Curtis Strange, the newest member of the Fox Sports golf team, was the first to take the stage at the USGA Member Clubhouse. He grabbed a microphone and said: “The rough is back. This is fantastic!”
Then Strange started working the full house at the Member Clubhouse at Oakmont, chatting up members and asking about their handicaps, whether they played Oakmont and if they knew how to calculate a Handicap Index®.
“I fish more than I play golf these days, but I am not sure I ever knew how to do that,” Strange said, laughing. “I envy Fax (fellow Fox Sports golf analyst Brad Faxon). He still loves to play, plays every day, still worries about his swing. He is like you all, a true golfer.”
Ten minutes later, the rest of the Fox Sports crew joined Strange – Faxon, announcer Joe Buck and studio host Holly Sonders. He asked if they’d be joined by new golf analyst Paul Azinger. When he was told no, Strange looked at the crowd and in a stage whisper, joked: “Oh that will be so much better. We don’t want him here.”
Strange, who will be an on-course reporter during the 116th U.S. Open and other Fox Sports golf broadcasts, and his peers had just been on the air for a two-hour show covering the Wednesday practice round.
“Man, how times have changed,” Buck said. “We broadcast a practice round, which is amazing. It was a great experience for all of us. Curtis was down there on the course, chatting with players and we get to learn how they are preparing for the championship.”
“I was out there with Jordan [Spieth] today. He wasn’t guarded, he wasn’t on edge, but he was right there in the moment,” Strange said. “He said he doesn’t feel any pressure at all. I remember when I was defending champion [in 1989 at Oak Hill, following his win in 1988 at The Country Club], I didn’t feel pressure, but that was because hardly anyone covered it. Now, with all the attention these guys get, I’m amazed he doesn’t feel it.”
Strange, as intense during his playing days as he is affable now, said it was different when it came time to defend the second U.S. Open title. “It’s bad enough to be the only guy since Ben Hogan [1950, 1951] to repeat, but once I learned about Willie Anderson [U.S. Open champion from 1903-05], I was on edge 24/7 for a year. I lost weight from being stressed in 1990 about defending again Medinah. Of course, then I didn’t play too well.”
Buck jokingly said that Strange, the last man to win back-to-back U.S. Opens, is bummed that the defending champion could hoist the trophy again this year.
“Curtis is like the guys from the 1972 Miami Dolphins,” said Buck. “Every year no NFL team goes undefeated like they did, they break out the champagne. Tell the truth Curtis. You will be breaking out the champagne if Jordan doesn’t win.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I am very concerned,” Strange said with a simple shrug and a big laugh.
The team shared a lot of laughs and a team-first energy on the eve of the championship, covering a lot of ground in a fast-paced, fun 30 minutes chatting with members. Here are just a few highlights:
· “This is the best week of the year. We get to broadcast the Super Bowl of golf.”
· “I’ve only known Curtis for a month, but I am amazed by him. It has been a pleasure to get to know him and learn from him.”
· “I am thinking that Danny Willett could take the trophy this week. He has the length, the touch and is really confident right now.”
· “I am a longtime USGA member, but I am the worst kind. I don’t turn in all my scores, which means my handicap is lower than it should be, so I lose a lot of bets. I am going to ask the USGA to have my dues reimbursed.”
· “I was out on the course the other day with Jordan [Spieth], just watching him prepare. He dropped a few balls in the rough a few yards from the sixth green and he took some mighty rips at the ball. He said to [caddie] Michael Greller, ‘I just had to use my 75-yard swing to hit the ball 6 yards!”
· “There is so much respect for Oakmont. Put a 288-yard par 3 on any other course and the world would stop spinning. Put it at Oakmont and we all go: ‘It’s Oakmont. It’s awesome. Deal with it.”
· “We’re going to have some really cool ‘go-for-it’ and ‘lay-up’ stats on holes 2 and 17. I am pretty sure the ‘go-for-its’ will win. I spoke with Arnold Palmer about it the other day. In 1962, he went for it every time. I asked him if he regretted always going for it whenever he played. ‘Not once,’ he said, ‘but I know that if I hadn’t gone for it every time, I would have won more U.S. Opens.”
· “These greens must be easy. I know everyone talks about how tough they are, but I was playing with Buck the other day. He made a couple of pars and even got a birdie. They can’t be that hard.”
· “This is a hard course and the play is going to be slow. I know everyone will talk about it, but I just have to ask, what is so bad about being on a golf course?”
The crew, just like the rest of the golf world, is ready for action at Oakmont.
David Chmiel is manager of member content for the USGA. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org