Moans and groans at the Open (again)

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Gentlemen, start your enmity.

Welcome to the U.S. Open — the one week each year that the world’s best players are guaranteed to spend whining about high rough, pinched fairways, slick greens and all things USGA.

From Pinehurst’s turtlebacked targets and the “Monster” also known as Oakland Hills to Bethpage’s unreachable short grass, Shinnecock’s charred greens and the single-file fairways at Winged Foot, the Open’s combination of daunting venues and demonic setups always lends itself to full-field “woe is us” hyperbole.

Twelve-time major champion Tiger Woods, like Jack Nicklaus before him, often has joked that Open angst eliminates half the field before the first shot is struck at the season’s second Grand Slam event. But the game’s most stoic champions start stuttering when asked to assess Oakmont, the host of this week’s 107th U.S. Open.

Even without the USGA’s sadistic input, the 7,230-yard, par-70 layout northeast of Pittsburgh prides itself on being the planet’s toughest track.

Australia’s Geoff Ogilvy, the winner of last year’s USGA testament to attrition at Winged Foot, showed up at Oakmont two weeks ago for a practice round, lost two sleeves of balls and came nowhere near breaking 80.

World No. 2 Phil Mickelson injured his wrist two weeks ago in Oakmont’s thick rough — while practicing greenside pitch shots.

And Woods, after his first recon mission to Oakmont two months ago, walked off the final green shaking his head before he was asked which course was tougher: Oakmont or Winged Foot, the layout he dubbed the most demanding he had encountered at a major after he missed the first Slam cut of his professional career last June.

“It’s not even close. It’s this one,” Woods said. “Every green is pitched one way or another. If you do miss on the high side, it’s impossible.”

In Oakmont, the Marquis de Sod otherwise known as the USGA finally seems to have found its La Coste.

That’s just the way club co-founder H.C. Fownes and his son and co-designer, W.C. Fownes, would have wanted it. There’s only three things anyone needs to know about the Fowneses:

(1) A wealthy Pittsburgh industrialist and avid amateur, H.C. Fownes designed Oakmont in 1903 because there wasn’t a sufficiently challenging course in the city.

(2) W.C. Fownes, who took the reins of the club from his father and is responsible for most of the bunkering (including the famed Church Pews), was guided by one design principle: “A shot poorly played should be a shot irrevocably lost.”

(3) Father and son designed only one course either because they achieved perfection that first time or because masochism has its bounds.

What they came up with at Oakmont was a virtually treeless, linksy open plan with diabolically severe greens. That original flavor and intent was gradually destroyed over time as an aggressive parkland movement beginning in the 1950s resulted in a traditional, tree-lined look by 1994, when Ernie Els triumphed in Oakmont’s last turn as U.S. Open host. In the interim, however, more than 5,000 trees were felled on the property to restore the Fownes’ vision and return the course to its stark, signature look.

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