Journey to Augusta
Up until this day, I’ve been fortunate enough to have played on 8 of the Top 100 courses in the US as prescribed by Golf Digest. In conjunction with my good friend Mathew, I think that now is as good a time as any to begin a contribution that I will title “Journey to Augusta” and bring along his core readers and hopefully many individuals who are new to The Breakfast Ball. While I don’t claim to be the expert equipment reviewer, or social media fanatic, I think that this will be a fantastic partnership and hopefully will allow us to attract a great audience to some wonderful new products in the golf industry and also build new relationships with others through my (and his) quest to play all of the Top 100 in the United States, hopefully meeting many new friends along the way. So let’s kick off my first post to The Breakfast Ball the right way!
Oakmont Country Club – April 21st 2014#5: America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses (Golf Digest 2013-2014) #10: World’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses (Golf Digest 2013-2014)
What more can I say, it’s not every day you get the opportunity to play in an event at historic Oakmont CC. Site of so much history beyond even the description within the fabulous Oakmont CC website, it is almost impossible to put into words the feeling you get driving through the guard gate off Hulton Road in this tiny town in Western PA. Of course, the weeks before I found out about my opportunity to play, I refreshed myself on the history of the Club (ie. Johnny Miller’s “Greatest Round Ever Played,” Arnold Palmer’s failed attempt at winning a US Open in his backyard while Jack won his first event as a pro, Bobby Jones’ 5th US Amateur title, etc.) as well as the golf course itself in preparation for the event. I won’t bore you with too much of the history here but would recommend refreshing yourself on the great history at Oakmont in advance of the 2016 US Open. Rather than going into too much detail about Oakmont, I’d instead like to take you through my journey and share some of my experiences with you. Let’s just say, I still have trouble sleeping some nights thinking back to that glorious Monday almost a month ago…
The day, let me tell you about this day… There was not a cloud in the sky, the weather was in the mid-70’s, and there was a light breeze (which turned a bit heavier as the afternoon wore on). Many of the people I met said it was quite possibly the best weather they’ve had in years! After parking my car in the small lot off the clubhouse, you’re greeted with this as you walk around the pro shop, BAM…
Words and the pictures just doesn’t do it justice…
Since I arrived incredibly early, as usual, I took the time to explore the clubhouse and had the opportunity to walk around with an unbelievably gracious member. Out of respect I didn’t take too many pictures, but I couldn’t resist when I had to the opportunity to get one of some of the past US Open Champions that were being showcased on this hallowed ground, with the focus, of course, on Johnny Miller (2nd from the right).
After my tour of the clubhouse, it was off to the range to practice. Yes, it was actually time to hit a shot within the confines of Oakmont! The attendant said I could take a cart down to the range, or simply walk down the 18th fairway. Um… No brainer there… (Okay, if you still don’t get it, I WALKED DOWN THE 18th FAIRWAY!)… The range was immaculate. Gorgeous brand new Titleist balls stacked and ready to be hit, Oakmont labeled tees set out, and a wide open range with many targets to aim at to ensure your yardages were appropriate. Additionally, wet towels were at each station to clean your clubs and there were two very friendly attendants on site to direct you to open positions and assist with anything you might need. After my first shank of the day (had to get one of out my system), the practice session all came together. Next, it was off to the clubhouse to roll some putts on the famous practice green just beyond the 9th hole which also gave me the opportunity to walk back up 18. This was just too good to be true.
Oh, you want me to turn the camera around to show you what’s beyond the 9th green, just beyond the practice green? Okay
Now that I was done with my warm-up I was ready for some much needed lunch. In the clubhouse I met up with and was introduced to my playing partners (who were fantastic), and spent the rest of the time before we tee’d off trying to relax.
Let me take this opportunity to remind everyone, no matter where you are, take your hats off anytime you enter the clubhouse (or porch area like at Oakmont). It shows respect and is the gentlemanly thing to do, especially when you are a guest at a Club, regardless if it is Oakmont or your buddy’s country club. Also, take off your hat and shake everyone’s hand on the 18th green, again it’s just respectful, even if they are all your buddies. It’s a huge pet peeve of mine seeing people in Clubs wearing their hats or talking on cell phones for that matter. It must have been incredibly embarrassing to be asked to remove your hat by an Oakmont member and yes, it happened MULTIPLE times. So please, hats off.
Now that I’m done ranting, lets get back to the course…
Our group started the round on the 11th hole. My caddy graciously handed me my hybrid and told me to enjoy. We were playing from the Blue tees, a stern challenge at around 6,800 yards with a rating/slope of 74.0/134. The day was just beginning…
After a silly bogey, next up was the par-5 12th, which was very reachable in two being downwind and especially after my drive. But at Oakmont, and with nerves still running, I managed to hit a poor second shot which lead to another bogey. This followed with yet ANOTHER bogey on the short par-3 13th to put me +3 on the day. Deflated but determined I definitely was looking forward to the upcoming short par-4 14th where you can’t help but marvel at the view hitting into the green.
Alas, another GIR, and yet another silly bogey. Playing the par-4 15th, I hit a glorious drive again and left myself a PW in and FINALLY made a par after a great lag putt. That put me at +4 after 5 holes. What happened next is something that I will remember FOREVER…
Approaching the par-3 16th (playing around 210 yards into a bit of a breeze), I hit a glorious knock down hybrid to 33’. First one to hit the green all day according to the closest to the pin sheet… This left me with a fairly quick downhill putt, that was breaking from left to right. Can you say right in the heart? Sinking putts is always a wonderful feeling, but making a birdie at a huge par 3, at Oakmont, ….., speechless! Few other moments have been able to do that to me during my golfing career. Actually, none, I mean, it’s OAKMONT for Pete’s sake! I have been blessed to play a lot of good rounds and make a ton of goods friends, but that moment in time with my playing partners and caddy was special and tops my list of memorable golf moments.
Up next for our group was the massive uphill par-4 17th where both of my playing partners drove the green and went on to make eagle and birdie, while I found myself in a green side bunker and made a bogey.
Walking up the 18th fairway was so surreal; I was so in the moment I forgot to even take a picture! But trust me, the image remains (at least in my head) of knocking in a great par putt after hitting a knock down 4 iron into the wind, onto the green from the right rough. Just an amazing way to close out my first 9 (well, 8) at Oakmont…
We then walked to the 1st tee and down the fairway we went. This hole plays uphill and then drastically downhill to an incredibly tough green. But luckily two good putts, and it was another par, closing out my first 9 at 4-over par… (OK, where did the clubhouse go? – The above photo is the view from the 1st green)
We won’t talk about the 2nd hole for the moment because in all honesty it ate me alive! Really, at that point, all I wanted to do was get to where the infamous ‘Church Pews’ are to the left of the 3rd fairway. Earlier that morning I told my caddy I was hitting into them on purpose, but now actually being there, I had a better idea…
You can’t see the church pews to my left or the green for that matter because I striped my ball dead center, 300 yards. It felt so awesome. But don’t worry, I still took pictures…
A good birdie attempt went missing, but a par kept me at 6-over going to the rather short par-5 4th hole.
Another good drive up and over the bunkers on the right of the fairway left me with about 260 yards into the green (into the wind). My caddy and I picked our line (an aiming pole in the distance) and I striped a 3 wood onto the green, 15 feet from the hole. It was unreal! The eagle putt just trickled by, but a good birdie brought me back to 5-over on the day. Seriously… 5-over at Oakmont!!!
The 5th was a great little hole where I scored another par. Then came the 6th, and another memory I’ll forever take with me from Oakmont. I hit one of the purest 7 irons I’ve ever hit to 5’2” below the hole. It was Heart-thumping! Not only would that swing win me the closest to the hole prize (and even MORE swag from the pro shop), but to this day it still drives me crazy that I MISSED THE PUTT!
But yeah, that’s MY name attached to the space normally reserved for the leader boards!
At this point, reality sank in and I realized that after wishing away the entire past month to get to this date, my round was quickly coming to an end. As we were approaching our last few holes for the day, I tried to convince the caddies (as my two playing partners were definitely in) that we should just continue from 10 onto 11 and play the rest of the back 9 again. But alas, the bargaining done up both the 7th and 8th holes did not work, so we decided to just enjoy the last two holes of our day and considering it started with the historical 9th, we were going to be OK. As you can see below, the pictures are priceless but are far from representing the true thing.
If you squint real hard, you can see Oakmont head-pro Bob Ford putting on the practice green behind the 9th green. Bob just made it through locals for the US Open at 60 and is an incredible gentleman. Shaking his hand and thanking him for having us is another memory that will remain with me forever.
Back to the golf… Standing on the 10th, our last hole of the day, was bittersweet. A good drive down the fairway and a good birdie run closed the day out for me at +6 a score of 77. Wow! In the picture, you can see the 10th from the teeing ground, with the majority of the front 9 in the background.
From there, it was time for dinner and to say our goodbyes. What an amazing day! It is one I will never soon forget and hope to be fortunate enough to make the trek back in the near future if the golf gods will allow. The last picture will be reserved for one of the saddest drives in golf, leaving the clubhouse parking lot.
BUT – I was on my way to Dublin, OH to play Muirfield Village Golf Club, home of The Memorial tournament and the 2013 Presidents Cup.
Look for that in my next post!!!