Oakmont Provides Daunting Double Duty

Along with many others, Sergio Garcia played 36 holes today at Oakmont and was able to find his rhythm to get off to a strong start.
Along with many others, Sergio Garcia played 36 holes today at Oakmont and was able to find his rhythm to get off to a strong start.  (USGA/Michael Cohen)

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OAKMONT, Pa. – Golfers today are in such splendid physical condition that 36 holes in one day is not necessarily a difficult task. But to go the extra miles in a U.S. Open is a grind, and a further toll is exacted from this year’s venue, Oakmont Country Club, which is a tough walk spoiled, to turn a phrase.

Maintaining energy, enthusiasm and concentration were the challenges facing half the field Friday at Oakmont, thanks to Thursday’s near washout. The second half of the draw had to play its first round and then turn right around and embark on its second. Not all 78 of those golfers completed 36 holes, so those who didn’t must return Saturday morning.

Though this wasn’t exactly a hardship – playing golf all day – it was a genuine test of physical and mental stamina.

Most impressive, then, was the play of Dustin Johnson, last year’s runner-up. The long-hitting South Carolina native started the championship with 27 straight pars and broke par in both rounds with 67 and 69 to climb into a share of the lead with Andrew Landry at 4-under 136. Landry finished off his opening 66 early Friday with one shot, a 10-footer for birdie, then sat out the rest of the day.

“Yeah, obviously I hit the ball well and played solid,” said Johnson, who dropped his 3-foot par putt on 18 just after the horn sounded that suspended play because of darkness. “The advantage [to playing 36 holes] is that if you play well in the morning you let it carry over into the afternoon. I hit it great. Definitely big that we could finish, so I can rest.”

One of Johnson's playing partners today was Sergio Garcia, who shot rounds of 68-70, tied for his best 36-hole start in 17 career U.S. Opens. Still, Garcia was effusive in his praise of Johnson.

"He played awesome, said Garcia. "He drove the ball great, very far. I don't think he missed many fairways at all. Out of 36 holes here at Oakmont to make only one bogey, it shows you have to play really, really well. He's going to be tough to beat, but I'll give it a shot."

The other standout performance was that of Daniel Summerhays, an alternate out of the sectional qualifier in Columbus, Ohio, who now owns the low round of the championship with his 65. Making the effort special was his inward 30 with five birdies and no bogeys. He stands three behind Johnson and Landry at 1-under 139.

“So absolutely thrilled with my round and how I performed, especially on that back nine when you've already played 27 holes and you're tired,” said Summerhays, playing in just his third U.S. Open. “That's a lot of walking. I shouldn't complain to my caddie, but that's a lot of walking. So yeah, I'm absolutely happy.”

Other players who weathered the long march shrugged it off as just another day at the office, so to speak.

“Well, generally [playing 36] is something I try to avoid,” said Adam Scott, who was successful in that he played 33 holes Friday and was even par. “The question isn’t whether or not you can do it, because we have to, but can we do it keeping our patience and our energy.”

Jim Furyk went 36 holes in the WGC-Dell Match Play Championship last year, so his experience with extra holes is rather recent. He was fine with it, especially after shooting 2 under through 17 holes in his second round. “But the walk is so much harder here,” he noted. “That’s where the challenge really lies because you don’t think as well when you’re tired.”

“It’s about as hard as you’re ever going to find,” Jason Kokrak said after improving on his opening 71 with an afternoon 70. “You’re not going to find 36 holes that are harder than this golf course. To play two rounds back-to-back in one day is very, very tough, very, very daunting. It’s just one of those golf courses that you never can take any time off. You have to stick with it and if you have one mental mistake, it’s an automatic double bogey.”

The question as play moved into Saturday was whether or not it was an advantage to play 36 holes Friday or get the extra rest after Thursday’s stop-and-start affair.

“Well, it is what it is. You have to make the best of it,” Henrik Stenson said. “It’s hard to say who has the advantage, whether it’s us playing so many holes in one day but maybe a softer course or the guys in the other wave. I think it all evens out.”

Indeed, it’s hard for everyone.

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.