Liotta: U.S. Open presents brutal challenge

My greatest golfing experience came at Pebble Beach, the day after the 1992 U.S. Open, when the press was allowed to play the course under the conditions that Tom Kite had to endure in order to become an Open champion. It was humbling.

A 12-handicap on an ordinary course, I shot 113, and remain to this day as proud of that round as any I’ve ever played. Long before I reached the 18th green, I was completely overwhelmed. Mentally exhausted, thoroughly confused, completely beaten — by the conditions.

To say a U.S. Open golf course is nothing like anything we play for weekend recreation is an understatement. And Torrey Pines is a track that is mercilous under everyday conditions. I should know.

The late afternoons of my senior year in college were spent at Torrey Pines. As a student at UC San Diego, located less than a mile south of the course, I lived in an apartment in Del Mar, the next town to the north.

I literally commuted past the front gate every afternoon. Most afternoons, I’d drop my car off in the parking lot and hang around the practice green until the starter went home. Then it was golf until sunset.

The thing you must know about Torrey Pines — which is every bit the golfing experience that Pebble is — is that the rough is as thick and tough to hack through as any in golf. Sure, the 7,600-yard track is over the top. Who ever heard of a 515-yard par 4?

But the key will be the rough. On Thursday, we saw Phil Mickelson shake his wrist in pain after trying to hit out of the stuff. On an ordinary Thursday in March, a shot out of the stuff can shoot pain through your arms.

And in U.S. Open conditions? I can only imagine. The winner will be the week’s most accurate driver of the golf ball. And more than a few of the defeated will be soaking their hands in ice.

Random thought:

The NBA stands at a precipice no sport ever wants to face. A referee claims a three-man crew fixed a playoff game — Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings — and the claim dredges up the worst kind of evidence.

The fact that the Lakers shot 27 free throws in the fourth quarter of a game they would narrowly win looks bad enough. Add the fact that six years ago, consumer advocate Ralph Nader sent a letter to the commissioner demanding a review of the game’s officiating, and it gets worse.

Perhaps the lousiest assertion of all is that the game was fixed not in the name of gambling, but in the name of business, because the NBA wanted a Game 7 and the extra revenue.

Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner.

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