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Golfers Facing Olympian Task

Olympia Fields, tweaked to USGA standards, is long, narrow and demanding. In other words, it's a typical U.S. Open course.

June 09, 2003|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

It has been 32 years since the PGA Tour held an event at Olympia Fields Country Club and 75 years since a U.S. Open has been staged at the suburban Chicago course, so local knowledge is going to be hard to come by until practice rounds this week at the layout where the 103rd U.S. Open championship will be decided.

Tiger Woods, who won his second Open title last year at Bethpage Black in New York, played a practice round at Olympia Fields two weeks ago and concluded a strong start is possible. But then, look out.

"It's going to be a heck of a test," Woods said. "The closing holes are something else. I mean, you've really got to play."

The first few holes appear to be tame enough -- the first is a reachable, 577-yard par five, followed by a 402-yard par four and 389-yard par four. But holes No. 14 through No. 18 have been lengthened a total of 132 yards.

Tees were either moved or rebuilt at 11 of the 18 holes, with the biggest changes at the eighth, ninth and 16th. At No. 8, new tees were added that makes the hole 45 yards longer, 430 yards, but also makes it a more demanding hole because it's an uphill, blind approach to the green. The ninth is 49 yards longer, 494 yards in all, and is a par four that is a par five for members.

Nearly 300 yards were added to the course by Mark Mungeam, a golf course architect and partner in the Massachusetts firm of Cornish, Silva and Mungeam. He also got the course ready for the 1997 U.S. Senior Open and oversaw the reconstruction of the bunkers at the Broadmoor for the 1995 U.S. Women's Open.

Mungeam says that after the Senior Open, when Graham Marsh won at even par, the USGA knew as well as he did that changes would have to be made.

"It was obvious to us that a 6,900-yard course wasn't going to cut it," he said.

In addition to length, bunkers were made deeper and the faces steeper. The greens are no bargain, either. They are raised to plateaus and then drop off sharply, the original design of Willie Park Jr., in 1923. Mungeam says only three greens were rebuilt for the Senior Open and now the U.S. Open.

"Quirky," Mungeam described them. "These greens also slope in various, haphazard directions, not the typical back-to-front. This requires golfers to continually adjust their approach."

Mungeam, who expects the new 494-yard par-four ninth to be the most difficult hole during the Open, said the second and eighth are the best examples of unusual slopes. The second green slopes dramatically from the front-right to the back-left, and the approach to the eighth is uphill to a green that slopes away.

As usual, the USGA's Open setup requires tighter fairways, narrowed in width to anywhere from 24 yards to 28 yards.

Woods expects to hit many more long irons off the tee and may use his driver only four or five times.

"You still have to get the ball in play," he said. "And that's where the USGA puts the premium. The shorter the hole, the tighter the fairway is going to be. Olympia Fields has a good mixture of holes."

As for who has the best recipe for the mixture, the answer is forthcoming.

*

U.S. Open

When: Thursday-Sunday.

* Where: Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club.

* Television: Thursday-Friday, 8 a.m. to noon, ESPN; noon to 2 p.m., Channel 4. Saturday-Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Channel 4.

* The course: Two-time British Open champion Willie Park Jr. designed the No. 4 (North) Course at Olympia Fields, which opened in 1923. The club's first president was Amos Alonzo Stagg, the University of Chicago football coach.

* Length: 7,190 yards.

* Par: 36-34--70.

* Format: 72 holes, stroke play.

* Cut: Top 60 and ties, and anyone within 10 strokes of lead after 36 holes.

* Playoff, if necessary: 18 holes (stroke play) on Monday.

* Purse: $6 million.

* Winner's share: $1.08 million.

* Defending champion: Tiger Woods.

* Last year: Woods went wire-to-wire at Bethpage Black to win his second U.S. Open and become the first player in 30 years to win the first two legs of the Grand Slam. Despite a 72, the first time he has won a major with a final round over par, Woods cruised to a three-stroke victory over Phil Mickelson.

* Major championships at Olympia Fields: 1925 PGA Championship (Walter Hagen), 1928 U.S. Open (Johnny Farrell), 1961 PGA Championship (Jerry Barber).

* Former champions in the field: Tiger Woods, Retief Goosen, Lee Janzen, Ernie Els, Steve Jones, Corey Pavin, Tom Kite, Hale Irwin.

* Noteworthy: Since 1991, only one player has finished higher than 40th when defending his U.S. Open title. Tiger Woods tied for 12th in 2001.

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