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U.S. Open 2016: An Opening-Round Postcard From 'Soakmont'

Curtis Strange Evaluates the U.S. Open Field
Two-time U.S. Open winner and Fox Sports analyst Curtis Strange evaluates the favorites heading into this year's tournament at Oakmont.

This is being typed under a tent behind the practice range with a grand view of the Presbyterian Senior Care facility. There are a hundred of us in here, staring out at the early-afternoon deluge, looking up at the red, white and blue USGA flags, stuck to their flagpoles like a wrapper to a straw. There are puddles on the green carpet and more than a few people have asked the same question: will your Sunday ticket get you in for a Monday finish? Pittsburghers are nothing if not realistic.

The humidity had been building all day. At eight Thursday morning, on this corner and that one in downtown Pittsburgh, there were little groups of tired kids, in red shirts and black pants, taking their dress cues not from the Tiger Woods Sunday Collection but from the uniforms given out by Andy Frain Services, a security company. Kids don’t carry umbrellas, not even kids in Pittsburgh.

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When rain comes, suddenly the Oakmont you knew is a different course.

Outside the William Penn Hotel—a nod to the city’s gilded age—USGA executives and FOX talent gathered in the lobby, eagerly anticipating the day. So much of a U.S. Open is anticipation. The greens will be this and the rough will be that and the winning score will be, somebody will say with false confidence, five over! But then rain comes and suddenly the Oakmont you knew is now a different course. The greens will be playable. The tilted fairways will hold tee shots. The rough will be worse than ever. Merion 2013 all over again. Unless it’s not.

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In the city’s Strip District, beside the tables of fruits and vegetables, were tables piled high with tributes to the Penguins. Lord Stanley right now is bigger than Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy combined. But not bigger than Arnold. Arnold Palmer grew up 35 miles up the road on Latrobe. You don’t learn that at Central Catholic or Sewickley Academy or Mount Lebanon. No, your grandfather explains all that to you. And if he’s not around, Joe Buck, Paul Azinger and Brad Faxon were on Fox Thursday morning, during the first rain delay, explaining the Palmer-Oakmont connection. Oakmont’s old-school pro, Bob Ford, chimed in, too. He saw Arnold for lunch just the other day.

Every time it rains at Oakmont, headline writers trot out this chestnut: Soakmont. Pennsylvania summers are humid and soggy but that hasn’t stopped the USGA from bringing more of its championships to the Keystone State than any other state. (Take that, New York!) This is the ninth U.S. Open at Pittsburgh. Hollywood, in a less orderly fashion, is drawn to Pennsylvania in general and Pittsburgh in particular, too. Denzel Washington was recently in town, shooting a movie version of the August Wilson play “Fences.” Wilson was a Pittsburgher who wrote 10 plays about his native city, the last of which is called “Radio Golf.”

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The 2016 U.S. Open will be a play, too, as all championship golf is. Act I is all the preamble. Act II is the competition itself, four days—or five—of sluggish, soggy death-by-a-thousand-cuts golf. Act III will be the crowning of a winner. Somebody is going to win this thing, and Thursday’s storms will be barely a footnote.

The rain has stopped, for now. It’s 1:52 p.m. Jordan Spieth just walked by, heading to the range. He knows what happens, when it’s all over. He’s been there before and maybe he’ll be there again.

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