101st U.S. Open Underway

The 101st playing of the U.S. Open began June 14. The world’s finest players converged on Tulsa, Oklahoma earlier this week to research the tournament site, Southern Hills Country Club. Defending champion Tiger Woods, whose sizzling performance during the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach set a variety of all-time records, has been joined in Tulsa by the best amateur and professional golfers.

As usual for its premier event, the USGA toughened up the Southern Hills course, which was designed by Perry Maxwell and opened in the 1930s. Southern Hills will be presented as a very demanding 7,019-yard, par-70 layout that will boast the longest par-4 (the 491-yard 16th) and longest par-5 (the 655-yard fifth) in championship history. Adding to the challenge will be velcro-like 4-inch deep Bermudagrass rough along the fairways. Southern Hills’ slick bentgrass greens will “stimp” at 11 to 11.5. Combined with Maxwell’s highly contoured and peaked putting surfaces, the greens – as is traditionally the case – will determine the winner and losers of the U.S. Open.

Controversy dogged the championship even before it got underway. The green at the 18th hole, a nasty 465-yard par-4, is a steeply front-tilting affair. Early in the week the long-iron approach shots hit short of the 18th pin rolled 30 or more yards back onto the fairway. The USGA’s chief agronomist, Tom Moraghan, addressed the issue by continually watering the green between Monday and Wednesday prior to the championship, and not mowing it in an effort to prevent approaches from rolling off. Since there are only a few suitable pin placements on this putting surface, it’ll be interesting to see if Moraghan’s measures lend the championship’s closing hole a modicum of fairness.

Southern Hills has managed to retain much of the character instilled in it by Maxwell, one of golf’s master designers. Contemporary grasses have replaced the original turf (most recently after a vandal poured acid on eight greens of the championship course, damage that caused a replanting of all the greens – for consistency’s sake – with bentgrass). But the tight, tree-lined course remains a claustrophobic experience. Architect Keith Foster, who oversaw a remodel of the course over the past few years, told Brad Klein of Golfweek, “It’s not my course, it’s Perry Maxwell’s. It wasn’t a matter of adding something that had my imprint on it but of bringing out what was already in the design.” Foster was helped in the restoration work by aerial photos which showed the locations of bunkers and the sizes of the greens.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the U.S. Open field is Tulsa’s mid-June hot and humid weather. The heat index forecast for every day this week is plus-100, incorporating 90-plus-degree temperatures and 90% humidity. The eventual winner must not only overcome one of the toughest tests in championship golf, but stifling playing conditions. Combine that with making shots during the heat of competition, and the champion of the 101st U.S. Open will certainly have earned his first-place check of $800,000.

TV Times for the U.S. Open (all times are local, Central time)

Thursday, June 14 – ESPN: 12:00 - 3:00 p.m.
Thursday, June 14 – NBC: 3:00 - 5:00 p.m.
Thursday, June 14 – ESPN: 5:00 - 8:00 p.m.
Friday, June 15 – ESPN: 12:00 - 3:00 p.m.
Friday, June 14 – NBC: 3:00 - 5:00 p.m.
Friday, June 14 – ESPN: 5:00 - 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, June 15 – NBC: 1:30 - 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, June 16 - NBC: 1:30 - 8:00 p.m.

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