Stage already being set for US Open at San Francisco's Olympic Club

The Olympic Club provided great drama and a natural theater in 1998

As the calendar creeps closer to 2012, the prep work for June’s U.S. Open at the Olympic Club ratchets up with each passing day.

And when it’s all said and done, spectators can expect to see a bigger and bolder event than the last time the Open came to The City in 1998.

“The Open has grown exponentially since ’98,” senior director of the U.S. Open Reg Jones said during a visit to Olympic on Monday. “Whether it’s media, spectator facilities … there’s more space.”

A crew from the USGA first came to San Francisco in September 2009 to begin planning, according to Jones, and the organization’s presence has gradually increased over time. Major construction of on-site facilities is slated to begin in March.

“After the calendar turns [to 2012], that’s when it really starts hitting from a prep standpoint,” said Jones, who estimated more than 5,400 volunteers will be needed throughout the event.

The USGA is anticipating selling 32,500-35,000 tickets for each of the four days of action. In comparison, approximately 28,500 fans attended each round of the 1998 event, Jones said.

“There’s a lot more room with the changes they’ve made to the golf course [since 1998],” Jones said. “We are comfortable we can accommodate more people. Logistically, we have no concerns with it.”

On the course, repeating the drama of the 1998 event will be a tall order for the 2012 version. In 1998, Lee Janzen sat seven strokes behind Payne Stewart early in the final round, but thanks to a furious charge, Janzen surged past Stewart for a one-shot victory.

Rory McIlroy, who blew away the field at Congressional Country Club in Maryland for an eight-shot win, will come in as the defending champion. And of course, Tiger Woods is always lurking.

But if history is any indication — past U.S. Opens at the Olympic Club include Jack Fleck defeating Ben Hogan, Billy Casper toppling Arnold Palmer and Scott Simpson outlasting Tom Watson — an unlikely hero could emerge.

“Olympic is seemingly where the unexpected has always happened,” Jones said. “It’s where the underdogs come through.”

NOTE: The USGA is offering a holiday special where anyone who purchases Open tickets between now and Jan. 2 will receive one free divot-repair tool gift set per order.

<p>dkruse@sfexaminer.com

U.S. Open

WHEN: June 14-17
WHERE: The Olympic Club (Lake Course)
DEFENDING CHAMP: Rory McIlroy
HISTORY: The Olympic Club has previously hosted the U.S. Open in 1955, 1966, 1987 and 1998
INFO: www.usopen.com

Dylan KruseSan FranciscosportsUS Open

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