Oakmont 'survival' test looms at U.S. Open: Els

Tue Jun 14, 2016 3:35pm EDT
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OAKMONT, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Ernie Els speaks from experience when he says that this week's U.S. Open at fabled Oakmont Country Club will prove to be a survival test.

The strapping South African with the silky swing, who is nicknamed "The Big Easy", won his maiden major and first U.S. tournament title in a 20-hole playoff over Scotsman Colin Montgomerie and Loren Roberts at the 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont.

Oakmont has changed over the decades, said four-time major winner Els, but the fast-running layout outside Pittsburgh hosting its record ninth U.S. Open remains a daunting challenge.

"Winning here at this unbelievably historic venue is quite something. It's almost like you win an Open Championship, you want to win it at St. Andrews or Muirfield," Els, 46, told reporters on Tuesday.

"When you win a U.S. Open, Oakmont is one of the iconic venues."

There are 50,000 fewer trees than when Els triumphed here, altering the look of the layout, and deep thick rough punishes errant tee shots. The fast, sloping greens can still confound the game's best.

Noting the passage of time, Els recalled how "a lot of us were still using wooden drivers back in '94 ... and it's amazing how the golf course has also changed.

"You could definitely move the ball out of the rough on to a lot of these greens. Nowadays, you can't really do that.

"I don't know what kind of chemicals they put in that grass, but it's growing. So that changed a lot."   Continued...

Jun 14, 2016; Oakmont, PA, USA; Ernie Els hits his tee shot on the first hole during the practice rounds on Tuesday of the 2016 U.S. Open golf tournament at Oakmont CC. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports