuries), is precisely the reason  players offer so few original, profound or bold statements anymore.

"If I'm Phil Mickelson, I'm crafting a letter of apology to the USGA"

Sigh. Yes, Tim Rosaforte says Phil needs to apologize for his remarks about the rough at Oakmont causing his injury.

If I'm Phil Mickelson, I'm crafting a letter of apology to the USGA and the membership at Oakmont, then, at my next press conference, I'm saying I really messed up after missing the cut by blaming my wrist injury on "course set-up." For his competitiveness, and the way he treated the people in the town of Oakmont during his stay, Mickelson really won everybody over. But his comments were damaging and he needs to make it right before moving on. Another good move would be to enter Tiger's tournament, the AT&T National, but that would mean three straight weeks of tournament golf -- Lefty's already committed to Loch Lomond the week before the Open Championship.

Damaging? To? 

It seemed to me no one took Phil seriously?

Well either way, Rosaforte needs to add Chris DiMarco to the list then, since he told Golf World's Jim Moriarty in this week's issue (story not posted yet):

"It's going to take somebody swinging through and breaking an arm or something for them to finally realize that maybe the rough is a little too much. It's going to take somebody getting hurt for them to maybe gear down a little bit."

"Phil Mickelson, for all the abuse he took for offering an honest opinion, wasn't entirely wrong, either."

Steve Elling played Oakmont Monday and lives to write about just how correct both Tiger and Phil were in their assessments:

 Speaking for the parade of media hacks who hung around Oakmont Country Club on Monday, we're sorry we doubted you, man.

Moreover, Phil Mickelson, for all the abuse he took for offering an honest opinion, wasn't entirely wrong, either.

Last week at the U.S. Open, Woods twice asserted that a 10-handicap player, counting every shot and playing by the rulebook, couldn't crack the century mark at absurdly difficult Oakmonster, the hardest course he had ever played.

"No chance," Woods said.

Mickelson, in a parting comment that prompted some to characterize him as a whiner, said the course was "dangerous" because the rough was so deep, players risked injuring their wrists and hands.

After spending five murderous hours on the course Monday, we're here to offer assurance in first-hand fashion that both were right on the money, in either fact or principle.

You'll have to click on the story link to find out how Elling broke 100! 

Two Classics From Oakmont

Bill Fields does his Darwin thing and files another enjoyable essay from Oakmont with a couple of nice anecdotes.

As part of a magazine issue that featured a number of swing sequences, I wrote LPGA Hall of Famer Mickey Wright, who was among several legendary players Golf World asked to submit their five favorite swings in golf. Less than a week after sending Wright my request, I received a handwritten response from her. Along with Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Gene Littler and Louise Suggs on Wright's list was the name of Angel Cabrera. All Wright did was win 82 tournaments and 13 majors with one of the best swings--male or female--the game has ever seen. When Cabrera seized the halfway lead at even-par 140 last week, it felt like I had a bit of insider-trading information.

The fate of that tee ball was a metaphor for the whole week: The line separating success and failure was as fine as it ever gets in golf, a skinny thread of demarcation that separated the golfers left with a headache and the one that hoisted the trophy. "I just don't like the black-and-whiteness of the guaranteed one-shot penalty for hitting it in a bad spot," said defending champion Geoff Ogilvy, who finished T-42 at 19-over 299. "But as I said, I'm frustrated, so it's a bad time to interview a player."

SI's John Garrity goes in an entirely different but most enjoyable direction with a tongue-in-cheek (I think!) chat with an Oakmont member.

I had gotten a lunchtime call from a stranger, who told me the Oakmont members were angry because their course was playing too easy. "Two guys broke par yesterday," he said. His voice cracked on the word broke. "Paul Casey just shot a 66. A 66!" This last lament was pitched so high that I pictured the Hindenburg going down in flames.

I can't say I was surprised. Look up sado masochism in the Physician's Desk Reference, and you'll find a thumbnail photo of the Oakmont clubhouse along with footnotes on Church Pew bunkers, overgrown ditches and H.C. Fownes, the Pittsburgh businessman who designed the course more than a century ago. Fownes loved his golf course the way Torquemada loved the rack, and he passed his cruel streak on to his son Bill. "The virility and charm of the game lies in its difficulties," wrote Bill Fownes. "Keep it rugged, baffling, hard to conquer. . . . Let the clumsy, the spineless and the alibi artist stand aside!"

"So what are you saying?" I asked. "That the USGA comes in and sets up Oakmont to play easier than normal?"

His hands flew up. "Do I have to spell it out for you? Who ordered our super to cut the rough over the weekend? Who made him slow the greens to 13 1/2 or 14? Who told you media guys that Oakmont would be 'tough but fair?' " Realizing that his nose had popped out of the shadows for a second, Deep Rough drew back. "Fair? Who said golf was supposed to be fair?"

Regaining his composure, he let his voice drop to a melodramatic whisper: "Follow the dandruff."

A Firm Progression?

The most interesting player comment out of Oakmont came from 2006 final group contender Kenneth Ferrie, talking to Gary Van Sickle:

"This is the first time I've played a golf course where it didn't rain and the course has gotten softer every round.
"It's mind boggling, really. Thursday and Friday you're trying to bounce the ball up onto the greens. Today, I actually had a few shots hit the green and spin back."

The USGA's Mike Davis gets points for applying water to prevent an all out debacle. And as you may recall, the Masters this year saw borderline firm and fast all week, then applied water to the greens after the committee had gotten in their licks.

But that's the Masters and at least they recognized the need for the traditional Sunday fireworks.

The U.S. Open is a different beast. It should be the most difficult major of the year, but shouldn't that difficulty ideally progress from day one to the finish, with Sunday's "examination" being the culmination of a week's worth of golf?

Personally, I have long respected the USGA history of giggling at the PGA Tour's willingness to play lift, clean and place. You may remember that Tom Meeks noted they would not be playing "lift, clean and cheat" after Wednesday's deluge at the 1996 U.S. Open. ("Commissioner, I have Mr. Meeks on line 1 to apologize...)

The blue coats are big rub 'o the green guys and gals, touting their devotion to playing the ball down no matter what. And firm greens and landing areas have always been priority 1.  Play it as it lies.

Yet they now set up courses with such confining width, extreme speeds and different rough heights for different holes that they are having to use water to dictate the way the ball reacts when it hits the ground.

So I'm interested in what everyone thinks of this notion of a tournament course getting softer each day without rain. Were the measures taken at Oakmont a positive direction for the game or will it open the door for all sorts of strange antics (particularly with the advent of Sub-Air systems where a committee could present radical extremes from day to day)?

Two More Takes On The Open

2007usopen_50.gifGreg Stoda in the Palm Beach Post talks to Torrey Pines super Candice Combs who is all excited about inflicting torture on the players next year (uh, how about we establish some turf first!) and asks, "Isn't it all getting to be a little too much?"

The USGA simply went too far this time. It packed muscle onto a course already plenty strong enough to defend itself. The organization always indicates its desire - it's "purpose" to use Combs' word - is to identify the best player. Not in the world, necessarily, but for the week of the U.S. Open examination. It's terrific, for my money, when a Cabrera or an Ogilvy or a Michael Campbell (even-par 280 at Pinehurst two years ago) wins the tournament. Anyone who bemoans Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson or some other superstar not winning all the time is missing the point.

Cabrera, by the way, was the only player in the field to break par twice. He beat Woods and Jim Furyk, runners-up a stroke back, three rounds out of four. Who was Oakmont's best player?

But the 10-over-par cut was absurd. And the weekend's treachery was best exemplified by that same 10-over-par finishing score, which at 290 ended up being good enough for a share of seventh place. That's not competition; it's attrition.

Douglas Lowe takes a more shallow approach, celebrating the sadistic pleasures and bellows on about the dreaded "integrity of par."

The integrity of par has taken a beating in recent years, if not decades. In bread-and-butter tournaments, par is nowhere near good enough and David Fay, executive director of the USGA, said: "All we want is for par on any of the 18 holes to mean something."

Wait, I thought he said they are not fixated on par?

2007 U.S. Open Ratings Up

Take that David Stern!

From PGATour.com:

With Tiger Woods back stalking the lead, the U.S. Open's television ratings made a big jump from a year ago.

Sunday's final round on NBC earned a 7.0 overnight rating and a 17 share, up 37 percent from last year's 5.1/12 after Woods missed the cut. It was the best Sunday overnight rating since a 9.3/21 in 2002, when Woods won at Bethpage.

Overnight ratings measure the 55 largest TV markets in the United States, and each ratings point represents about 735,000 households. The rating is the percentage watching a telecast among homes with televisions, and the share is the percentage tuned into a broadcast among those households with televisions on at the time.
It's down to 735,000 households now for each ratings point? Oh right, the changing media landscape...


A Few More Monday U.S. Open Clippings

2007usopen_50.gifThomas Bonk takes on the tricky task of pointing out that Angel Cabrera doesn't exactly seem to slip into that all star cast of winners at Oakmont, while getting to the most important question: is this championship about the course and USGA or about the players?
Somewhere along the way, the venerable layout, the scene of eight historic U.S. Opens and renowned for a power table of winners, might have lost a little bit of its luster. The list includes Armour, Snead, Hogan, Nicklaus, Miller, to name a few, and now Cabrera. Are we sure it's a proper fit?

Next June at Torrey Pines, Woods will be working on a six-year streak since his last U.S. Open title. Mickelson has none, in 17 tries. Yes, Cabrera has more U.S. Open titles than Mickelson.

Maybe that's just the way it is, and even the way it should be. After all, Cabrera didn't do anything wrong, he earned his championship, the only player in the field who had two rounds under par, his opening 69 and his closing 69.

But something just seemed wrong. A total of eight scores under par for four days? Only six players shooting better than 10 over par? A course so brutally difficult that even par doesn't even get a sniff?

At the end of the day, it's getting harder and harder to distinguish the significance of the U.S. Open, certainly if you go by judging the relevance of its recent champions. We've traveled this road before, of course, when Jack Fleck won in 1955 or when Orville Moody won in 1969 or Lou Graham in 1975.

These days, more and more, the extreme difficulty of the courses is the dominant factor of the U.S. Open — not the players.

Bonk also looks at the state of Ernie Els' game 13 years after winning at Oakmont and concludes his knee isn't fully healed and that Els may never be the player he once was.

Gary Van Sickle is alarmed by some of the things happening with Tiger's game.
Forget that stat about never coming from behind to win a major on the last day. At the Masters and at Oakmont, he grabbed the lead on Sunday ... and couldn't hold it either time!

At the Masters, the par 5s cost him. He was spooked by No. 8 and hit 3-wood off the tee (3-wood?), and then he made a rare poor decision to go for the 15th green in two from a bad lie when he didn't need to (he found the water). At Oakmont, he committed a no-no by bunting it over the third green, biffed his third shot across the green, muffed his next pitch and made an un-Tiger-like double bogey. The Old Tiger makes par from the fairway there 9 out of 10 times, and the 10th time, he doesn't make double.

The biggest concerns of Tiger-watchers? Whatever happened to his tempo? It used to be fluid. Now he seems to be trying to hit everything as hard as he can, like he did when he overpowered Augusta National in 1997. Is it possible to have too much muscle? For once, it was his near-flawless play Saturday that looked like the aberration.
Larry Stewart reports on Saturday's ratings, which prove the remarkable impact Tiger has...
Saturday's third round got a 4.6 overnight rating, compared with a 3.2 for the third round last year. In Los Angeles, Saturday's round got a 4.0 and beat the 3.9 for the Dodgers versus the Angels that day on Channel 11.

The 4.6 overnight was the highest for a U.S. Open third round since a 4.8 in 2004. The final round that year from Shinnecock Hills earned a solid 6.3 national overnight rating. Phil Mickelson three-putted from five feet for a double bogey at the 17th hole, and Retief Goosen won by two shots.

When Woods last won a U.S. Open — at Bethpage in 2002 — the overnight rating for the final round was a 9.3.

What Was Jim Drinking Last Night?

Thanks to a media member who got this email release last week, and which probably answers the question of what Jim Furyk turned to last night for uh, reassurance.

Good afternoon, my name is Lauren from Taylor PR in New York. Diageo has created a new event between Johnnie Walker and Jim Furyk. It is the “Johnnie Walker Jim Furyk Sweepstakes.” From July 5- September 15, 2007 golf fans can enter online for a chance win a round of golf with one of the best, PGA Tour Stars, Jim Furyk! For more information go to http://www.johnniewalker.com/PlayWithJim. Golf fans can also feel like a Pro on the course this summer by sipping on Jim Furyk’s own signature Johnnie Walker cocktail. This round is on Jim!

Furyk’s Best Ball
1.5 oz. Johnnie Walker Black Label
1tbsp. honey
3 oz. Unsweetened tea
1 wedge lemon

Preparation: Add Johnnie Walker Black Label, honey and unsweetened tea; stir and serve over ice: garnish with lemon wedge.

And voila! All of those flashbacks about the 17th hole go away.