I drove the 5 1/2 hours to Pittsburgh, PA on Thursday of U. S. Open week. On the radio Brian Katrek, Mark Lye, Carl Paulson, John Maginnes and others admirably described the round one action. Rain was expected but had yet to arrive. Then it did, stopping play not once but on three separate occasions. The initial plan to head out to Oakmont Country Club was scrapped when they called play for good in the early afternoon. I’d stay at the hotel, watch FOX’s replay and head out in the morning.
The shuttle left the hotel at 10:30. The world’s best had already been playing for a few hours but I was in no hurry to slog around in the mud. I had brought a sacrificial pair of shoes knowing the treading was going to be sloppy and I had them on. During the short ride, our driver could not have been more pleasant.
I have spent a little bit of time in Pittsburgh and I hope my friends and readers who are from there and live there now aren’t offended when I say it is not a pretty city. But it’s gritty and muscular and there is something attractive about that.
Traffic was impressive, a steady stream of cars and SUVs with a multiple passengers wearing a variety of colored golf caps.
I knew we were getting close when I looked to the sky and spotted the MetLife blimp. I also couldn’t help but notice the area on the other side of the river from Oakmont could use a facelift. You cross a bridge from one side of the Allegheny to the other but little immediately changes in regard to the scenery. It just looks a little creaky but I imagine if there was money to be made in a renovation, somebody would be making it. Don’t get me wrong it’s not Augusta, Georgia by any means; it just looks “lived in”. Two lanes become one and the line of cars filled with golf fans slows to a crawl.
Three plus inches of rain made parking for the masses a challenge but park they did and onward they all marched. The neighborhood improved and transitioned to quaint, still “lived in” but quaint. It’s straight up hill and some hearty souls were hoofing it. Further indication that we must be close. I had been to Oakmont CC once before, working with ESPN in 1994, for a U. S. Open preview show but I didn’t remember any of this. Small houses with one car garages become brick, stone and wood paneled mansions. Big yards, fancy cars and then we’re there, 38 minutes door to door.
When I walked onto the grounds I was struck by two things; how massive the piece of property is and how much elevation change it features. It’s not Olympic Club hilly, it’s more like Augusta National in that the ups and downs surprise you.
They played a lot of golf on Friday and I watched a ton of it. Out there with the masses. Despite being one of about 40,000 in attendance, there is so much acreage at Oakmont that it never felt crowded. Admittedly Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy weren’t playing. But Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson were. Unlike The Masters there are Merchandise pavilions, a Partner Village, a Trophy Club and a Spectator Square in plain sight but they are all tastefully presented and mostly on the periphery of the golf course. When you look out on the property from the beautiful, historic clubhouse you see golf course and golfers. And it’s a splendid sight.
So that’s where I spent the majority of the next 72 hours. Walking the property, watching golf, seeing old friends and making new ones. It is my fifth straight United States Open Championship. I could never/ would never say one was better or worse than another. I will say from Olympic to Merion to Pinehurst to Chambers Bay to Oakmont they have all been memorable. Not necessarily for the winners (Simpson, Rose, Kaymer, Spieth, Johnson) but because of the experience.
I have attended and worked at hundreds, if not more than a thousand , professional golf tournaments and this is NOT just another one of those. This is America’s National Championship. It’s the one title hundreds of thousands of worthy participants and millions of dreamers imagine winning when dusk turns to dark on practice putting greens all over the world. “This putt is to win the U. S. Open” are the words whispered, not too loudly in fear of offending those pesky golf gods, by hackers, golfers and players from 8 to 80. I’ve whispered them myself on countless occasions.
It’s also one of the rarest of all dreams to fulfill. Of the billions of humans that have walked this earth only 88 have their name engraved on the U. S. Open trophy.
I’ll never play in a U S Open, you probably won’t either but if you’re a golf fan I encourage you with all my persuasive powers to attend one. Don’t rely on your television to tell you the story, it can’t do it justice. You won’t be sorry and you’ll never forget it.