Below is a short interview with elite amateur (MY words, not his) Randy Haag. Randy is currently the highest ranked amateur player in the world over the age of 45 and has been a member at The Olympic Club, site of the 2012 U.S. Open, since 1984. Randy has the unique position of having played more competitive rounds of golf on Olympic’s Lake Course than probably any other golfer in the world. His golf resume is long and very impressive. Randy is a 7 time club champion at The Olympic Club, two time champion of Pine Valley’s Crump Cup (this event has the strongest invitational field of any U.S. amateur event), 3 time Stocker Cup champion, 7 time Bay Regional Champion and a whole litany of other accolades that are too long to list here. Randy also has a golf blog where he covers the amateur golf tournament scene. His site can be found at www.randyhaag.com and he will be providing some keen insight to the U.S. Open next week so give him a click and check out what he has to say.
TIG: So Randy, you’ve been a member at Olympic since 1984. Did your local knowledge help you to qualify for the 1987 or 1998 U.S. Opens held at The Olympic Club?
RH: I have made it through 13 Local Open qualifiers and in both 1987 & 1998 I was in the hunt to play in the Open. Unfortunately, in both years with 9 holes to go, I just wasn’t able to close it out. I’ve had a good run recently having won the 2011 U.S. Senior Open qualifier and played in two of the Senior majors in 2011.
TIG: Wow, that’s fantastic. I’m sure with your tournament background you’ve been paying special attention to whats been happening at The Olympic Club in preparation for the 2012 U.S. Open. What are some of the big changes you’ve seen at Olympic’s Lake Course as it has been prepared for the event?
RH: The huge changes are the usual ones that you see at U.S. Open courses. The fairways have been narrowed and moved to bring more slopes into play, high nasty thick rough has been grown in and the sides of the greens have been shaved down real tight. Of course, the greens will run far faster than they do for member play which will mean that putts will need to be read with significantly more break than normal. Fairways will also run much faster in order to provide added length off the tee for the pros. During regular member play the fairways are not near as firm and I hit more club off the tee than I would under the U.S. Open setup.
TIG: So, how will the course be different this year than it has been for previous U.S. Opens held at Olympic?
RH: The 6th hole, a par 4, has been lengthened almost 100 yards and will play the toughest on the course along with the 3rd hole which is a par 3. The new 8th hole, also a par 3, will play between 135 to 200 yards which makes it 65 yards longer than before and VERY tough . . . half a stroke tougher. Other holes that have been lengthened are 2, 3, 5, 9, 11, 12, 13 and 16. The new dual tee for 11 and 16 make those holes 460 yards (11) and 670 yards (16).
TIG: That sounds like a lot of additional length added to the course. I guess that really speaks to the distances the pros are hitting the ball today compared to 1998 when the U.S. Open was last at Olympic. Just how involved has the U.S.G.A. been with the Olympic superintendent and these changes over the last 12 months?
RH: The U.S.G.A. has actually been involved for over 5 years now! That said, over the past 12 months there have been trailers on site and LOTS of U.S.G.A. activity. The Open has grown immensely since it was last at Olympic in 1998. Today, it’s a GLOBAL major event.
TIG: With regards to the course set up, do you think there will be an overreaction by the U.S.G.A. to Rory McIlroy’s unbelievable performance at Congressional last year?
RH: I think it will be in the BACK of the U.S.G.A.’s mind, but the O.C. Lake Course is tough and will hold its own without a crazy setup.
TIG: Surely the U.S.G.A is not going to take it easy on the field and is going to make sure the course has some sharp teeth. What can be done at Olympic to really make the course play exceptionally difficult?
RH: Everything that can be done to make it play tough, but fair, has been done. As I mentioned previously, holes have been lengthened, fairways tightened up, high dense rough grown in, and increased green speeds. There will be a few tough to access pins on some days as well. They will not need play the course all the way back everyday, as they can get a tough setup without having to maximize the course’s length all four days.
TIG: What holes do you think will be the most troublesome for the guys next week?
RH: Holes 1 through 6, with 1st hole playing as a par 4, will be the toughest 6 hole start in championship golf history. If I were to put the holes in order from toughest to easiest they would be 6, 3, 5, 13, 2, 1, 8, 12, 11, 4, 9, 14, 16, 18, 10, 15, 7, 17.
TIG: Looking at the last couple of holes you’ve listed as the “easiest”, do you think these holes are where the most birdies are going to be made?
RH: Absolutely. Number 17, a par 5, should play as the easiest hole on the course, but there will be a huge risk reward with the right side all shaved off. Some other good birdie opportunities should come at the 7th hole which is a driveable par 4. The 10th hole will play easy, as well as the 15th, 16th and 18th. There will definitely be some birdie opportunities out there.
TIG: I’ll certainly be watching to see if you’re prediction for which holes will produce the most birdies is accurate! Clearly, you’ve played a ton of competitive golf on Olympic’s Lake Course and know what it takes to play well there. What do you think it’s going to take to be successful next week. What must the players do well to be in contention on Sunday?
RH: There is no question that this will be a FIRST SHOT test. A missed first shot will leave very little chance at success with a second shot.
TIG: I must admit that I vividly remember what it’s like to miss the first shot from my round at Olympic. The course is very unforgiving when you’re not in the fairway – This is something I experienced far more than I care to think about. OK, here’s the big question . . . who do you like next week? Which players do you think are clicking right now and have the right type of game the be successful at Olympic?
RH: Very good question. All the guys that can turn the ball both ways and are playing well now will have a good shot . . . Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Bubba Watson, Tiger Woods, Jason Dufner, Zack Johnson . . . those are all guys that I believe have a good chance to close.
TIG: Are you willing to make a prediction about the winning score?
RH: Somewhere between 3 to 6 under par will WIN!! There is no way the winner is over par unless there is a wind storm and heavy fog.
A big thanks to Randy for taking the time to chat with me and be sure to check out his website at www.randyhaag.com for some unique coverage of the 2012 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club.