The United States Golf Association brands the U.S. Open as “golf’s toughest test,” and more often than not, it proves to be true.
In 2011, however, Rory McIlroy laughed right in the face of that moniker en route to one of the most dominating Open victories in history.
The Northern Irishman obliterated the field by eight shots, setting or tying 12 Open records along the way. But it wasn’t just McIlroy, as 20 players finished under par, the second-most in tournament history.
“I don’t think the USGA is letting anybody know how upset they were about how the scores were going,” Robert Garrigus, who tied for third at the 2011 Open, told reporters at Congressional Country Club last year. “Next year at Olympic, I think the winning score is probably going to be about 8-over.”
So enter the Olympic Club’s Lake Course, host of this year’s U.S. Open, which is tasked with returning the event to its “tough” stature.
McIlroy, for one, is fully expecting just that to happen when play kicks off in The City on Thursday.
“I think that if the weather permits this year in San Francisco,” McIlroy said, “we’ll get the golf course firm and fast and it will be tricky. … Last year was a little bit of an exception, but I think that this year if you shoot four [even-par] 70s, you’ll have a great chance.”
Firm and fast are two things the USGA often counts on, along with thick, unforgiving rough. The Olympic Club, hosting the Open for the fifth time, has been equipped with those elements, along with minuscule greens and sloping, tree-lined fairways. A large number of holes are doglegged one way or another, forcing players to shape tee shots.
All in all, it will place a premium on accuracy more so than grip-it-and-rip-it distance.
“When you think of the Olympic Club, I think the first thing that comes to mind is this is really going to be a great shotmaker’s course,” said USGA Executive Director Mike Davis, the man tasked with setting up the course. “By that I mean somebody who is able to control his ball is going to have a real advantage here.”
One group of players who haven’t had an edge when the U.S. Open comes to town are the legends of the game. Unheralded players Jack Fleck (1955), Billy Casper (1966), Scott Simpson (1987) and Lee Janzen (1998) all wound up hoisting the trophy in victory, besting icons Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and Payne Stewart, respectively.
This year’s crop of players will have a chance to write their own history on the par 70, 7,170-yard layout. It will play 373 yards longer than the last time the Open was held at Olympic in 1989.
“It’s going to be one heck of a test,” Tiger Woods said after playing a practice round in May. “Over the years, not too many people have finished under par in this event. I think this is going to be another one of those championships.”
Players won’t have any opportunity to take their time in warming up at the Olympic Club, as the opening six holes of the course have been referred to as the “toughest start in U.S. Open history” by USGA officials.
“We are incredibly bullish on how good a test we think this is going to be,” Davis said. “I think it’s really going to be outstanding.”