OAKMONT, Pa. — Misery doesn’t really love company. Misery doesn’t love solitude, either. Misery doesn’t love anything. Misery is just miserable, sunrise to sunset, like this magnificently miserable 116th U.S. Open.
But even by the standards of the U.S. Open, the world-class sports event that is most dedicated to soul-crushing suffering, this week at Oakmont Country Club may end up being infernally special.
All the forms of sadism for which the U.S. Golf Association is justly famous — and probably ought to be incarcerated — are in full menacing effect here with the promise — practically a guarantee — that every element of golf-as-damnation will be even more intolerable on the weekend.
Almost every golfer here is miserable. They’re irritable. They either have played too little golf (only 18 holes spread over two rain-interrupted days) or too much (36 holes jammed into Friday). They’re sleep deprived. Every time they pull out a club they face a tough decision — should I hit myself in the head with an 8-iron or choke down on the seven to raise a bigger welt?
Bah, humbug, Mesrs. Day, Spieth, McIlroy and Fowler — four of the top five players in the world who now stand at 5, 2, 7 and 6 over par — you will digest a nice double-bogey with your gruel.
Perhaps the mood of this Open was summed up by England’s Lee Westwood, who shot a 3-under 67 in the only round he has been able to finish in this rain-blighted mess. Since Westy is just one shot behind leaders Andrew Landry and Dustin Johnson, he should be delighted. But precious few are happy here. Westwood was asked a polite question about his 25-hour round; unfortunately, the question contained a subordinate clause. A man can only take so much strain.
Westwood’s entire response was, “Yeah.”
“A little aggravating. It’s tiring is really what it is — 24 hours to finish a round of golf. . . . It’s going to be a long weekend,” said Kevin Streelman (1 under), who will begin his 36 holes Saturday at 7:44 a.m.
“If you start moaning about this type of stuff . . . The guys that are moaning are the guys that are going to be going home early. You just have to get on with it,” Shane Lowry said. “That’s Mother Nature.”
Yes, Mother Nature. The extra twist this year is that, apparently, Mother Nature now has a USGA membership. If you wanted to make the maximum number of golfers as miserable as possible, here’s one scenario to pull it off: Present the course to early arriving players under classic firm-and-fast conditions Monday and Tuesday. Let them get used to it. Then, before the first round, bring torrents of rain and switch the wind direction so nothing they learned is worth a box of broken tees.
You think that’s mean? That’s nothing. Thursday brought three separate rain delays, amounting to more than four hours. Nine dew-sweeping bums lucked into finishing their rounds. Everybody else got the shaft — either 18 holes played over two days or 36 holes played entirely on Friday or, in some case too cruel to consider, not quite 36 holes Friday so that they have to come back out early Saturday.
Got all that? Nobody here does either. You want a symbol of this wackiness? Bubba Watson went with his son to the movies Friday afternoon because there was no golf for Watson to play until Saturday. Who went with them? Jason Day’s son because his dad, No. 1 in the world, had to play golf all day — 36 miserable holes. Which left Day’s Open hopes tattered at 5 over. At one point, Day hooked a drive into a stand marked “Concessions.” Does that mean you can go inside if you just want to give up?
“These conditions frustrate everybody, don’t they?” Westwood said. “We’d like it to just go smoothly, but sometimes it doesn’t. You just have to be patient.”
The cumulative impact of all this should be fascinating to watch on the weekend. Oakmont will start getting back to “firm and fast” by Saturday morning, then become utterly diabolical by the afternoon. For Sunday, more sun is forecast, bringing even harder, faster greens; if we’re all lucky, a 10-foot downhill putt on the 72nd hole to determine the champion golfer of the United States for 2016 could take an hour to trickle to the hole. “Don’t mark, don’t mark, it’s still moving!”
Actually, not everyone here is miserable. Those of us who merely have to watch are doing fine. The sun returned, finally, after 36 hours of intermittent rain, punctuated by Biblical deluges. Oakmont is still fairly pretty, despite the 10,000 trees that were cut down over the past 20 years; now there is only one living thing left on the course that’s taller than a 5-iron — yes, one tree. Oakmont is now minus its oaks.
This barrenness, even on the most famous of East Coast tracks once known for specimen trees, is the inevitable and probably necessary look for golf in a water-starved 21st century. Conservation of resources and lower maintenance costs for courses are the future. Who loves this best? Maybe the USGA because it allows them to define a “great test of golf” as endless acres of grass of every length, plus sand everywhere. Water? Nah. Too pretty. Just gnarly purist golf, as in “pure it” or lose it in the hay.
Some of us enjoy the U.S. Open because watching pros suffering the same golf misery as us hackers is a kind of perverse hobby. Tens of thousands of fans are sharing in this glee.
This leads to comparative spectating as each hangdog group passes: Who looks closest to abject submission — the totally lost McIlroy, who admits his swing has deserted him, or Phil Mickelson, who came here with high hopes but, at 7 over, looks as annoyed as a man with a bum stock tip.
“I need 12 hours of sleep. Or I get cranky,” Watson said as he left for the day.
By Sunday night, he’s going to have plenty of company.