Oakmont, Pa. – It’s often said there is no let-up at Oakmont Country Club. It’s said so often because it’s accurate. But that’s not technically true, at least not at this week’s U.S. Women’s Open, where players are finding relief – albeit brief and slight – once they get past the opening hole. And that’s regardless of which nine they begin their rounds on.
That’s because the par-4 first hole has been the most difficult on this storied layout midway through the second round of this championship. Its parallel kissin’ kin, the par-4 10th, is nearly as hard, ranked No. 2 overall, and at the time of Friday’s weather suspension, No. 10 was playing nearly a stroke over par, with the field averaging 4.971 shots.
Cumulatively, the stroke average on No. 1 is running at 4.736, to 4.730 for No. 10.
So much for easing into a round.
“I am not surprised at how hard No. 1 is, and if you look at 1 and 10, they really are two very difficult holes that have the potential to be demoralizing right out of the chute,” said Mike Davis, the senior director of Rules and Competitions for the USGA. “One of the great attributes of Oakmont is that every hole is difficult, and that includes the first.”
Both Nos. 1 and 10 are downhill par-4s measuring 437 and 440 yards, respectively, with fast, deceptive greens that slope away from front to back, a significant design departure from the norm; almost all old-style courses feature push-up greens that slope from back to front.
“I think that one feature right there makes those two holes particularly hard,” said Davis. “Usually you think that if you stay short of the green, that’s the place to miss if you want to get up and down. But if you end up short at those holes, then bogeys are pretty likely, and you’ve put double bogey into play.”
“I can’t think of a hole that’s harder starting out,” said Natalie Gulbis, who despite a back ailment has gone twice around Oakmont in a respectable 146 after a pair of 73s. She was talking about No. 1, but she contributed to the bloated scoring average at No. 10 on Friday with a triple bogey.
Stacy Lewis, who carded the only sub-par score (70) among Friday’s morning wave, said the championship might well be decided by how well a player can navigate the opening three holes. They were ranked first, fourth and fifth, respectively, in difficulty.
“That’s the hardest stretch, and it’s even harder because it’s your first three,” said Lewis, who triple-bogeyed the second hole Thursday. “All you really want to do is hit the fairway and the green and take two putts on each of those and move on, really. How you play those will determine who wins, I think.”
Added Alexis Thompson: “You have to be ready to play right away, hit some fairways and just try to make some good swings. I mean, the course isn’t going to get any easier.”
Well, it does – and it doesn’t.
Dave Shedloski is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.