Inside Day 4 at the U.S. Amateur
Despite delay after delay, the competitors (and I) are surviving Oakmont
By Jordan Perez
OAKMONT, Pa.—David Nyfjall knows a thing or two about caesuras, and so do I after this long, messy week at the U.S. Amateur.
I don’t play piano. David does. (Sheet music is my mortal enemy.) What we do have in common is that both of our work weeks have been subjected to four stoppages of play here at Oakmont Country Club. Nyfjall (below), with his steely resolve, is clearly surviving Oakmont better than I am.
This is my first assignment on the road for the Fire Pit Collective. It has beaten me up physically and emotionally. I suppose I speak for all the players when I say that Oakmont kinda destroys you, but in the best way possible.
After yet another rain delay on Thursday, leaving all but three of the second-round matches uncompleted, Devon Bling said with a sigh, “It’s just been a long day. Everybody I’m sure is tired, but everybody is going to go back, get some rest, and we’re all going to be fresh tomorrow morning.”
Speak for yourself, buddy.
But as exhausted as I am by the dawn-to-dusk days, followed by typing deep into the night, I’ve never stopped appreciating my first visit to historic Oakmont. When you step inside the clubhouse, the smell of the old hardwood floors evokes a really strange sense of home. The old wooden picture frames—displaying items such as Johnny Miller’s course-record scorecard—look like the kind of thing my grandma kept in her house. The display cases have a lot of cool memorabilia from previous championships, but they’re understated; Oakmont doesn’t have to brag, and that makes it less intimidating for a newbie like me. The scent of breakfasts and lunches being cooked throughout the day enhances my comfort.
Out on the golf course, that comfort is hard to come by. The players are pushed to their breaking point by the oppressive rough, deep bunkers and crazy greens. The course’s undulations are hardcore. Just ask my Apple Watch. The squishy, soggy ground makes every step more taxing. For all of us.
With all of the starting and stopping, it’s hard for the players to maintain rhythm. Same for the reporters. Every morning I have a game plan of what I want to cover and I’ve sent idea after idea to the trash bin after back-to-back four-hour delays have scrambled the schedule. One example: On Wednesday, I was excited to watch the Jacob Bridgeman vs. Jonathan Griz first-round match … until I suffered the first bee sting of my life, on the 7th hole. I hid out in a port-a-potty, crying. I missed much of the match, which, by the way, didn’t finish until the following day, with Bridgeman winning 1 up. The bee defeated me by the same score.
I’ve taken other L’s. I accidentally threw away my credit card in a greased-up Burger King bag because I was so punch-drunk from a day of walking all over Oakmont. I fell asleep at my laptop one night while my editor Alan Shipnuck was patiently waiting for me to file. (Shout-out to Alan and various others for taking all my phone calls, which were really cries for help.)
Imagine how beat-down the players are. On Thursday evening, Nyfjall and Ricky Castillo (below) were locked in to the best match of the week so far. They had putts on the third playoff hole that could have decided things … only for the horn to blow. Now they have to sleep on those putts and try to recapture the adrenaline early on Friday morning. Who has that kind of mental fortitude?
It’s pouring rain as I type this, the press room ceiling sounding like a drumline. Still, I have a weird, half-hearted smile on my face. Mother Nature’s funny little attempt to destroy this carefully crafted week reminds me of how much I love the unpredictability of amateur golf. Things often don’t go as planned. Whoever wins this U.S. Amateur will have survived a brutal golf course and the most stressful week of his life. They will be a true champion. I’ll feel a sense of pride too. This Amateur is kind of like a rollercoaster ride I can’t hop off—it’s fun and terrifying and I’m screaming my face off the whole time.
On Friday, we still have to finish the Round of 32 and then try to get the Sweet 16 done so the tournament can be back on track. The remaining 12 matches resume at 7:30 a.m. local time. Naturally, scattered thunderstorms are on the schedule too.