Olympic club champion Randy Haag talks tees shots, train wrecks and finicky weather

Randy Haag is a seven-time club champion at Olympic.
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No disrespect, Johnny. Don't worry Brandel, we'll watch you every night. And Rog, we still love you, buddy. But if you want the real dirt on the Olympic Club's Lake Course, then listen to 53-year-old Randy Haag. Who's he? Just the seven-time club champion at this year's U.S. Open venue, a four-time Northern California Golf Association Player of the Year, and the man who has likely played more competitive rounds at Olympic over the past decade than anyone else. So pay attention to his opinions — which Dustin Johnson's caddie and Luke Donald's coach recently solicited — on the Lake Course, which he first played in 1982 and where he has a low round of 67 (shot last year) to his credit.

Biggest hole changes since 1998 U.S. Open: "Most definitely No. 8 and No. 6. The latter has the only fairway bunker on the course and it had always been laughably drivable. Now it's right in play. If you carry a shot 280 yards right down the middle, it's going to roll into that bunker because of the fairway slope. I think No. 6 will play the highest over par of all the par 4s, including the opener [normally a par 5 that will play as a par 4]. If you lay up short of the bunker on No. 6 you still have 210 yards to a green with a false front that will be very firm. And No. 8 [a 200-yard par 3] is a brand new hole that is half-a-stroke harder than the previous version."

The opening six: "I think it's the toughest starting six holes in the history of major championship golf. Because of the par change at No. 1, you will be going 15 holes without a par 5. I don't know of any other course in the world with that dynamic. You have a par 3 in there — the third — that may play as the hardest hole, depending on the wind conditions, even though it's 30 yards downhill. From the back tee [247 yards] with a left-to right wind, some may have to hit it over a tree, and even then it will be almost impossible to hold. You might see guys laying up on this hole, which could be a prudent play. But if there is a back-right pin, that's not going to work."

Toughest tee shots: "I think the new tee on No. 11 [a 430-yard par 4] forces you to really thread the ball right to left. That one and the tee shots on No. 6, No. 12 and No. 3 are the toughest on the course, but not necessarily in that order."

Toughest approach: "That comes on No. 17 [a 522-yard par 5]. The prevailing wind comes at you from the left, the lie is typically below your feet on the severely sloped fairway, and balls that hit the right side of the green will most likely roll right off down the hill that is now tightly shaved. A lot of guys might find that last bunker on the right to be user-friendly since it leaves a rather easy shot, regardless of the pin location. Miss it and you will have all kinds of problems. This hole will provide the most action for spectators because you will see some train wrecks here."

Toughest green: "Seventeen — if you are in the wrong spot — is the toughest green to putt because it has perhaps the most undulations. You can roll the ball off the green into a very bad place. Even if you have a sidewinder putt, you have to play so much break that sometimes you just try to two-putt even the five-footers. There are some other pin placements, like front-left on No. 2 and front-right on No. 4, that can cause all kinds of problems."

A furious finish: "The first six may be the toughest, but once they finish 13, guys are going to have nothing but short irons into the greens of the final five holes. So you can make up a lot of strokes there."

At 670 yards, the 16th hole will be the longest par 5 in U.S. Open history: "In the 2007 U.S. Amateur here they used the 579-yard marker and guys had 245 left after hitting driver up over the trees. From 609 yards, I personally think the hole is tougher than from 670. That back tee straightens the hole and lets players hit it high over the left side. It's not reachable in two from there, but at 609 you have to turn the ball pretty hard if you hit driver. If the fairway is firm enough, they could chase it up there and get to the last plateau in the fairway and have about 260 in. And that front bunker can be a good spot depending on the pin. If you fly it on, you're not going to hold it, and the opening is about eight yards wide uphill. I don't know how a guy is going to knock it on there in two."

The 18th green: "It's been changed three times since 1998. Now they have nailed it. It's perfect. They widened the back-right area, which was needed. The speed is great. I think this green will be a non-event. But we'll never be able to live down what happened there in 1998. I think the USGA will make sure it's slowed up a tad, which it doesn't really need to be, but I'm sure we won't see balls rolling off the front."

Weather: "This is San Francisco — every day is different. The wind is really only going to affect guys on Nos. 1-5 and then on 17 and 18. In between those holes, you're down in a valley. The weather here is constantly changing. It is completely hit-and-miss. You just never know."

And the winner is …: "The player who recognizes the harder pin placements and can brush off the bogeys will do well. The absolute key to contending in this U.S. Open will be shaping your tee shots to keep them in the heavily sloped fairways. Olympic is a first-shot course — you will not have too much trouble with most second shots."

Check out Randy Haag's hole-by-hole tour of Olympic's Lake Course at randyhaag.com