The good part about golf is that you can be an overweight man in your late 30s, smoke enough cigarettes to impress John Mellencamp and still win a major athletic competition. That’s what Angel Cabrera did the last time the U.S. Open was held in Oakmont, in 2007.
He’s known as “El Pato,” the Spanish word for duck, a nickname inspired by his waddling gait. The Argentine chain-smoker bested Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk and went on to win The Masters two years later — finally a victory for those social pariahs known as smokers. He may be the most successful party-golfer, right behind John Daly, who drinks, smokes and gambles. (Daly once reported $90 million in gambling losses over a 15-year period.)
- CP File Photo by Heather Mull
- Mike Wysocki
On June 13, 235,000 people will again descend upon Oakmont to join the festivities. Oakmonters are renting out their homes on Airbnb for as high as $3,000 a night. I listed my apartment there for $30, but so far no takers; the fact that I don’t actually live in Oakmont may be part of the problem. In addition to those crowds, 156 golfers invade Allegheny County for one of golf’s four major championships. Yes, everyone will be there, like past winners Angel Cabrera and Ernie Els; millennial hotshots like Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth; and veteran favorites like Justin Rose, Bubba Watson and Sergio Garcia. Even the legendary Tiger Woods and alleged insider-trading specialist Phil Mickelson are coming.
The Oakmont Country Club started in 1903. It is continuously listed as one of the top five courses in all the land. It’s the place where Jack Nicklaus won his first major in 1962, beating out local favorite Arnold Palmer. Ben Hogan won it all here in 1953, and the aforementioned Cabrera the last time around. The course is generally regarded as one of the toughest 18 holes in golf and is known for its lightning-fast greens. Arnold Palmer, Latrobe native, golfing icon and drink inventor, said of the course: “You can hit 72 greens in the Open in Oakmont and still not come close to winning.”
For a sport steeped in segregation, misogyny and elitism, golf is pretty popular. Nearly 25 million Americans play on more than 15,000 courses across the country. That Oakmont is in the top five out of 15,000 demonstrates how unique the course located in our backyard really is. It has hosted the U.S. Open eight times, the most of any course. It’s also hosted the PGA championship three times, including victories by World Golf Hall of Famers Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead. So besides football, baseball, boxing, basketball and hockey, we have a rich history in golf, too.
And while most golf fans are good people, not all of them are. Of course, I’m talking about the screaming fans: The backward-baseball-hat-wearing frat bros who yell, “You da man,” every time they see Tiger or Phil. The overzealous bromancers who scream, “Get in the hole!” every single time a golfer launches a swing or putt. The “Boomshakalaka” and “Yeah, player” shouts might be the worst of the bunch. Golf is a mental, quiet, passive game that doesn’t need Jerry Springer-like enthusiasm to help it out. These fans have a running competition to be the very first person heard as soon as the ball leaves the club. If you go, please don’t be one of those guys.
The 116th U.S. Open takes place in a sleepy little town of 6,000 along the banks of the Allegheny River. For six days, from June 13-19, it will be the focus of the golf universe. Besides the club, Oakmont is also known as the home of Reb Beach, a musician who played in Whitesnake, Winger and Dokken. Oakmont is all about golf and hair metal, and in a couple of weeks, a quarter of a million people will try to squeeze into it. I might even be one of them. You can get general admission tickets for as little as $30, much cheaper than I thought — Yeah, player!