Saturday, June 16

Survivor: The Olympic Challenge

Editor’s note: I’m at the Olympic Club in San Francisco all week for the 112th U.S. Open Championship.

WELCOME TO “SURVIVOR: THE OLYMPIC CHALLENGE.” This year’s U.S. Open resembles the long-running reality TV show in which a group of strangers are marooned in a brutal, desolate locale, oftentimes a remote island or other undesirable habitat. They must compete in ridiculously difficult conditions that eat away at every fiber of their physical, mental and emotional well-being. In the end, there’s only one survivor.

Host Jeff Probst might not be here, but “survivor” is the apt word for this weekend’s proceedings at the Olympic Club. This, folks, is the U.S. Open, the real deal, not that imposter I witnessed last year at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland. A course softened by untimely rains produced a record score by Rory McIlroy. Congrats, Rory, well played, your name deserves to be on the trophy because you ran away from the field.

But the 2011 edition wasn’t my grandfather’s or my father’s U.S. Open. Heck, it wasn’t even my U.S. Open. A 16-under par winning score? And 18 more players under par? I’m sorry, 2011 U.S. Open, but I don’t know you.

This week is more like it. Much more like it.

At 1-over par after 36 holes, 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell is bidding to add his name to the silver trophy for the second time. Here’s what GMac said after walking off the Lake Course on Friday.

“It’s just tough to have fun out there, I got to be honest with you. It’s just a brutal test of golf.”

After missing the cut, Masters champion Bubba Watson said, “This course is too tough for me.”

The other day Matt Kuchar, winner of the Players Championship, said the first 18 holes are really hard.

And Tiger’s take? “It was hard,” said the tournament co-leader and winner of 14 majors with a shake of his head. “That golf course is some kind of quick.”

Ah, music to my ears.

There’s a reason they call it “Golf’s Toughest Test.” This is the U.S. Open. Whine all you want about how hard it is—it won’t change a thing.

It’s now the weekend. All but 72 golfers have been dismissed from the island, er, the peninsula. The strongest have survived and will trek the vaunted Lake Course along the sparkling waters of Lake Merced in search of pars, and, if they’re very fortunate, an occasional birdie.

By Sunday evening, or perhaps Monday, there will be one lone survivor. Who will it be?

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