The U.S. Open 2011: Nine Things You Should Know About This Year at Congressional
From June 16-19 the center of the golf universe will be Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, MD for the 111th playing of the U.S. Open. This will be the third U.S. Open held at Congressional, the most recent being Ernie Els's second Open win in 1997.
Considered by many to be one of the hardest golf tournaments, with rough typically five to six inches deep, and greens rolled and groomed to the consistency of concrete, par is a good score at the U.S. Open.
Several things make the U.S. Open unique amongst major golf championships, from the playoff format to the courses themselves.
Let's look at somethings you may not know about Congressional Country Club and the U.S. Open.
Fact No. 1: In the Beginning, Americans Couldn't Win
It is called the United States Open, but for the first 16 years it was played, no citizen of the United States won.
John McDermott was the first American to win the U.S. Open in 1911. He repeated in 1912.
Since then, Americans have won the U.S. Open 80 times. The next closest to that number is 13 for Scotland.
A Scotsman has not won the U.S. Open since Willie Macfarlane won in 1925, but in the first 16 playings, a Scotsman won 12 times.
The longest span without an international player winning is 38 years, from 1926 to 1964. There were four years during that span that the championship was not played due to World War II.
In the last 10 years, players from six different nations have won the U.S. Open: Northern Ireland; USA, Argentina; Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
Fact No. 2: Win It Once, You're Good. Win It Twice, You're Legendary
21 men have won the U.S. Open more than once.
Those 21 men won 52 out of 110 playings of the event.
The list of men who have won this event twice could fill a wing of the golf hall of fame. Names like Gene Sarazen, Lee Trevino, Ernie Els, Payne Stewart, Curtis Strange and Walter Hagan, to name a few.
But when you win this event three or more times, you have entered the realm of the truly immortal.
Hale Irwin and Tiger Woods have won three U.S. Opens.
Willie Anderson, Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, and Jack Nicklaus have each won four.
Willie Anderson is the only man to have won the U.S. Open three consecutive times. He completed his three-peat from 1903-1905.
Only five men have ever repeated as champion, aside from Anderson. They are Curtis Strange ('88-'89), Ben Hogan ('50-'51), Ralph Guldahl ('37-'38), Bobby Jones ('29-'30) and John McDermott ('11-'12).
Fact No. 3: The U.S. Open Plays an 18-Hole Playoff
Unlike the other three major championships, the U.S. Open does not go immediately to a sudden-death playoff if there is a tie at the end of 72 holes.
Instead, the U.S. Open plays an 18-hole playoff round on the Monday following the completion of regulation play.
If they competitors are still tied after the playoff round, then they proceed to a sudden-death playoff.
The last playoff was three years ago when Rocco Mediate took then two-time champion Tiger Woods to Monday play.
The pair were still tied after the playoff round and Woods won on the first sudden death hole, securing his third U.S. Open title and becoming only the second man to win all four majors three times.
Fact No. 4: It Really Is Open
Anyone with the game can get into and play the U.S. Open. You can be an amateur or a professional, man or woman. If you are an amateur, you must have an up-to-date USGA Handicap Index of 1.4 or less. That's it. If you can meet those criteria, you may attempt to qualify for and play in the Open.
Unlike the Masters, which is an invitational, and the PGA which is only open to professionals, the U.S. Open (and its British cousin, the Open Championship) are just that: Open.
If you qualify for one of several conditions, you may be exempt. About half the field is made up of such players, like the top 50 on the world golf ranking, the winners of any major for the last five years, and the last 10 winners of the U.S. Open.
The rest of us have to gain entry by going through local and sectional qualifying. Beware, though, for qualifying is far from easy.
A lot of times, Tour pros will play in qualifying events if they are not exempt, so if you are going to try to make the field, you will have to golf your ball very, very well. Plus, there are only a few spots available from each local event to move on to sectionals.
Only a few spots from each sectional event will get into the U.S. Open.
Like they say, though, if it were easy, everyone would do it.
So, get your game together. There is still time to qualify for Congressional this year.
Fact No. 5: You Don't Have a Realistic Chance to Win If You Are an Amateur
Words cannot begin to describe how hard it is to win a U.S. Open.
It is even harder to win when you do not play the game for a living.
The last man to win the U.S. Open who was not a professional was Johnny Goodman. That was 78 eight years ago.
There have been 110 playings of the U.S. Open. In that time, only eight times did an amateur win.
Four of those eight were won by the immortal Bobby Jones.
For those amateurs in the field, the best they can realistically hope for is to make the cut and be low amateur.
They have nearly no shot to win.
Fact. No 6: Par Is a Very Good Score at the U.S. Open
In case you hadn't heard, the USGA, the governing organization of the game in the United States, likes to make the U.S. Open hard. Very hard.
Some have even gone so far as to say the setup of U.S. Open courses in the past has been unfair.
If you look at the last 20 playings of the U.S. Open, the average winning score is almost 3-under par (2.75, in case you were wondering). By way of comparison, the approximate winning scores at the other majors in the same time frame are:
The Masters: 11-under
Open Championship: 9-under
PGA Championship: 10-under
And if you take Tiger Woods' phenomenal performance in 2000 at Pebble Beach out of the equation, then the average score to par for the U.S. Open winner rises to just a shade more than 2-under par. 2.26 strokes under par, to be exact.
In other words, you have to play really good golf to win a U.S. Open.
The courses are long, the rough is deep, and the greens are usually rock hard and extremely fast. Flaws in your game will be exposed and it will not take long for the course to bring you to your knees.
Before Woods' tour de force in 2000, only one other man had ever reached 10-under par at the U.S. Open. Dr. Gil Morgan accomplished the feat in 1992 when he reached 12-under at one point, but couldn't hold it together and finished the tournament 5-over par, eight back of eventual champion, Tom Kite.
Jim Furyk is the only other man to reach double-digits under par in a U.S. Open. He did it in 2003, but didn't finish under par.
That's it. Three men in 116 years have reached 10-under par at this tournament.
That's how hard the U.S. Open is.
Fact No. 7: You Don't Win the U.S. Open the First Time You Play It
The last guy to win the U.S. Open in his first attempt was Francis Ouimet in 1913. They only made a movie about that.
The last guy to win in his second playing was Jerry Pate. That was 35 years ago.
If players haven't been to an Open before, there is nothing that can prepare them for what they will see.
It is really hard to explain how difficult the course is set up. They simply don't do it like that at regular Tour events.
Even the great tournaments that are not majors like the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Arnold's tournament, Jack's tournament, The Player's Championship, and the Tour Championship, none of them sets up a course with such narrow fairways; lush, dense rough; and hard, fast greens.
It takes a few playings, at least, before players understand that par is a good score and there is such a thing as a good bogey.
Fact No. 8: Congressional Is Why the U.S. Open Ends on Sunday
Undoubtedly you have heard the stories of Ken Venturi, with a doctor at his side, wobbling around during the 36-hole finish on Saturday at the U.S. Open en route to his only major championship win.
Having been told that he should leave the course to be hospitalized for extreme dehydration after his third round, Venturi played on, putting his own life on the line in unbearable heat and humidity.
There are stories of players fainting on the course, and temperatures in some of the lower areas of the course reaching nearly 115 degrees.
Raymond Floyd, who played along side Venturi on that excruciating Saturday, would later say the humidity percentage was in the mid-90s.
In January, 1965, with the U.S. Open set to play at Bellerive Country Club outside of St. Louis, where summers can be a little warm and muggy, too, the USGA announced that the U.S. Open would henceforth be conducted over four days with the final round to be played on Sunday.
The USGA cited slow play and television schedules as the reasons for this change, but there is no doubt in anyone's mind that the weather in Washington had had a lot to do with that change.
Fact No. 9: Congressional Is Going to Be Long
While not as long as Torrey Pines in 2008, Congressional is going to be more than 7574 yards long.
This will mark the second time the Open will be contested on a course more than 7500 yards long.
Regarding the lengthening of courses and their particular habit of changing par-5 holes into par-4s, the USGA has said that par is only a number. Players should be trying to make the lowest score they can regardless of what par on a hole is.
The problem is that players are used to having a target in mind for each hole. That target is called par. Even if the hole is 550 yards long, if the scorecard says par for the hole is four, players feel like they should be able to make a four on that hole.
One thing is certain, the winner of the U.S. Open is going to have to hit the ball long and straight. When the course gets as long as Congressional will be, playing out of the rough is not really an option.