Twists, turns and doglegs aplenty
US OPEN:IN THE lockerroom of the Olympic Club, aerial photos from a bygone age serve as a reminder of how little has changed in almost a century. The course that plays host to next week’s US Open has, of course, evolved with time; but the layout, originally designed by Sam Whiting, has barely changed.
The only exception between then and now is the par-three eighth hole, the old hole sacrificed to add length to the seventh and ninth holes. The new eighth hole measures 200 yards and is played uphill over a ravine to a green saddled beneath the clubhouse.
Although only 7,170 yards long – with a par 70 – the Lake Course is, as the USGA’s Mike Davis puts it: “Will be firm and fast, so length won’t necessarily be an issue this year . . . in terms of a test of golf, it’s really interesting. It’s going to be a great shot-maker’s course.
“By that, I mean somebody who is able to control his ball is going to have a real advantage here. It really helps to be able to manoeuvre your ball both right-to-left and left-to-right . . . a straight ball will never hurt you, but being able to curve it one way or another really can benefit you,” said Davis.
With so many dogleg holes, and the necessary ability to shape the hole, players will also be required to manoeuvre those shots off uneven lies.
“I think it’s eight of the 14 holes with approach shots you’re playing from an uphill, downhill, sidehill lie and, even for the world’s best, that tests you more,” he added. The course is unusual, too, in that the first six holes are particularly challenging whilst the final five – where players will likely have between a sand wedge and a nine-iron in hand for approach shots – will offer players a chance to play catch-up.
Of the four par threes on the course, the first of them – the third hole – will definitely play as the hardest. It is followed by a run of three particularly difficult par fours that have a lot of elevation change and where the fairway cants the opposite direction of the dogleg. A new tee box on the 489 yards sixth makes it a difficult driving hole. “You have that incredibly hard start, which mentally it will be interesting to see how the players actually deal with . . . I think that it’s going to be a really intriguing Open from that respect that you’re going to see them beat up at the beginning and then the chance to catch up at the end.”
The Olympic Club is staging its fifth US Open and, in the past, has been the scene of a number of under-dog wins.
The 1955 US Open saw Jack Fleck – who will be a guest of the USGA next week – claim his only Major title when he saw off Ben Hogan in a play-off. Fleck was nine shots behind Tommy Bolt, who eventually finished third, after the first round.
Arnold Palmer was seven shots up with nine holes of the final round to play in the 1966 championship but was beaten by Billy Casper in a play-off, while Scott Simpson birdied the 14th, 15th and 16th holes of his final round to overtake Tom Watson and claim the 1987 championship. Lee Janzen finished a stroke clear of Payne Stewart to take the title in 1998, its last staging at the club.