2007 U.S. Open on the Horizon

The 2007 U.S. Open, to be played at Oakmont Country Club, is now approximately 31 days away. Oakmont C.C. is one of the hardest tests in golf, if not the hardest. For that reason, Tiger has already made his visits in preparation for an event which is sure to slaughter the field, possibly more so than the course at Winged Foot which devoured part of Phil Mickelson's career.

Luckily, the Zealous Golfer hails from Pittsburgh and will actually be inside the ropes at the Open as a volunteer. Hopefully I will be able to get some good pics, and maybe some quotes during the practice rounds. Hence, ZealousGolfer.com is the (un)official home for coverage of the event.

Oakmont has seen extreme changes in preparation for the Open over the past year. The most noticeable is the knocking down of several thousand trees. At first, you would think a more open course would make play easier, but instead, an open, more linksy Oakmont reveals more dangers to scare players out of their wits. Of course, there are certainly enough dangers to bring a player of any level to his knees, even without Open conditions.

The most famous Oakmont feature is the "Church Pews", which are a series of bunkers lined up at the side of the fairway with small grass dividers topped by fescue. While still an extreme challenge to escape, the bunkers were even more difficult when Oakmont implemented the old furrowing rakes (similar model used at last year's Memorial). In fact, as you may have read in Golf Digest, the USGA was considering using the same rakes as Nicklaus chose for his Memorial tournament. However, the USGA felt that using the rakes would be too cruel, and that's something for a USGA layout.

Here's a picture of Oakmont during the winter (left). Ironically, Oakmont will probably be played at temperaturs near or over 100 degrees like the last Open held there in 1994.

The only player currently in the field who is a member at Oakmont C.C. is 1994 champion Ernie Els. Els actually chose not to become a member immediately following his victory, hoping the members would not make him pay for membership. Nice try. Eventually, after Els came to his senses, he paid the massive initiation fee and became a member.

A little history on Oakmont: This is the eighth time that Oakmont will host the U.S. Open, a record number of times hosting. The course has also hosted several other USGA events, including the U.S. Amateur in 2004. Last time the Open came to Oakmont, Ernie Els ultimately beat Colin Montgomerie in a Monday playoff which was sweltering due to heat. The history of the Open at Oakmont is spectacular, as Ben Hogan has captured a title there after a six stroke victory. Jack Nicklaus's first professional victory came as he beat Arnold Palmer in a playoff on Monday. Johnny Miller set the U.S. Open scoring record at Oakmont with an unbelievable 63. Larry Nelson beat Tom Watson in the Open of 1983 with a climactic Sunday finish. Last, but not least, Ernie Els defeated Loren Roberts and Colin Montgomerie in a Monday playoff to capture his first of two Open titles.

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