Spieth gets look at ‘hardest test’ during visit to Oakmont
OAKMONT, Pa. (AP) — Jordan Spieth briefly weighed the request, then politely declined.
Sorry, Spieth just doesn’t feel comfortable posing with the U.S. Open Trophy he won last June at Chambers Bay. That was a year ago on the other side of the country. No need to tempt fate following his initial visit to Oakmont, which will host the national championship for the ninth time next month.
“Maybe on Sunday (after the final round),” Spieth said with a smile.
Judging by what he saw during a brief stop at the iconic test tucked in the western Pennsylvania hills on Tuesday and Wednesday, getting his hands on the silver jug isn’t going to be easy. There are the bunkers that look like they’ve been ripped out of a links course in the United Kingdom. The rough deep enough to swallow even the slightest wayward shot. The greens so fast it’s like trying to make a putt on the hood of a car, though at least the hood of a car is relatively flat.
“I know that if you win a U.S. Open at Oakmont, you can go ahead and say that you’ve conquered the hardest test in all of golf,” Spieth said. “Because this is arguably the hardest course in America day to day.”
One that’s unlikely to be as benign in mid-June as it was on Wednesday, when Spieth walked all 18 holes trying to get a feel for a place that has crowned some of the game’s greats. The list of champions crowned at Oakmont — which has also hosted the PGA Championship and the U.S. Amateur, among others — includes Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan. Spieth is well aware of the history, even if it never crossed his mind during the last time he competed in the area at the Sunnehanna Amateur in nearby Johnstown as a teenager.
“I was looking more forward to college than anything else,” Spieth said.
Plenty has changed in the interim. The 22-year-old already has pulled off a pair of majors, dominating the Masters last spring, then edging Dustin Johnson and Louis Oosthuizen by a shot outside of Seattle.
Yet Spieth begins his final prep before defending his Open title trying to get past an uncharacteristic and unforgettable collapse at Augusta National last month. He built a five-shot lead in the final round only to see it disappear during a three-hole stretch between No. 10-12 that saw him go bogey, bogey, quadruple bogey and led to an awkward ceremony in Butler Cabin in which he helped winner Danny Willett into a green jacket that seemed to be firmly in Spieth’s grasp only hours before.
Spieth has spent the last month decompressing, joining Rickie Fowler, Smylie Kaufman and Justin Thomas for a trip to the Bahamas. He’ll return to work at the Players Championship next week, where he’ll start to put the most difficult chapter of his still very young — and very successful — career behind him. Spieth understands the topic is going to keep coming up, and he’s OK with it. He’ll take being in that position to win — even when it doesn’t work out — over being out of contention every single time.
“If you’re in it enough, you’re going to be on the good end and bad end of those situations,” Spieth said. “So keep putting ourselves in contention, and when we’re on the good end again, I’ll be able to enjoy it even more having experienced the other side of it.”
Unlike Chambers Bay, which begged for a driver off the tee thanks to its prodigious length and wide fairways, Oakmont will require more restraint and a ton of patience. Angel Cabrera won with a 72-hole total of plus-5 during the Open’s last visit in 2007. Spieth recalls Cabrera putting on a “ball striking clinic” that week. The Argentinian also showed the kind of discipline needed at a place where getting greedy can go wrong very quickly.
“If you are hitting your long irons well off the tee, you’re going to have a good six to eight birdie opportunities, and that’s really — if you can do that in a U.S. Open, in any round on any golf course, you’re at an advantage to the field,” he said. “So mentally, you’ve got to realize that, and not only do you have to realize it; then you have to act on it. It’s tough.”