Characterized by narrow fairways, long rough and speedy greens, U.S. Open Golf is one of toughest tests a professional golfer will ever have to endure. Add on the pressure of playing for one of the most coveted sporting trophies in the world, and this golf is usually not pretty.
Along with being extremely talented, grit and perseverance are some of the necessary traits a golfer needs in order to win this tournament. With the 2016 U.S. Open being hosted at one of the most challenging courses of all-time at Oakmont Country Club, we are ranking our toughest U.S. Open golf courses. Some of the judging criteria includes: final score relative to par in past championships, course layout and courses that torture golfers down the stretch when the pressure is at its highest.
Here are our top 5 toughest courses:
1-Winged Foot Golf Club, West Course
Notable Winners: Geoff Ogilvy (+5), Fuzzy Zoeller (-4), Hale Irwin (+7) – The West Course at Winged Foot Golf Club shows no mercy. The 7,264 yard course is long and narrow, and punishes every shot that does not find the fairway. On top of that, it is impossible to land your ball close to the pin once you hit in the rough. Large, rock-hard greens combined with undulation that will make a golfer’s head spin is the main reason this course is at the top of our list.
Some of the winning scores shown above are proof that even the best golfers have trouble navigating this treacherous terrain. Heartbreak is also synonymous with Winged Foot Golf Club. Greg Norman had numerous heartbreaking moments throughout his career, and that trend continued after losing in a playoff to Fuzzy Zoeller in 1984. Phil Mickelson will attest to hard this golf course is as well. Needing a par to win his first ever US Open title, Mickelson found the rough with almost every shot on the last hole. He collapsed, scored a double bogey and paved the way for Geoff Ogilvy to steal the trophy.
2-Oakmont Country Club
Notable Winners: Angel Cabrera (+5), Johnny Miller (-5), Jack Nicklaus (-1) – Oakmont Country Club is the definition of a U.S. Open golf course. Some of golf’s legends have been the only ones able to crack the code at Oakmont and lift the U.S. Open trophy. Known for its famous “Church Pew” bunkers, precision at Oakmont is paramount.
Long fairway bunkers are challenging enough, but at Oakmont there are rows of thick rough in the bunkers on a select few holes that can ruin a players round. With 210 total bunkers on the course it is best to play it safe and keep it in the fairway at all times.
Add in difficult uphill approach shots to sloped greens, and there really isn’t an easy shot on the course. With Angel Cabrera winning the last major contested here at five over par it is easy to see why this course made the list. Oakmont Country Club easily could have been number one, but it yielded the round of the century and lost out by the slimmest of margins. Johnny Miller tied a record for lowest score in a major by shooting a 63 on Sunday and went on to win in dramatic fashion in the 1973 U.S. Open.
3-Merion Golf Club, East Course
Notable Winners: Lee Trevino (E), Justin Rose (+1) – Along with Oakmont Country Club, the next toughest golf course is also located in Pennsylvania. Merion is almost as tough as its neighboring golf course, but in a few different ways. Two of the most consistent and accurate players of all-time in Lee Trevino and Justin were the select few to win at this challenging course.
If you don’t hit it in the fairway at Merion it is almost a guarantee you will lose your ball in the thick rough. The players usually have a blind shot to an elevated green, so the approach shot on most holes is usually a guessing game.
One of the most unique aspects of the East Course at the Merion Golf Club is another reason why it is so difficult. Instead of flags that can help players decipher the direction the wind is traveling, the sticks at Merion Golf Club have wicker baskets on the top of them. This is the only course that the PGA Tour visits that includes this feature and it is definitely be something the players have to adjust to.
The 18th hole is also why Merion made this list. The 521-yard par 4 is a never ending hole that is almost impossible to birdie. Phil Mickelson tasted heartbreak again in a U.S. Open tournament as he needed to chip in for birdie on the last hole to force a playoff and just missed to allow Justin Rose to take home the trophy.
4-Pebble Beach Golf Links
Notable Winners: Tiger Woods (-12), Graeme McDowell (E), Tom Kite (-3) – How can one of the most difficult courses in U.S. Open also be one of the most beautiful? The Pebble Beach Golf Links has mastered this combination, and it is a test that is hard to top.
Located in the Carmel Highlands in Pebble Beach, California, this course was built right off the Pacific Ocean. The breeze off the ocean as well as the water in general are just a few of the reasons this course plays so tough. The water comes into play on about six different holes and with a quick lack of focus, a player can lose more than just a golf ball.
Long par 5s and long rough are staples of the course as well but one of the main reasons this course made the list is the finishing hole. A daunting par 5 that has water all down the left side of the hole is a tough 18th hole that makes the player much more nervous on top of the pressure they’re already feeling trying to close out a U.S. Open.
Tiger Woods ruined this course ranking a little higher with his 12-under par score in 2000 en route to a 15 shot victory in which he was the only player finishing under par. This course is tough for just about everyone else on the planet and that is why it made the list.
5-Pinehurst Resort, Course No. 2
Notable Winners: Martin Kaymer (-9), Michael Campbell (E) and Payne Stewart (-1) – Course No. 2 at the Pinehurst Resort is also a course that only man could crack while it managed to embarrass the rest of the field. Martin Kaymer finished the 2014 U.S. Open at -9, eight shots clear of the rest of the field.
From the tee, this course doesn’t look all that intimidating with very few trees near the fairway and not the deepest of rough, but don’t let that fool you. There is thick pine straw and weeds for drives that stray too far from the fairway, and any inaccuracy can alter a round of golf. With that being said, Pinehurst is known for some of the toughest greens in the country.
All of the greens are crowned and extremely undulated, leaving players praying for a two-putt once they finally reach the green. The greens aren’t the biggest and are all guarded by bunkers preventing the players from being too aggressive. Designed by the legendary Donald Ross, this course has been one of the toughest courses for a long time, and will continue to be as it will again host the U.S. Open in 2024.
Course No. 2 at the Pinehurst Resort is also responsible for one of the best finishes in U.S. Open history. The late, great Payne Stewart made a putt on the final hole of the tournament back in 1999 to seal a victory that will be remembered forever. The man he was playing with that narrowly missed a chance to win it in a playoff…Phil Mickelson.
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