The US Open gets underway today at the ultimate venue for what is generally considered the "toughest test in golf": Oakmont Country Club just outside of Pittsburgh. Oakmont is regarded as the most difficult golf course in the United States--and when the wind isn't blowing at Carnoustie in Scotland--it's probably the most difficult golf course in the world. And that is why so many of us golf fans love when the Open is played at Oakmont.
One of the things that most non-golf fans don't understand about the game is why those of us that love the sport take such great joy in its difficulty. From the standpoint of the US Open at Oakmont, we like to watch the best players in the world struggle with the same shots that us single-handicappers and hackers struggle. This week, someone with more than $10-million in career earnings won't be able to hit a ball more than ten yards out of the four-inch rough along one of the fairways following an errant drive. We non-pros do that all the time. Somebody with multiple major victories to the their credit will three putt from two feet on Oakmont's glass-like greens--or better yet, putt a ball completely off the green.
The running gag this week has been that the USGA actually has to slow down the greens for the US Open--as they are even firmer and faster for regular member play. And that leads to another question from non-golf fans: Why would anyone not getting paid to play actually pay to play a course that is so difficult? Well to quote John F Kennedy, "we choose to do those things not because they are easy--but because they are hard."
Part of it is machismo--"I'm a member at the toughest golf course in the world!". But golfers are also a sadistic lot. Those who get to play courses like Oakmont will always relay the story of their worst experience of the day--"I lost three balls in the rough on number two--ended up taking a 14 on that one" or "Had a six-incher for par on 13 and ended up four-putting"--before they will about the highlights of their day. And after shooting the worst score of their lives, the only thing they will be able to think about is how badly they want to play there again.
Juxtapose the US Open at Oakmont to the NBA Championship Series which is now entering its third week. The NBA doesn't raise the rim to 14-feet for the Finals to make it harder for LeBron James to dunk. The 3-point line isn't moved out to 45-feet so that Steph Curry has to struggle to score. But in golf, we make it damn near impossible to be successful in the biggest tournament of the year--and we love it.