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June 25, 2007
Most folks thought Oakmont was too tough, but a mysterious club member claimed there was a conspiracy to make it a cream puff
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June 25, 2007


Most folks thought Oakmont was too tough, but a mysterious club member claimed there was a conspiracy to make it a cream puff

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My name is not important," said the Oakmont member. "You can call me Deep Rough." He was standing in a dark corner of the maintenance shed, his face deliberately concealed in shadow. � "How do I know you're a member?" I asked. "Anybody can buy a shirt with the squirrel logo on it." � "Here's how," he said, delivering a swift kick to my right shin. � I clutched my leg and swore through clenched teeth. I hopped around and crashed into a rough mower, whose shiny blades looked clean enough for the showroom floor. "All right," I gasped, "I believe you." Deep Rough chuckled. � This, I should explain, happened late last Friday night, after the second round of the U.S. Open.

I had gotten a lunchtime call from a stranger, who told me the Oakmont members were angry because their course was playing too easy. "Two guys broke par yesterday," he said. His voice cracked on the word broke. " Paul Casey just shot a 66. A 66!" This last lament was pitched so high that I pictured the Hindenburg going down in flames.

I can't say I was surprised. Look up sadomasochism in the Physician's Desk Reference, and you'll find a thumbnail photo of the Oakmont clubhouse along with footnotes on Church Pew bunkers, overgrown ditches and H.C. Fownes, the Pittsburgh businessman who designed the course more than a century ago. Fownes loved his golf course the way Torquemada loved the rack, and he passed his cruel streak on to his son Bill. "The virility and charm of the game lies in its difficulties," wrote Bill Fownes. "Keep it rugged, baffling, hard to conquer. . . . Let the clumsy, the spineless and the alibi artist stand aside!"

Subsequent generations of Oakmont members have ignored the warning to stand aside. They hoot when Tiger Woods takes a massive swipe from ankle-deep rough, as he did on the 2nd hole on Friday afternoon, and his ball flutters into a drainage ditch. They chortle when Phil Mickelson makes a two-putt bogey on the 9th, as he did in the second round, and has to ask Bones for a wedge between the putts. They read themselves to sleep with old stat sheets, like those from two days of stroke-play qualifying at the 2003 U.S. Amateur, which produced an average score of nine-over-par 79 and a 37-hole match-play final with only three birdies.

I can't talk," the voice on the phone had said, "but I know somebody who will." And that's how I came to be in the maintenance compound after midnight, nursing a barked shin and wondering if I shouldn't have brought a pal to watch my back.

Deep Rough got right to the point. "We're sick about what's happening," he said, disguising his voice to make it sound like Hal Holbrook's in Designing Women. "This course was ready to kick ass. Two weeks ago you couldn't get a ball out of the rough with a backhoe. The greens were 15 on the stimpmeter. If you dropped your cellphone on the fairway, it shattered."

"It's still plenty hard," I said. " Adam Scott and Colin Montgomerie shot 82 today. . . ."

"It was perfect," he said, cutting me off. " Geoff Ogilvy came by for some practice rounds and couldn't break 80. Phil Mickelson hurt his wrist so bad he couldn't play for two weeks. Tiger Woods sat down and cried."

I was pretty sure that Tiger hadn't cried, but I didn't want Deep Rough to kick me again. I said, "Nobody's under par after 36 holes. The average score is over 76. The field is more than a half stroke over par on four holes."

"That's not Oakmont tough!" he barked. "Who do you think we are? Winged Foot? Bethpage Black?" He fumed silently for a moment. "You heard what the kid said yesterday? That the course was easy?"

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