The US Amateur — the United States’ oldest golf championship — comes to Oakland Hills August 15 – 21. The 116th playing of the US Amateur coincides with Oakland Hills’ centennial.
The 2016 US Amateur marks the second US Amateur at Oakland Hills. The first, in 2002, saw Ricky Barnes defeat Hunter Mahan for the title.
At the US Amateur Championship preview this past week, USGA officials described their plans for the championship, distributed swag to reporters, hosted an 18-hole shotgun play on Oakland Hills South — and dodged questions about when the US Open might return to Oakland Hills.
The last US Open at Oakland Hills was in 1996; courses for the championship currently are set through 2026. That means that — at best — there will be a thirty year gap between appearances. The neglect clearly irritated many local sports reporters.
US Amateur director Ben Kimball said “This is one of the top golf courses in all of the world… and with their great championship history, I wouldn’t be surprised if the USGA comes back in the near future.”
The near future won’t be a US Open. The next available US Women’s Open spot is in 2022.
The US Amateur is nothing to sneer at, however. The list of past winners suggests that fans could see the dawn of a new chapter in golf history. Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and many other legends got their starts at the US Amateur.
The 2016 US Amateur field will consist of 312 amateurs. This includes 59 exempt players. The remainder will qualify through one of 99 sectional qualifying sites. Two of those sites are — for the first time — held outside of the United States. One is in Mexico; the other, Canada.
One of the advantages of Oakland Hills holds in fielding the US Amateur is that it has two outstanding courses, both originally designed by Donald Ross. Both courses will be used during the stroke play portion of the US Amateur.
The South opened in 1918; the North, in 1924. Robert Trent Jones renovated the South in 1950. Rees Jones updated it again in 2006. The USGA has set up the South Course at 7334 yards, with a par of 70, a course rating of 77.5, and a slope of 146. The North will play at 6, 849 yards, par 70 and a 75.1/142.
Ben Kimball, director of the US Amateur Championship, indicated that in the coming weeks, the USGA would work to tighten the course, and grow the rough to the epic proportions for which the USGA is famous. The greens will be cut and rolled to the usual speedy Stimps.
I was lucky enough to play with Kimball during the media round at Oakland Hills South; he indicated on several fairways where the grass would be cut, and to what lengths. The amateurs are going to be in for a tough week. The rough we were playing was at least a half inch shorter than the plan, and when I missed the fairway, it was all I could do to get back to the fairway.
During my round with Kimball, I also asked about the USGA’s predilection for changing the par on holes at their championships.
“Why,” I asked, “does it make a difference? If I shoot a three on a hole, it’s a three on a par 1, and a three on a par fifteen. It’s a three if no par is specified at all.”
Kimball’s answer was that the USGA thinks that par creates mental pressure for players. “Players don’t go to a hole thinking ‘I need to make a three’ here,” Kimball said. “They go to a hole thinking ‘I need to make birdie.’
Let that be a lesson to players at USGA championships. Don’t go to a hole thinking about relationship to par. Map out a strategy for specific numbers on each hole, regardless of par. Black out the par number on your scorecard. Relieve yourself of some of that artificial pressure.
The first two days of the US Amateur will be stroke play on both the North and South courses. After that, the field of 312 will be reduced to the top 64, who will compete in single-elimination match-play. The match play rounds all will be held on the South Course. The Championship match will be 36 holes on Sunday, August 21.
Apart from a golfing immortality, the winner receives:
- A gold medal and custody of the Havemeyer Trophy for the next year.
- Exemption from local and sectional qualifying in the next US Open
- Exemption into the next 10 US Amateurs
- Exemption into the next Open Championship
- A likely invitation to the next Masters.
The top amateur in the World, Maverick McNealy, addressed the media via teleconference during the preview. McNealy’s father, who will be on his bag, is a Michigan native who played Oakland Hills CC and Bloomfield Hills CC in his youth. McNealy is a two-time All-American at Stanford and was on the 2015 Walker Cup team. He should be the favorite this year.
Tickets for the US Amateur at Oakland Hills are $20 per day, or $75 for a week-long pass. Military personnel and students are free with a valid id. Purchase tickets for the 2016 US Amateur.