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Chicagos biggest golf event ever
The U.S. Open will attract golf fans from 26 countries. They will be making the journey from places such as Brazil, New Zealand, China and South Africa.
However, if you live just outside the gates of Olympia Fields Country Club, and you don't have a ticket, you're out of luck. The Open now is closed on the spectator front.
The tournament, which runs June 12-15, is a sellout for the 17th consecutive year. Unless you know somebody with an extra ticket or are willing to use an alternate route (i.e. your friendly ticket broker), you'll be keeping company with NBC's Johnny Miller via your television. Open officials limited capacity at 35,000 fans per day. The lucky few will witness arguably the biggest golf event in Chicago history.
The last U.S. Open in Chicago was at Medinah Country Club in 1990. The tournament has grown exponentially since then on many fronts. Hale Irwin took home $220,000 for winning at Medinah. This year's winner will pocket more than $1 million.
The odds are the prize will go to Tiger Woods. He comes in as the defending champion and winner of two of the last three Opens.
His presence has taken the Open and golf to another level. Tournament officials already are devising plans to deal with the on-course traffic flow problems that are created by the large galleries that follow Woods.
Woods will be part of a dream pairing to open the tournament. Tradition dictates that the defending U.S. Open champion is teamed with the defending British Open and U.S. Amateur champions. That means Woods will play with Ernie Els and Ricky Barnes during the first two days of the tournament. However, it could be all four days if Woods and Els live up to expectations and battle for the Open title.
They won't be alone. Expect Phil Mickelson to make a run, along with players like Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen, David Toms, and Sergio Garcia. Also, the Open is known for the unexpected, so look for a surprise or two on the leaderboard.
Playing Olympia Fields will be a new experience for the entire field. The last PGA Tour event at the course was the 1971 Western Open, won by Bruce Crampton. In 1997, Graham Marsh won the U.S. Senior Open at Olympia Fields.
This will be the club's second Open. Johnny Farrell beat Bobby Jones to win the title in 1928. The course will play just a tad different in 2003. To accommodate today's long game, Olympia Fields has been stretched out to a par 70, 7,190 yards. The 496-yard ninth hole will be the second longest par 4 in Open history, topped only by Bethpage Black's 12th, a 499-yard beast.
The road home also figures to be a tough test. The 16th hole is a 451-yard par 4, followed by the 247-yard par 3 17th and the demanding finale, a 460-yard par 4. The leader on Sunday would love to take three pars on that hole and call it a day.
Much will happen before that final Sunday. Since the tournament truly is "open," the bulk of the 156-player field will have to earn their way to Olympia Fields through local and sectional qualifying in May and early June.