Oakmont, the Real Star

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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

The U.S. Open Golf Championships teed off at Oakmont Country Club just outside Pittsburgh this morning, the golf course itself looming as imposing a factor as any of the competitors. The United States Golf Association makes some $25 million profit from the Open annually and a tough course is part of the championship's mystique. The host course starts prepping literally eight years prior the event. This summer, for example, the Merion Golf Club of Philadelphia is already getting ready for their next turn--which isn't slated until 2013.

The aerial views of Oakmont today look like a small tent city. A number of private homes along the course have offered their lawns as perches for gallery positions. Well, offered isn't quite accurate. They've sold the four-days' access to their grounds for several month's mortgage payments. Some 25,000 fans a day are expected at Oakmont through Sunday so those home owners will witness herds trampling across their properties.

Oakmont is touted as the most difficult course in U.S. Open history. The greens undulate sharply and are playing slick as glass. The fescue grasses are tall, reminiscent of the rough-hewn British links courses. And Oakmont's signature jutting bunkers, nicknamed the Church Pews, are so treacherous that they are almost defiantly presented as the cover of the official brochure of the event. Johnny Miller, winner of the 1973 Open at Oakmont, calls it the greatest golf course in the world. Tiger said yesterday that there is no more challenging course in the United States. He added that to compete for this country's national championship, it is only fitting that the course be such a bear.

As for women's golf, those of us critical of young Michelle Wie entering as many pro men's events as she could over the last year can harrumph with a big, "We told you so." Wie's summer has started poorly. Forget about the men, Michelle. Trust us, the top women will be challenge enough.

Speaking of fillies competing against colts, a big deal was made of Rags to Riches winning the Belmont Stakes last Saturday. It must have been a big deal because it's been more than a hundred years since a filly won that race. We tend to anthropomorphize animals…how could a delicate filly go up against all those muscular colts? Well, unlike humans, where the gender performance gap in running among the elite is about 10%, in horses and dogs it's only about 1%. Greyhounds compete, males and females, head to head. And with horses, although colts are generally bigger and stronger, there are no studies to confirm physiologically that they should run faster. The fact that few fillies have won the Kentucky Derby could be that owners simply want to protect their girls and don't enter them often against a field of boys. In any case, Rags to Riches is a filly with speed to burn...a filly who runs not only with the boys, but ahead of them.

On my way to the sports page in the New York Times last Saturday, I stopped by the Obituaries for a moment and was surprised to learn that a man named Ernest Hofstetter, who died on June 1 at the age of 95, was part of a Swiss climbing team that actually blazed the trail up Mount Everest that Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay followed a year later to become the first to reach the top of the world. Norgay was also part of the Swiss expedition and on May 26, 1952, they came within a heartbreaking 650 feet of the summit, only to be turned back by dangerous weather. But it was Hofstetter's team that first crossed the treacherous and now infamous Khumbu Icefall, which has since claimed many a brave soul's life. The Swiss team's names were never etched in the record books but they did receive a telegram from Hillary the following year. It read "To you goes half the glory."

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.



Diana Nyad