Year in and year out the U.S. Open has been the toughest test of golf, that was until Rory McIlroy shattered the record books with his 16-under beatdown of Congressional Country Club in last year's open. Now the USGA has the task of forcing the Olympic Club's Lakes Course to show it's teeth for the best golfers in the world, enough to once again strike fear in the hearts of the players at least.
The Olympic Club has hosted four U.S. Opens on it's grounds, with never a score lower that 3-under taking the trophy as Scott Simpson's 1987 victory owns the lowest mark. Lee Jansen took the title at even par in 1998, so what is there to expect this year?
Treachery will be around every turn for the competitors at the 112th Open, but lets take a closer look at what they'll be up against on the course this year:
The Olympic Club rebuilt all 18 of their greens just three year's ago, meaning even those who played back in 1998 will have surprises with a lot of their putts. The switch from the naturally bumpy and notoriously difficult poa annua greens to the creeping bent grass seems like a perk for the players, but the change will make them very, very fast compared to poa annua, and we know how much the USGA loves to have ridiculously fast greens. Look for speeds up to 13 on the stimpmeter this year.
Important changes include the par-3 8th and it's complete re-deisgn since the last U.S. Open, changing the angle of tee shot while lengthening the hole to about 200 yards.
The new two-tiered green on the seventh hole replaces the previous three-tiered one, adding 20 yards to this par 4 as well, while the new greens at the par-3 15th and par-4 18th give the USGA much more options fort difficult/sucker pin placements.
The U.S. Open's graduated rough system pays dividends for those who can keep it in the fairways, leaves options to those who hit it in the first cut, but also penalizes those who stray severely. The deeper you go, the deeper the rough, and this year will be no different.
Nowhere will it come more into play than on the par 5's this year, and with their interesting placement (holes No. 1, No, 16 and the short No. 17) in the layout, going for it or laying up will weigh heavily on what cut you land in. The Club's poa annua and ryegrass rough has a steady diet of moisture, and will be lush and ready to ruin anyone's hole at any time. Hold on tight.
One of the more noticeable changes to the Lakes course is the addition of more runoff areas around the greens; lowly mowed, fairway-like areas designed to turn errant approach shots into bogies or worse. These force the players to have surgical precision with their iron play as even balls that land on the green can have the tendency to run off into oblivion. Nothing more aggravating than that.
This certainly isn't an arbitrary hazard there only for the hackers to have to avoid as the 3,000 or so trees that line the Lakes course will literally be looming overhead the entire week. Not only that, the shadows cast on the greens can make putting even more difficult later in the day, especially on Sunday.
Guys like Phil Mickelson should have a fun time deciding whether they can bend it around the thicket or to try and push one through the opening between the branches. Still, Lee Jansen's miraculous final round charge in 1998 was started by a fortuitous breeze that dropped his ball from a cypress tree it had found off the tee on the par-4 fifth. The golf gods work in mysterious ways.
You can check out flyover's of all the holes on the Lake's course here thanks to the USGA.