OAKMONT, Pa. (AP) — Nick Flanagan forgot how steep the hill was driving into Oakmont, not surprising since he had not been back in 13 years.
Unforgettable was the golf course. It’s where he won the U.S. Amateur.
“It’s cool to come back,” Flanagan said. “We played (Nos.) 1 and 9, it all came flooding back so quickly. The golf course hasn’t changed that much. I remember it being just as tough.”
But there is one big change: He won’t be hitting any shots.
Flanagan is back as a caddie.
The Australian’s career has been slowed by thumb surgery, and lately some pain in his back. He is close friends with Aron Price and struck a deal with his fellow Aussie that if Price were to qualify for the U.S. Open, he would caddie for him.
“I just want to make sure I can carry this bag around seven days in a row,” Flanagan said.
Oakmont has a proud list of champions on the walls of the clubhouse, a Hall of Fame list from hosting eight U.S. Opens, three PGA Championships, five U.S. Amateurs and two U.S. Women’s Opens. Bobby Jones and Gene Sarazen. Ben Hogan and Sam Snead. Johnny Miller and Ernie Els.
And Nick Flanagan.
Rickie Fowler took a scouting trip to Oakmont a few weeks ago and his caddie, Joe Skovron, took a video of all the Oakmont champions.
“And there I am on the bottom right,” Flanagan said. “Definitely company I shouldn’t be in, but it was pretty cool.”
He left a lasting impression on at least one Oakmont member. Flanagan told of a member who spotted him when he arrived. It seems the man has signatures from all other Oakmont winners and needed Flanagan to sign a scorecard.
And now it’s time for work.
Price and Flanagan have been living in the Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, area for the last dozen years. Flanagan caddied for him in U.S. Open qualifying two years but not at Pinehurst No. 2.
It should help Price to have a caddie who played eight rounds at Oakmont, including his victory in the 36-hole championship match he won over Casey Wittenberg. The greens not only are the fastest around, they have slopes that require approaching the hole from the right spot.
Asked how much faith he had in Flanagan as a caddie, Price replied dryly, “Absolutely none.”
“We’re good mates,” he said. “He would know my game as well as anyone. It’s not really about that. It’s about someone knowing you, keeping you calm and knowing when to let yourself have a rip and get over it.”
Besides, so much of that week in 2003 and this course remains a blur for Flanagan. He remembers the key shots. He retains “relatively” good knowledge of the greens.
“I remember them being out of control, fast and firm,” Flanagan said. “I wish I got back here more often.”
Oakmont champions are honorary members. Flanagan has been in the area a few times while on the Web.com Tour and wanted to come over to play the golf course reputed to be the toughest in the land. It just didn’t work out.
Flanagan played the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in 2004 as the U.S. Amateur champion. He missed the cut.
He finally made it back to the U.S. Open, perhaps not in the capacity he imagined, but no less excited to be at Oakmont to help out a friend.