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Golf: Olympia Fields not Familiar to Many Golfers - 2003-06-12

The U.S. Open tournament is annually considered the toughest test of golf. Olympia Fields Country Club is the venue for the 103rd U.S. Open. Unlike many of the courses used in the past, most of the top golfers in the world are not very familiar with Olympia Fields.

The United States Golf Association moves its pre-eminent championship to a different course every year. A few courses on the unofficial U.S. Open rotation, such as Pebble Beach, Pinehurst Number 2 and the Lake course at Olympic, make enough appearances on the PGA Tour that the world's best golfers have an idea of what awaits them. That is not the case with Olympia Fields, which last hosted the U.S. Open in 1928.

American Davis Love the third says playing Olympia Fields is an enjoyable surprise. "We enjoy seeing golf courses like this. Because we do see both extremes. We see a few good ones like this. And we see a lot of very modern, brand new golf courses. So it is nice. We are thrilled to get to a course like this," he says. "Especially one that not really everybody in the field really knows this golf course. It is a fresh new thing for us. It is very exciting."

The relative mystery of Olympia Fields heightened when many players in the field could not arrive Monday because they had to complete the rain-delayed final round of the FBR Capital Open near Washington. While only one European-born golfer has won the U.S. Open in the last 75 years, Spaniard Sergio Garcia likes what he sees so far. "This course is looking great. It is in very good shape. The rough is quite thick. It is not too high at the moment. But it will get higher," he says. "And the greens can get tough with a bit of speed and if they firm a little bit. It is going to be a big challenge."

Olympia Fields presents a relatively flat layout 6,574 meters with bunkers deep enough to hide a car. And the greens are not flat at all. Then there is the rough grass along the fairways, which is always grown to heights as high as 15-centimeters.

As German Bernhard Langer says, accuracy off the tee is essential. "Driving is extremely important. But you still need to putt well," he says. "You still need to manage your distance. You have got to have every aspect. But if you drive it [the ball] bad, you have no chance. So you have to keep it in the fairway. From there it is playable."

World number one ranked American Tiger Woods is seeking his third U.S. Open title and seems to thrive on difficult courses. But he says the key to winning is playing very steady, and sometimes unexciting golf. "Every player says it is probably boring golf. In any tournament you play in, if you hit it straight, hit the ball on the green and make putts, you will be successful," he says. "And I think this golf tournament in itself is probably the epitome of that. You really have to hit the ball well."

Winning scores at U.S. Opens rarely venture too far from par. The score this year will depend on the famous Chicago-area winds and on the firmness of the greens. Rain has softened the greens ahead of the tournament. But the scores could rise if the wind and sun quickly dry out the greens and make the landing areas firm and slick.