U.S. Open week is annually one of my favorite weeks on the golfing calendar. I love Masters week. And the other majors are special, too. But there is absolutely nothing like U.S. Open week. The week when the best golfers in the world truly have their mettle tested like no other. Yes, the USGA has made some mistakes with course setup in recent years. Yes, they've lost control of the course in a couple of instances when sun-baked greens have gone without water in order to make them as fast as possible, only to find they're no longer receptive to even good shots and that putting becomes less a skill and more a game of tap-and-pray. Still, the U.S. Open challenges and tests the best in the game like no other tournament can. And I love to watch it for the heartbreak of seeing a contender squander his chance when he can't hack his way out of the greenside rough every bit as much as I watch to see heroic charges and once-in-a-lifetime golf shots.
I'm not in San Diego for the U.S. Open this week at Torrey Pines, but I'll be watching on television and can't wait for the drama to unfold. Truthfully, I've been to two U.S. Opens at Oakmont in 2007 and 2016, and what I've found is that it's fun to walk the course during the practice rounds, but I'd rather watch the championship from the comfort of my own home.
But I thought I'd share a few pictures from the day my wife and I spent at Oakmont during a practice round in 2016 when, among other things, we got to spend some time hanging out with 2012 U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson. Heck of a guy.
2012 U.S. Open champion, Webb Simpson, could not have been nicer as we spent time talking fairways, faith and family with him after his Wednesday practice round at the 2016 U.S. Open.
The par-4 third hole is iconic for the church pew bunker that sits to the left of the fairway and separates the third and fourth fairways. When I played here in 1999, I'd joked with my caddie, Mike, that I was going to steal some sand out of the famous bunker. When we got to the third fairway, I'd driven my ball down the left side. While we waited for the green to clear, Mike dumped out the rest of a Gatorade he'd been drinking, hurried into the bunker and filled it with sand that he stuffed in my bag to smuggle home.
22 years later, sand from Oakmont's church pew bunker still sits in a jar on the desk in my home office.
I love this picture of the 9th green at Oakmont, which is also the practice green at Oakmont. The picture doesn't show that, but I love it anyway. When I played there, the hole played as a par-5 -- only 478 yards from the tips but all uphill. I hit a big drive that leaked right into the rough, and I remember Mike telling me he couldn't believe my ball was sitting up. He said I could hit that drive a hundred times and never get that lie. So, he handed me my 3-iron and told me to make the best of it. It's incredible what confidence like that from a caddie can do. Out of the Oakmont rough, I hit a beautiful 3-iron that started left of the green, faded to the middle, and settled about 15 feet from the hole. Two putts later, and I had my third birdie on the front nine.
A look at the long (and I mean LONG) par-5 12th hole at historic Oakmont Country Club. The one time I played there, back in 1999, we finished on 12 after a shotgun start that saw us begin the day on 13. I was playing with a pro from the Nike Tour and two guys who were preparing for the Texas and Pennsylvania State Amateur tournaments, respectively. They wanted to play the course from the tips, so we played from the tips. I birdied three holes that day -- Nos. 3, 4 and 9. I did not birdie 12, but I did crush a drive off into the middle of the fairway that qualified as longest drive of the day for the outing being played that day ... despite the fact we were there as guests of the head pro and not officially part of the outing.
Rory McIlroy played a terrific shot into the 18th green during this practice round.
No. 18 at Oakmont -- one of my favorite holes in all of golf. The one time I played there, I drove my ball over the right trap into the rough, hacked my way down the fairway, hit a wedge into the green and sank a long putt to save par. That's how it's done, son!