Langer’s Impressed, But Rains May Help Soften Open Course
Masters champion Bernhard Langer sought out a U.S. Golf Assn. official immediately after finishing his first practice round over the Oakland Hills Country Club course, site of the 85th United States Open.
“That is,” the West German star said to Frank Hannigan, Seniors Executive Director of the USGA, “the longest, hardest par 70 course I’ve ever seen.”
Seve Ballesteros of Spain, the current British Open titleholder, was standing by.
“How many U.S. Opens have you played in?” he asked Langer.
“Hah,” Seve said, and made a dismissive, throw-away gesture, “You have seen nothing. Nothing.”
The implication was that Oakland Hills, which Ben Hogan called “the Monster” when he won here in 1951, may not be as difficult as many, perhaps most, U.S. Open courses. Strangely enough, the U.S. Golf Assn. seems to agree.
In 1951, the old Donald Ross layout yielded only two rounds under 70 in the tournament, Hogan’s closing 67 and a last-round 69 by Clayton Heafner, which lifted him to second.
They talked then of the fairways so narrow two players could not walk abreast, of greens so fast “it’s like putting down a marble staircase.”
And there were scare stories, horror stories, that Oakland Hills had been toughed--that’s right, made more difficult--this year: fairways more narrow, in some cases 25 yards in width; tees (at least three) lengthened; strategically (or, some players suggested, diabolically) added; other clusters of bunkers expanded into huge, yawning single expanses of sand with steeper, more difficult faces.
There was talk that a score of par, 280, very well could win.
But things have changed.
The Monster’s teeth have been drawn.
Not by act of the sponsoring USGA Not at all.
By act of nature.
“We’ve had a dry spring. Not nearly the rain we usually get. As a result, the rough isn’t up like we’d expected,” said Oakland Hills club pro Al Mengert.
“When the USGA first came in and made the changes, I thought it might be around par, maybe one or two under, to win. Now, I’m thinking it might be much lower, even record levels,” he said.
That would be the 272 Jack Nicklaus shot in winning his fourth Open title at Baltusrol in 1980.
While that level may be out of reach, scores could be low.
The greens were softened by rain Tuesday. One USGA official was heard to complain, privately, that they were “pitifully slow.” Almost certainly, they’ll be quicker when the first round starts Thursday, but the marble staircases almost certainly will be gone.
“The fairways are fine,” Hannigan said.
“The problem is with the rough. They have a watering system that doesn’t reach all areas. So, with the dry spring, they don’t have the rough we’d expected. We do have it in some areas where the sprinkling system reaches, and don’t have it in others. And, in areas were the water runs down into low places, it’s up very high. So there really is no consistency,” he said.
“The rough is not all that bad,” said Australian David Graham, who won the PGA here in 1979.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if you see some very good scores.”
But the undulations in the greens remain, those humps and hollows that resemble a seascape. The very inconsistency of the rough could be a major factor. And, too, there’s the built-in pressure factor of competing for the American national championship.
There’s still a bite left in the Monster.