The Oakmont County Club near Pittsburgh, site of the 6th PGA Championship beginning today, has played host to seven major professional tournaments since 1922.
Armour and Cooper, Sarazen and Snead. Hogan, Nicklaus and Palmer, and an obscure local pro. Sam Parks, have made their marks here but it is Johnny Miller and his 63 in '73, winning the U.S. Open in the final round, that left the deepest impression or, more accurately, scar.
The nation's golf fans found Miller's 63 thrilling. Oakmont's members considered the eight-under-par total an embarrassment.
"More trees . . . more traps . . . more lengthened tee placements" became the club motto. The course now plays nearly 70 yards longer, at 6.989 (par 71) the fourth and seventh holes stretched considerably. The rough is nasty although not as difficult as it was for this summer's Open at Cherry Hills near Denver. And the greens are hot and slick and undulate as madly as ever. A man putting from above the hole better buy a return-trip ticket.
"They've tried to soup it up, all right," Miller said after finishing his practice round yesterday. "But, you know. I think it's still going to play easier this week than it did when I won. The rough is not as long at it was in '73 and there's nothing the tournament people can do about the weather."
Continued hot weather, as forecast, should make getting on the greens in regulation this week's a delightful experience for many players in the field. The yardage isn't that great. The fair-ways are firm. Many observers believe Miller's winning total of 279 will be bettered.
If it isn't, blame it on the greens. The second, 10th and 12th, in particular, are treacherous. Tap a putt a touch too much and you probably will have a longer putt, coming back, than you did on the first attempt. It is quite possible, on No 2, to chip from close-in onto the green, only to putt back onto the fairway on the first try.
Something called a Stimpmeter was brought in this week to confirm the greens' unusual speed. The Stimpmeter is an aluminum bar with a notched [WORD ILLEGIBLE] on which a ball is placed, then rolled down onto a level area of the green. The distance the ball rolls indicates the speed of the green. Eight and a half feet is considered fast. The readings here have ranged from nine to 12 to infinity.
"They're just like '31," said Snead, who won the PGA here that season. "One time I marked my ball and the green was so slippery the coin moved really, it slipped right down the hill. You're going to see as many four putts here as you see three putts in [WORD ILLEGIBLE] most tournaments."
Snead won't be one of those four-putting. He withdrew yesterday because of pain in his right leg.
Charlie Coody, another veteran, will try to hang tough with his putting stroke. "I'll let anyone get on in regulation. Then let me place the ball 30 to 40 feet away, and they'll have a tough time breakin' 80," the Texan declared.
Not all of the leading contenders were ready to join the Amen chorus. Defending champ Lanny Wadkins termed the greens "severe" but "puttable, if your drive gets you in position to get to the green in the right position."
Wadkins has not won since the PGA and the World Series last year.
"Give me four 70s and I feel like I'd be sitting in this chair (as tournament leader) all week," Palmer volunteered. "But I think the greens will be fair . . . if they put a little water on them."
And then there was The Man, Nicklaus, always the one to beat at these major affairs. He has 17 such titles to his credit, the most recent being the British Open last month.
"I like fast greens like we have here, and I think most of the better players do," Nicklaus remarked. "The better players win on the fast greens if they're true, and these are. It just puts a premium on putting properly."
Nicklaus has won four PGAs, in 1963, 1971, 1973 and 1975. Walter Hagen captured five during the 1920s, including the last four in a row. When Nicklaus bagged the Open here in 1962 he needed a fifth round, defeating Palmer in the playoff with 71 after the two titans tied at 283.
"How did you putt here that summer?" Nicklaus was asked.
"I three-putted one green (in 90 holes)," he replied.
The bandwagon has begun to roll for Nicklaus once again since his back-to-back successes recently at St. Andrews and Philadelphia. "He is without doubt the greatest player ever to play this game," the legendary Byron Nelson declared yesterday.