News & ToursAugust 28, 2009

The Southern Hills scramble

__TULSA, OKLA.--__Considering the eight golfers still playing at the 109th U.S. Amateur have reached the quarterfinals, securing exemptions from qualifying for next year's championship, you'd think they would be fairly upbeat about the state of their games.

Think again.

The common refrain has been as much one of relief as it was of confidence.

"I haven't been striking the ball all that well out here compared to other people," said Ben Martin, who knocked off__Chris Ward__ and Nico Geyger in Wednesday games to set up today's match with David Lingmerth. "I've just kind of been getting the ball in the hole, grinding it out and getting it done."

"There's a lot of scrambling going on out here," added Charlie Holland. "I'm not doing myself a lot of favors when I'm missing fairways. My short game is saving me."

"It's just of hanging on out there," noted Lingmerth. "You know you're going to have to get up and down to make a few pars and stay in a match. It's a grind."

Give credit--or lay blame--to Southern Hills CC, which has proved an admirable test for the world's best amateurs this week. (For a hole-by-hole course tour, click here.) Mike Davis is best known as the U.S. Open set-up guru, but he also holds guru status for the Amateur as well. Suffice it to say, he has the Perry Maxwell course playing as if the pros were here this week.

One club member, who preferred to remain nameless to make sure the nameplate on his locker isn't unceremoniously removed, said that the course is playing better--and by better he means tougher--than when it hosted the PGA Championship in 2007. "And don't even think about comparing it to the Open in 2001," said the member. "That was a bit of a joke. The guys then would have begged to play it like this."

Making Southern Hills such a challenge is just how tight the fairways are off the tee. There's no truth to the rumor that the medics on site have been treating players for claustrophobia, but if they had a couple pills for it this week, the line would have stretch back to Oklahoma City. Add to that the firm greens that each day become harder and harder to hold if you're hitting approach shots from the rough, and you've got yourself a five-star headache on your hands.

My member friend only smiled as the discussion continued on the course's difficulty. You got the sense the membership is very pleased that their track is kicking some tail rather than the other way around. I was talking with someone the other day who noted that Oakmont CC members are probably the most sadistic group when it comes to having their home course playing so hard on a daily basis that will make you want to take up tennis. He went on to say that the folks at Southern Hills could be distant cousins of the Oakmont folks. I'm starting to agree.

That's not to say the course isn't playing fair. The "balance" between rewarding good shots and penalizing poor ones has been very good through the first four days of the championship.

When I saw Jim Hyler, the USGA championship chairman, yesterday I commented how they seemed to have things dialed in. "Tough course out there, huh?" I said, almost rhetorically.

"That's the way it's suppose to be," Hyler responded with a smile.

Perhaps Steve Ziegle__r, one of the remaining eight, said it best yesterday after his third-round victory over__Dan Woltman in 22 holes.

"I think it's funny that some players are saying their scrambling because who on this golf course is not scrambling," said the Stanford junior. "I mean the fairways are like 18 yards wide. The beauty of the U.S. Amateur is you have to hit near perfect golf shots to have for sure good results."

He's got a point. It is a national championship. And sometimes, to win a national championship, you're not necessarily the best ball striker that week, but actually the best scrambler.

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