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 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 across the whole spectrum from courses and Rules to equipment and even instruction despite his own somewhat iffy swing (he knows how to do it, but just can't do it himself). He also edits The Golf Club Secretary Newsletter, has authored or co-authored three books and written for a number of national papers including The Telegraph and The Independent. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 89 of the Next 100. He has played well over 900 courses worldwide in 35 countries, but put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content. On his first trip to Abu Dhabi a decade ago he foolishly asked Paul Casey what sort of a record he had around the course there. "Well, I've won it twice if that's what you mean!" came the reply...