Photo: www.usga.org

After two years of atypical U.S. Open set-ups at Pinehurst and Chambers Bay, the national champion returns to its most familiar confines and conditions at Oakmont CC, a host to more Opens (nine) than any other course.

Infamously brutal, The Golf Channel’s Mark Rolfing calls Oakmont, “The most complete test in championship golf.”

That’s one way of putting it. “Hard,” “brutal” and “difficult” have been more common descriptors amongst the players. With thick rough that could choke a lawnmower choke and greens as fast and slick as anything Augusta can dish up, the scoreboard seems destined to be a sea of red. That’s the Open we’re traditionally used to, but Oakmont is being built up to be scoreboard Alcatraz.

Great champions (Hogan, Nicklaus, Miller) have won here and Tiger once lost in a playoff. That was against Angel Cabrera in 2007, the last Open at Oakmont.

Will get a rising great, a current great or dark horse emerge as the champion this week? Maderas Golf Academy Director of Instruction Chris Mayson, who has played Oakmont, has a few thoughts and a prediction for you after a look at the leading storylines for the week.

Heeeere’s Johnny! – We’d be remiss if didn’t start our tournament preview by acknowledging our course co-creator, Johnny Miller, and the site of his legendary closing round 63 at the Open in 1973. Many argue this is the greatest round in championship golf history. In fact, we’ve gathered three takes revisiting Miller’s epic achievement for your reading enjoyment and linked them below. Seems a little cruel Johnny’s not in the booth this week, but hopefully FOX will give him his due during a week when we’ll likely see nothing remotely like it. Then again, Miller’s round came out of the blue, too, as you’ll read here:

www.golf.com/tour-and-news/johnny-miller-remembers-day-he-shot-63-1973-us-open?page=1&simple=1

espn.go.com/golf/usopen15/story/_/id/15975415/johnny-miller-magnificent-63-oakmont-1973-us-open-resonates

www.golfdigest.com/story/why-johnny-millers-oakmont-63-still-matters?mbid=social_twitter

Photo: www.cbssports.com

Local Bias, Part II – Phil Mickelson again has the career Grand Slam teed up. Can he convert? Statistically, Phil is having a fabulous season and has been in contention at numerous events but doesn’t have a win to show for it – yet.

Mickelson has finished second in the Open an agonizing six times. He parted with coach Butch Harmon in the off-season to get a fresh look at his swing. He’s discovered better accuracy off the tee, something Mickelson says will come in handy this week. He’s expressed sentiment that accuracy will trump distance this week.

“The reason why I’m optimistic about Oakmont is that it doesn’t require me to hit a lot of drivers,” Mickelson said at his pre-Open press event. “It requires me to get the ball in play off the tee … if I’m hitting 3-woods and hybrids, I feel confident I’m able to do that a fairly high percentage of the time.”

Will that confidence and strategy translate to a trophy? It would add another layer of history to a course whose legacy is among the deepest in championship golf.

If It’s A Putting Contest, We Know A Guy – When greens are stimping at a 14, how can it be anything else? Yes, there’s the matter of getting there in regulation, but putting undoubtedly will be a premium when – unless rain intervenes – you’re talking about green as fast as are being described.

And who would you take in a putting contest right now over Jordan Spieth? Spieth seems to have rebounded from his disappointment at the Masters. Before taking a pre-Open break, he won in Texas and returned to putting and playing like his old self, the one who won the U.S. Open a year ago to lock down half a Grand Slam.

Spieth isn’t the favorite this week, but when your last six majors look like this – T2-1-1-T4-2-T2 – and you’re third on tour in scoring, are you going to bet against him?

A Beautiful Day? – World No. 1 Jason Day has two runner-up finishes in the U.S. Open (2011, 2013), but that was a different Day. This one has a major under his belt and the swagger and confidence to match his ranking.

Day is a popular pick, but is he Chris Mayson’s pick? Read on to find out.

 

Photo: www.pinterest.com

Chris Mayson prediction:

I played the U.S. Amateur at Oakmont in 2003. It’s easily the most difficult golf course I’ve ever played. I shot 73-78 in match play and didn’t hit a fairway until the 15th hole. The course is that demanding off the tee. The fairways are quite narrow and slope right to left or left to right. You have to hit it straight, or sometimes even shape a shot, to keep it in the fairway. So the challenge isn’t just around the greens, it’s off the tee, too.

If you don’t hit the fairway, it’s really tough to hit out of the rough. And if you do hit the fairway, there’s sometimes only one spot to hit to on the green. The balls tend to gather in certain spots.

So the person who wins this week will have to drive it decently – and not necessarily long – but also will have to be fantastic around the greens. I hate to go with a popular pick, but I’m taking Jordan Spieth. His short game and putting are too good to go against.

I watched him play in Dallas in May and thought he was still struggling with his swing … and then he won the next week. He then spent a lot of time getting ready for the Open, and it’s a great golf course for him, so he’s the pick.