The U.S. Open Golf Tournament starts today at Winged Foot GC in New York. I have been to five (two at Olympic), (three at Pebble Beach) over the years. Even if you are not a golfer, it is the biggest and best tournament of the year. Due to the pandemic, it is being held now, instead of its traditional June schedule.
And I have had the good fortune to play both courses numerous times over the years. Pebble Beach is heaven on earth, and the most beautiful golf course in the world. The Olympic Club is a traditional inner city course, compact, with small greens, and a tricky layout. But during the Open, both are “tricked” up to make them more difficult.
On the eve of the biggest golf championship in the world, I wanted to take a moment to write about it. I have been fortunate enough to attend three so far, 1998 at Olympic Club in San Francisco, and 1992 and 2000 at Pebble Beach. Further, I have been fortunate to have played each course numerous times, even though they are private (Olympic), or expensive (Pebble). I have played on a few venues that have hosted other Opens, like Pinehurst #2.
In 1998, I took my son to Olympic Club for the first round of the tournament. We took BART to Daly City, then a shuttle bus from there over to the course. I went a few days later with a friend of mine, as we drove over and parked on the Ocean Course at Olympic. After walking the grounds, we planted ourselves on the 7th green.
Why there? It is a short par 4 that is drivable by the big boys. So, naturally, when John Daly came to this hole, he gave it a go. He almost made it, as it landed in a bunker just short of the green. The next hole is a very short par 3. Then the ninth hole leads back away from the magnificent clubhouse. Most courses have 9 holes out, and 9 back in. Not Olympic.
Olympic Club is the place where Ben Hogan lost in a playoff in 1955 to an unknown club pro named Jack Fleck. It is also where Arnold Palmer blew a large lead in 1966, hung on for a tie, and lost the playoff the next day to Billy Casper. Most recently, Scott Simpson, otherwise known as Bill Murray’s straight man, won. by a stroke over Tom Watson. We saw Lee Janzen win his second US Open over the popular man with the knickers, Payne Stewart. The Open returns here in 2012.
Pebble Beach is an entirely different layout. Parking is located out at the old Fort Ord army base. After getting bussed in to the forest, we are free to walk the magnificent ocean side course. Having worked there in the past, I knew how to sneak a car onto the grounds. We were able to park very close to the Lodge, and avoid the bus ride.
We followed Tiger around on the first day of the championship. It was obvious that he would win, as everything he was hitting seemed perfect. And it was a magnificently sunny and breezeless day on my favorite golf course in the world. We were also fortunate to meet Mr. Karsten Solheim, the founder of the PING golf club company in Arizona in 1992.
We were also able to access the food and beverages in the employee cafeteria. We also sneaked into a few hospitality suites of some unnamed corporation. And we bought our US Open souvenirs at a considerable discount.
Bethpage Black is the home to the Open this year, as well as back in 2002. My son’s cousins live directly across the street from the courses. The Open comes back to Pebble next year. I think I will volunteer to help with the tournament if I cannot get tickets.
The atmosphere of an Open is dramatically different than any tournament we have attended. Aside from bigger crowds, more sponsors, larger corporate tents, the players are more focused, more businesslike, less inclined to sign autographs for the kids. Also, the food is better. Every stroke is magnified, as the field bunches up around even par. Except for Tiger.
It will be special to see Tiger at Pebble again, where he won by so many strokes. And it will be interesting to see if he can tame Olympic Club when they grow the rough. But mostly, it is so magical just to walk where all the greats have played, and know that even a simple, country boy, a cockeyed optimist, can find the short stuff on a few special days.
So, pick your favorite to win. Most of you will pick Dustin Johnson. But my darkhorse pick is my fellow UC Berkeley grad, Colin Morikawa.