It was at a cocktail party during Masters week that word of Vijay Singh's practice rounds at Oakmont started to circulate. "Vijay says 10-, maybe 12-over will win the Open," Tom Pernice Jr. reported, pointing out that even without the U.S. Open rough, Singh, the third-ranked player in the world, struggled to break par. "He says it could be the hardest Open course ever."
With memories of last year's championship at Winged Foot (winning score: plus-5) still fresh -- and images of players rolling putts off the greens at Shinnecock in 2004 not all that distant -- Singh's assessment is no small matter. The thought of an Open track being even harder than recent examples seems, well, diabolical.
In 1994, when Oakmont last hosted the Open, Ernie Els won in a playoff after tying for the regulation lead at 5-under. Since then, Oakmont has gone from a 6,946-yard par-71 to a 7,230-yard par-70. Some 5,000 trees were removed, bringing the course back to its original inland-links style and making wind a bigger factor. Also, the bunkers are deeper, the fairways narrower and the rough will again be graduated, thickening as it gets farther from the fairway.
Still not scared? Consider this: Oakmont's greens are not only the fastest in major golf but also the most undulating. Putting into a slope -- away from the hole -- is not unusual. Mix in four dry days in June, and things could get silly. Even the USGA is a little nervous. "It's a fine line," says Mike Davis, USGA senior director of rules and competitions. "We want the greatest test of total shot-making, but we know when we push conditions to the limit, Mother Nature can push us over the edge."
Players know what they're up against at Oakmont, but that doesn't mean they have to like it. Tiger Woods outlined his strategy as trying "to avoid making bogeys." And Phil Mickelson, who calls the style of golf that wins Opens "mundane," may have tweaked his wrist swinging through the Oakmont rough in late May.
Oakmont does provide a handful of scoring opportunities, including three drivable par 4's, that could make for some dramatic turns of fortune come Sunday. And depending on pin placement, the eighth could play over 300 yards, the longest par 3 ever in a major.
But don't be surprised if the line for post-round cocktails is even longer.