Viva, Sergio!

OAKMONT, Pa. – How many of these U.S. Opens have I been to?


Enough to have witnessed two men’s Opens and one women’s Open here at Oakmont.

Enough to have developed a healthy respect for Oakmont Country Club, which may be America’s most underrated golf course. Forget about Golfweek’s Best listings and concentrate on America’s most distinctive – this course has an identity all its own; it is unlike any other major championship layout in the world.

Oakmont is one big three-putt obstacle course. Okay, so is another famous treeless course, St. Andrews in Scotland. Here at Oakmont, though, there is an additional challenge: Even without trees, the holes are walled in by narrow fairways and brain-banging rough that would leave your average St. Andrewsian with claustrophobia and whiplash.

Oakmont is St. Andrews on steroids.

So what?

This means that Jim Furyk should be the favorite in this U.S. Open. He hits the ball straight, he is an excellent putter, and he is a grinder supreme.

Furyk aside, I choose to take the emotional approach when picking a favorite. Of all the exceptionally talented golfers I have seen who probably will never win a U.S. Open because of their demeanor or style of play, Sergio Garcia is at the top of my list.

This guy is fun. Both his game and his personality are explosive. He wears his heart in plain view, right out there on his Adidas – or maybe his fluorescent, phosphorescent, see-in-the-dark, canary yellow pants, which he wore for his Tuesday practice round.

I root for him in every major championship.

Call him the best golfer never to win a major.

Call him the best Spaniard not named Jimenez never to win a major.

Call him the sexiest golfer never to win a major.

Call him the wittiest golfer never to win a major.

Question: “Sergio, what do you think about the fact that there is no player in the field under 30 who has won a major?”

Answer: “The main reason is that Tiger is 31.”

Garcia, 27, can think on his feet.

Question: “Will anybody break par for 72 holes?”

Answer: “Certainly, because par is 78.”

Oakmont is a man-eater disguised as a golf course. It is a killer course. You could have fooled me by insisting that the architect was Tony Soprano. There will be players who do not break 90 this week on the par-70 track.


“I think it is impossible to play 72 holes without a three-putt,” Garcia said. “There are parts of some greens that maybe are unfair, but everybody has to play them.”

Unfair? Some of the greens at Oakmont are big enough to support a army of cattle and a legion of sheep. Some of them have more acreage than Rhode Island. They have more undulation than Florida. Day in and day out, they are the fastest greens on planet earth.

Then Garcia launched into a monologue about playing golf in what is expected to be – by the end of the championship – a golfers’ graveyard.

“There are funny things you can do out there,” he said. “On No. 1, you can hit a 150-yard shot with your putter (down the hill to the green) if you want. On No. 8 (a par 3 that can be stretched to 288 yards), you can call it a par 4 and play for a birdie.”

Oh, stop it, Sergio. You’re too funny.

If being surrounded by pretty women guaranteed a major, Sergio would have won more than Tiger. Alas, the wild and impatient Spaniard continues to run hot when cool is the only setup that works at the U.S. Open.

Do I think he will win this major?

Of course not, but I will go on hoping. Even though he is a disaster waiting to happen, I know he is also the best golfer in canary yellow slacks never to win a major.

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