US Open: Oakmont's fast greens are nothing new...

Oakmont's fast greens have been raising eyebrows, but fast US Open greens are nothing new. Just ask Tom Lehman who came close several times in the 1990s...

Tom Lehman in action on the lightning-fast greens at Olympic Club in the 1998 US Open
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Oakmont's fast greens have been raising eyebrows, but fast US Open greens are nothing new. Just ask Tom Lehman who came close several times in the 1990s...

Tom Lehman, who won The Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1996 and captained the 2006 US Ryder Cup team, was actually a far more regular feature on US Open leaderboards than Open Championship ones. Between 1992 and 1998 he notched up five top-six US Open finishes, including a runner-up spot in 1996 shortly before heading to Lytham. But he never quite managed to get over the line...

It must have been frustrating to put yourself in the hunt for the US Open so many times, yet never actually lift the trophy?

Yes, and I played some good rounds too. I shot a couple of 71s, and a 73 with the lead and didn’t win, so it wasn’t like I played unbelievable golf. But 71 with the US Open lead on a Sunday is pretty good. If you look at the history of the US Open and what the leaders shoot on Sunday, most guys would be pretty happy, and 71 would win a lot. But somebody always played better, so I’m disappointed.

You got a little upset about pin positions and green speeds one year didn't you?

Yes, it was at Olympic Club in 1998.

Was the 18th green in question unplayable?

Well, yes it was, and the reason I got upset was that before the tournament started we had the conversation - my caddie and me - with the guy who set the course up saying, 'if you put the pin back there, you can’t cut the greens. If you cut the greens to the speed you’re cutting them, we can’t play that pin.'

What happened was that they realised it was too fast and watered the green to try to slow it down. But once you water it, you change the texture. So instead of the big hard bounce and the ball not stopping, it was actually backing up.

I hit a beautiful wedge that got up there about four feet from the hole, then sucked back and spun back to the front of the green. I rolled it up there about five feet short, then lipped it out, and it went 15 feet back down again and I then missed that! Guys were putting it up and it was coming back, so it was an unfair pin. I just felt that for a Championship like that, you can’t afford to make a mistake like that.

Would you have traded your 1996 Open championship for one US Open?

I don’t think I’m going to answer that one… well, I will answer it this way. If you were to have asked me before I would have said, ‘absolutely’. But once I won the Open Championship in 1996… well, I don’t think as an American you quite understand just what an Open Championship means until you actually play in it and then win it. Then you understand that wherever you go in the world, that may be the one that people look to. So asking me now, would I trade it? Absolutely not. If you’re going to pick one to win, I think I picked the right one. But I will say it’s disappointing not to have won the US Open.

Jeremy Ellwood
Contributing Editor

Jeremy Ellwood has worked in the golf industry since 1993 and for Golf Monthly since 2002 when he started out as equipment editor. He is now a freelance journalist writing mainly for Golf Monthly. He is an expert on the Rules of Golf having qualified through an R&A course to become a golf referee. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 91 of the Next 100, making him well-qualified when it comes to assessing and comparing our premier golf courses. He has now played 1,000 golf courses worldwide in 35 countries, from the humblest of nine-holers in the Scottish Highlands to the very grandest of international golf resorts. He reached the 1,000 mark on his 60th birthday in October 2023 on Vale do Lobo's Ocean course. Put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content.

Jezz can be contacted via Twitter - @JezzEllwoodGolf

Jeremy is currently playing...

Driver: Ping G425 LST 10.5˚ (draw setting), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 55 S shaft

3 wood: Ping G425 Max 15˚ (set to flat +1), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 65 S shaft

Hybrid: Ping G425 17˚, Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro Orange 80 S shaft

Irons 3-PW: Ping i525, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Wedges: Ping Glide 4.0 50˚ and 54˚, 12˚ bounce, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Putter: Ping Fetch 2021 model, 33in shaft (set flat 2)

Ball: Varies but mostly now TaylorMade Tour Response