Oakmont Again Shows LPGA Stars Who's Boss

Times Staff Writer

They like to brag out at Oakmont Country Club that their golf course, the home of this week's GNA tournament, is the most difficult of all the courses used in LPGA events.

After all, last year's winner, Jan Stephenson, won with a 72-hole score of 290, the highest winning total of the year. In fact, Stephenson's total was the only winning score above par during 1985.

And they point out that eight of the 100 toughest-rated holes on the tour are right here at Oakmont. Not only that, but the 12th hole, an uphill par-4 loaded with potential trouble to the left and right of a narrow fairway, was the most difficult hole in 1985. The players' average score on No. 12 last year was 4.62.

It's a safe bet that the reason the members at Oakmont get a kick out of watching the lady pros scramble for par and bogeys on the 6,256-yard course is that they know the feeling. They can relate to bouncing drives off eucalyptus trees and dumping iron shots into bunkers the size of Yugoslavia.

They know all too well what it's like to have to pull a two iron out of the bag in order to have even a chance of making par.

How heart-warming to see JoAnne Carner or Kathy Whitworth drill a long iron shot to the middle of the green, and watch it bounce over the hard surfaceinto a deep rough.

It's nothing personal, of course. But last week, Tom, Dick and Harry, who've been golfing here for 20 years, couldn't keep the damn ball in the fairway for the life of 'em.

Ain't it sweet when Becky Larson, a pro, takes a big fat 10 on No. 8, a 400-yard par 4?

Yep, this here is the toughest stop on the LPGA tour.

Oakmont's fairways are narrow. In order to fully appreciate how narrow, imagine teeing off down the road in front of your house.

Even worse, many of the fairways are slanted. If a drive lands in the middle of the fairway, it could end up in the bushes.

Despite the fact that the course isn't particularly long, many of the players say it plays long.

Said Laura Baugh: "It was really playing long this morning because the minute the ball hit, it slowed down. The ball wasn't running because of all the rain. I never thought of this course as being so long."

But what really makes Oakmont tough, according to pro Janet Coles, is the greens.

"They have a lot of subtleties, and they're fast," she said. "I was putting five feet past the hole this morning. We were all talking about it. The rain hasn't slowed them down."

Many of the greens on the course are multi-level, which at times makes putting like looking into a side-view car mirror when cutting diamonds.

Seemingly, the four holes that the professionals are finding most inhospitable are No.s 6, 8, 12 and 13.

The sixth is a 395-yard par 4 that doglegs left. It has one of those slanted fairways that rolls a shot to Bakersfield if it isn't placed correctly.

The dogleg is guarded by oak trees, but trees also line both the left and right.

The cruelty of No. 6 is that after dodging disaster to get to the green, the golfer faces a crowned green the size of the average dining-room table. And it is guarded by bunkers on both sides.

No. 8 is a par 4. Here the golfer needs a Sherpa Indian guide to find the green. The hole crosses a flood-control ditch--the members call it a "brink"--not once, but twice. First on the tee shot, then just before the green.

Eight is a dogleg to the right, with a string of oak trees on the right side and a sycamore tree on the left.

The green is surrounded by four bunkers. After the first round, the hole had allowed one birdie, 63 pars, 49 bogeys, 25 double-bogeys and three triple-bogeys or above.

No. 12, which caused so much trouble during last year's tournament, was shortened from 410 yards to 370 this year. Still, as one player put it, "It's a hell-raiser."

Players now have a clear shot at the green, but the drive must be accurately placed. The hole plays uphill from tee to green.

No. 13 is a 405-yard par 4. What makes this hole so tough is that the fairway has valleys running through it. If a player doesn't get over them, forget it. Give the clubs to a relative and take up lawn bowling. Thirteen's green has a bunker on the right and a cliff on the left. Chipping to the green from the left is like chipping out of the Grand Canyon.

"There's no doubt in my mind that this is the toughest course we play all year," said Coles, who managed a 74 Friday after an opening round of 79. "If you're playing well, it's a challenge. If you're not playing well, it's a battle."

It's not as if Oakmont has never been mastered. Ben Hogan, for example, shot a final-round 64 to win the 1948 Glendale Open.

Ben Hogan isn't playing this year, and most observers think par golf on this course will win the 1986 GNA.

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