Oakmont, Pa. – Weather is almost always a factor at U.S. Opens, and Oakmont Country Club has felt the brunt of some terrific storms during the 15 major championships that have been held there. Midway through the second round of the U.S. Women’s Open on Friday, the historic layout took another impressive beating from the skies.
Throughout the morning, USGA officials nervously watched weather forecasts and radar screens, and were on alert when a significant storm came within radar range by early afternoon.
I think when we sounded the siren, it was about 10 seconds later that we heard the first lightning crack, said Mike Davis, the USGA’s senior director of Rules and Competitions. It came up on us pretty quickly.
The suspension of play came at 2:29 p.m. EDT, followed an hour and a half later by the announcement that play had been called for the day and that the second round would be resumed Saturday at 7:30 a.m.
The forecast for the rest of the day was, in a word, bad, with more storms rolling through western Pennsylvania until early Saturday morning. After that, the forecast for Saturday and Sunday was promising.
But what about the deluge unleashed on Oakmont?
The golf course drained really well, despite getting around a half-inch of rain in a short period of time, Davis said. The problem is, it’s going to keep coming and while we could have gone back out there, by the time we’d have gotten them to the range and then back out to the course, we may have only gotten an hour more of play.
I’ve seen the forecast and I know where we are in this round, and I know we can get back on track and finish by Sunday at 6 o’clock. I just didn’t think it was worth putting the players through all that when we can do it even better starting in the morning.
Oakmont’s bad weather history includes a violent thunderstorm during the final round of the 1983 U.S. Open that stopped play and forced the first regulation Monday finish in the event’s history. Larry Nelson came back that Monday morning and drained a 60-foot birdie putt on the par-3 16th hole that would help him gain his only Open championship. He beat defending champion Tom Watson by one stroke.
In 1992, during the U.S. Women’s Open here, another severe thunderstorm belted the Pittsburgh area and raised such serious concerns about the amount of lightning around the course that hospitality tents, and even the media center, were evacuated.
At the 1994 U.S. Open, a late Friday afternoon storm hammered Oakmont, once again causing a suspension of play.
Davis said that while the course, after the rain, will be softer and not nearly as fast, it won’t be significantly easier.
The weather won’t affect any hole locations that we have planned for the third round. Now, some tee boxes will definitely be affected, he said.
He expects the second and 17th tees to be moved up, making the holes play 235 and 215 yards, respectively. The 16th hole will play as short as it will all week, approximately 130 yards from the front tee.
But we’ll probably put the hole about 2 or 2½ paces in from the right edge, just behind the bunker on that side, he said. Overall, yes, it will be softer, but the ball won’t run out on the fairways nearly as much, so the players will be hitting longer shots into these greens.
Mike Dudurich is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.