Padraig Harrington hit out of the deep rough Wednesday during a practice round at Oakmont.
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Monday, January 23, 2012

You can't fake your way around a U.S. Open course. Sure, you can fake it for 17 holes as Phil Mickelson did at Winged Foot last summer, but eventually your A-minus game will be exposed for what it is: Not good enough here, buddy.

There's a reason why wild-driving Seve Ballesteros won the Masters and the British but left the U.S. Open to those who could color inside the lines.

"The U.S. Open asks you the same question over and over," says Padraig Harrington, 5th at Winged Foot. "Can you hit the fairway? Can you hit the green?"

Here with a roundtable of players, major champions to journeymen, discuss what differentiates our national championship from the other three majors, how it feels unique when you're right in the middle of it, and the impact all of those insanely hard courses have on the players.

Open indoctrination: Get ready to be embarrassed.

Bart Bryant: Last time they had the U.S. Open at Oakmont [in 1994] I played in it, two rounds. I hit it short of No. 2 on the second day, in the long rough, and the pin was back-right, and the rough was so long in there I was just afraid I couldn't get it out. So I took a full swing from about five feet off the green and I flew it over the green out of bounds. [Laughs.] So that was good.

Lee Janzen: I played in my first U.S. Open in 1985 [at Oakland Hills], as an amateur. I'd just finished my junior year in college. I was 20. I hit the ball pretty good, but I hadn't been on banked greens very many times, so, it showed. I went from a Florida boy on Bermuda greens to the most undulating bent [grass] greens in the U.S. Open, other than Oakmont.

Brett Quigley: Last year, first round at Winged Foot, I started having to hit sand wedge out of the rough. I couldn't advance it a couple of times. On one hole I couldn't even get it back to the fairway. I think I shot 80. If you get it going the wrong way at the Open, there's no relief. There's no hole where you can attack and start to get it back. It's all defense.

Al Geiberger: I remember one at Hazeltine [in '70], the first year we played, I wasn't ready. It was the year Dave Hill said they ruined a perfectly good pasture. I shot 75 in the first round and didn't play well at all in the second. [Geiberger shot 81.] I remember that as a wound.

Tom Lehman: My first one was '86, the year Ray Floyd won at Shinnecock. I loved it. The first day was a horrendously bad day and I actually shot a decent score, a 76 when the average was like 79. It was blowing and raining. I believe I shot 78 the second day and missed the cut. I was on the mini-tours so I played with Fred Wadsworth and possibly Darrell Kestner. We were all struggling pros trying to make it.

And if you get it going, enjoy it while it lasts.

Padraig Harrington: Three pars to win the Open. It sounds very easy, doesn't it? I was leading [last year] with three holes to go. It doesn't really matter what happened on Saturday. [Editor's note: Harrington triple-bogeyed Winged Foot's infamous 18th hole.] It was the last three holes. I bogeyed 16, pushed too hard on 17 and pushed too hard on 18 trying to make up for it, simple as that.

Bryant: I remember I was playing decent last year at Winged Foot and just didn't quite get it home. I think I finished 20-something [Bryant shot 77 on Sunday and tied for 32nd place], but I really could have got into the top five, but I just could not get it to the clubhouse. There was a lot of that going on that week.

Hey, at least you can say you were there.

Lehman: My most vivid memory was the atmosphere on the last two holes of the [1997] U.S. Open at Congressional. The 17th green sticks out into the pond and the 18th hole runs along the backside of the pond, and there was all this golf being played around the lake, this huge crowd, the water not moving at all. I remember looking forward from the 17th fairway, I had like 190 to the green, and looking at the grandstands, and the clubhouse in the background, the hill behind the 18th green — it was just wall-to-wall people. You could feel the electricity and anticipation in the air.

Harrington: I was in the last group on Saturday at Bethpage. That was quite special. Tiger. Just being in the last group was great. I love the crowds in New York; they're loud and that makes it easy to play golf. I love Bethpage. That was phenomenal.

And you met some nice new friends.

Geiberger: First Open I played, 1961, I played Oakland Hills in Detroit. I went there early and played a practice round with a young kid named Jack Nicklaus; he was still an amateur. Gene Littler won there. I had a decent week. I remember playing with Jack — and remember the Tour wasn't big bucks then — and I said, 'Are you going to turn pro?' And he said, 'I don't think I can take this week-in, week-out stuff.' I'll never forget that. 'I don't think I can take this week-in and week-out stuff.'

Quigley: At Pebble [in 2000], there was this big fog delay that first day, and one of the scorers was Scott Bowman, the Detroit hockey coach. I sat and talked to him for about a half an hour. That was my all-time U.S. Open highlight.

So the experience wasn't entirely awful. Oh, never mind. It was bad.

Lehman: I was one behind [at Congressional], and thinking how great it would be to lace it in there to five feet and make a birdie on 17. I hit a 7-iron off a bit of a side-hill lie and it turned a little too much, landed on the edge of the green and hopped into the water. It was not a great result. I was so clear with my image, so perfectly committed to the shot I wanted to hit. It just didn't come off the way I'd envisioned.

Harrington: When I bogeyed 16, it was my first bogey of the day and it knocked me back. I just wasn't expecting it. I was playing nicely and was very comfortable. I hit three good tee shots on the last three holes. On 16 I got a little bit of a hanging lie and I pulled it, and it caught the tree overhanging the green and I didn't chip and putt it. If I'd been scrambling it wasn't that hard an up-and-down. It was in the rough, but it was OK. It was my first chip all day, and basically I didn't make much of an effort, chipped it to about 18 feet, and I missed the putt. I hit a 6-iron into the next a bit aggressive over the back and didn't chip and putt it, and I three-putted the last. It was easy as that.

Geiberger: I was the victim of Jerry Pate's 5-iron out of the rough over the water when he won at Atlanta [in 1976]. I made a nice putt for a par on 18 and saw he was in the rough off the tee on 18 and thought, playoff time. When Orville Moody won [in 1969] I was about three groups ahead of him, playing OK. Then everybody backed up a little and I made some birdies and, boom, I was right there. I three-putted 16 because I realized I was in the lead or tied for the lead, and I missed about a 13-, 14-foot putt for birdie on 18, and Moody was able to get it in. [Geiberger tied for second, a shot back].

Quigley: I remember missing the cut at Southern Hills [in 2001]. I three-putted the last hole. That was another goofy green there because they mowed it a different height. I felt terrible. I went home and didn't watch it on the weekend.

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