The trophy was there, bright and gleaming. The trophy sitting on the tee of the ridiculously lengthened eighth hole at Olympic Club. The trophy and U.S. Open, thoughts about what is coming and what has gone.
A photo day to capture the beauty of Olympic — where the second full week in June, for a fifth time, America’s golfing championship will be played in all its ecstasy and agony.
On this chill Monday morning — please no references to the quote attributed to Mark Twain about the coldest winter being a summer in San Francisco, because this is spring — journalists and photogs swarmed Olympic. They looked. They asked. They photographed, or for the TV guys, they shot.
Good old Olympic, the so-called graveyard of legends, where Jack Fleck beat Ben Hogan in ’55, Billy Casper beat Arnold Palmer in ’66 and Scott Simpson beat Tom Watson in ’87. It was all the same. It was considerably different.
Consider the once-beckoning eighth, the 135-yard, par 3, a flip wedge or a 9-iron. Sure, during the 1955 Open, E. Harvie Ward or Dick Mayer flew one of those 9-iron shots into an overhanging tree and the ball never was recovered. But mostly it was a delightful little hole, even for hackers.
Now? Now the U.S. Golf Association has conspired to make it impossible, or mostly impossible. They’ve added 75 yards.
“It’s a tester,” said Pat Finlen, Olympic’s director of maintenance operations. Pete Kowalski and Brian DePasquale of the USGA staff seemed to be smiling at the announcement.
Olympic’s Lake Course for eons played at 6,700-plus yards. But for the 2012 Open, in this era of hot balls and titanium clubs, it will be 7,095. Not only have fairways been stretched about as far as possible without extending to the Great Highway or the Lake Merced reservoir, but vegetation has been removed and trees topped.
“I was out there the other day,” said Ken Venturi, the San Francisco native and 1964 U.S. Open champ, “and I didn’t recognize the place. I had played it from the time I was a teenager.” He’s now 80.
Olympic, started in the 1920s, is even older.
It’s been a great battleground, a place where Hogan couldn’t extricate himself from wheat-field-height rough on 18; a place Arnie went for an Open record and instead ended up blowing a big lead after nine holes; a place Payne Stewart in the 1998 Open had a 6-foot birdie putt on 18 and when the ball rolled up to the cup and back, a 20-foot par putt.
Olympic has no water hazards and only one fairway bunker, on No. 6, the tee of which has been moved back almost to the Golden Gate Bridge so you need to drive it at least 280 yards to clear the sand.
But Olympic has holes with reverse camber — the four doglegs left, but the fairway tilts right. Olympic has trees, all kind of trees — fir, cypress, even palm. And, lord, does Olympic have history.
More will be made in June when the best golfers on the globe show up to master Olympic’s tiny greens, shaped fairways and, not least, Northern California’s unique summer weather.
And for the man who conquers course, conditions and opponents will be that trophy, which Monday was sitting there on display.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHEN: June 14-17
WHERE: The Olympic Club
INFO, TICKETS: www.usopen.com
DEFENDING CHAMP: Rory McIlroy