SAN FRANCISCO, (Aug. 22, 2007)-- The U.S. Amateur Championship is really two tournaments, participants say, with a 36-hole stroke-play qualifier for 315 competitors followed by match play for 64 men. But a single strategy is likely to work best on Olympic Club’s arduous Lake Course layout regardless of competitive format.
When the second phase of the 107th U.S. Amateur commences Wednesday, the 64 survivors will have to contend with a golf course renowned for its pulchritude and peril while keeping an eye on each other. That could lead to trouble for a player not disciplined enough or who finds himself trailing and having to make something happen.
"I learned at the U.S. Amateur qualifier that you make a game plan and go along with that game plan regardless of how you’re playing," said David Merkow, who shot a pair of 69s on the Lake and Ocean courses at Olympic to finish tied for second in the stroke-play overture to the main event.
Like most championship layouts, Olympic exerts enormous pressure on the tee shots, but it is not only accuracy that counts, but also ball flight. Shaping shots into the slopes is integral to keeping the ball in the fairway, which, in turn, sets up the rest of the hole.
The rough on the par-70 Lake Course is penal enough to force players to chip out more than half the time rather than risk trying to go for the greens. Even if the lie in the outer areas is decent, going for the greens might still be an imprudent choice, given that most putting surfaces are raised, making the course play much longer than its advertised 6,929 yards. Those greens, relatively small at an average of 4,700 square feet, are well protected by bunkers. They are also firm and speedy. Clear the trouble and an approach from the rough still might not be able to hold the targets.
Many players have raved about the Lake Course, which is hosting its third U.S. Amateur. England’s Gary Wolstenholme, the two-time British Amateur champion, led the chorus of praise.
"You just have to love this golf course," Wolstenholme said. "The colors, the variety of greens in the grass and trees, the setting itself … it’s a very special place."
It’s also rather nasty as a golf examination, which only makes it more endearing.
"The brutality of this golf course is unrelenting," he said. "If you miss it just a hair here or there you can find yourself dropping shots easily at every turn. You have to be precise. You have to hit the fairways and hit the right clubs into the greens. The difference between good shots and bad ones is pretty slim. But it makes you think, and that makes it a great test."
While many players found that the Lake and Ocean layouts were of equal difficulty, the rough at the Lake Course was proving to be more of a factor – something that was only going to further come to light during match play.
"It’s a weird rough," said U.S. Walker Cup player Webb Simpson after a 71 Tuesday on the Lake Course gave him a 144 total and a berth in the next stage. "About 90 percent of the time, you’re just punching it out. Even if the lie is halfway decent, you just have to play and not try to force things. It just leads to more trouble."
Added George Zahringer, the oldest player in the field at 54, who submitted a pair of 71s to advance: "The rough is very penal, and I think there is graduated rough on only one hole. It’s pretty uniform all the way through, so that’s a factor in how you approach the golf course. I was maybe a little surprised by that."
The bottom line is that play can be dictated from the fairways. Accuracy trumps aggressiveness.
"You have to be confident in your ball-striking because there is so much trouble out there," said Joseph Bramlet of Saratoga, Calif., who plays for nearby Stanford University and who is a junior member at Olympic Club. "You really can’t afford to be in the rough. Get it in the fairway any way you can, and then try to get it below the hole on the green. If you get above the hole, then just try to two-putt. Really, it’s pretty basic."
--Story by Dave Shedloski, for the USGA