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Between the Bunkers: A Photo Essay from the 121st U.S. Amateur



The Havemeyer Trophy sits on display on the 1st tee prior to the final round of the 121st U.S. Amateur Championship.

OAKMONT, Pa. — When you spend a week traversing the grounds of Oakmont Country Club, you get used to spending a lot of time around bunkers.

The historic golf course is known for its beautiful landscapes, its tight fairways, its treacherous, sloping greens, and for its overall penal design.

Everywhere you look at Oakmont, you see fairway bunkers that are strategically placed in landing areas off of tight fairways, and you see deep, cavernous greenside bunkers that any one of us would be happy to get out of without scoring ‘double par’ on any given day.

Spectators make their way across the front nine of Oakmont during the second day of stroke play at the 121st U.S. Amateur Championship. (MIKE DARNAY//PGN)


Walking into the clubhouse at Oakmont for the first time felt like I was stepping onto sacred territory.

The tudor-style clubhouse with signature green trim and awnings sits high atop the property like a castle on a hill, especially when you make your way out to the far points of the front nine, where the third green and fourth tee sit.

The clubhouse at Oakmont Country Club sits overlooking the 9th green, which also shares the space that is the practice putting green, seen here from a grassy area above the 3rd fairway. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN)

Inside the clubhouse, history rains down on you everywhere you look.

From club championship plaques to the hallway off of the Fownes Ballroom being filled with memorabilia from every time the course has hosted the U.S. Open, it feels like you’re in a museum.

A commemorative scorecard to mark Johnny Miller’s course-record score of 63 hangs framed in a hallway inside the clubhouse at Oakmont Country Club. Miller’s final round 63, which featured nine birdies and only one bogey, led him to victory at the 1973 U.S. Open. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN)

Display cases line the hallway with things like signed credentials, caddie bibs, ticket stubs, replica drivers and irons, and photos of the times legendary golfers like Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Ernie Els, Angel Cabrera, and Dustin Johnson etched their name into the history books by winning the U.S. Open at Oakmont.

Display cases line a hallway of the clubhouse at Oakmont, each dedicated to the numerous U.S. Open the course has played host to. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN)

While walking the course at Oakmont, a place I had only seen on television while watching the U.S. Open, its hype from a course-design standpoint lived up to every expectation I had.

From the first hole to the 18th, every intricacy made sense when you see how and why even the world’s elite golfers can get chewed up and spit out by Oakmont.


The day before the tournament started, while walking the grounds to get the lay of the land during some practice rounds for players, I watched an approach from less than 125 yards onto the first green.

The ball landed at least 10 yards short of the green, bounced all the way onto the green — and then continued to run all the way off the back of the green. I immediately overheard from the group, “Thank god this is a practice round.”

The downhill approach into the 1st green a Oakmont runs fast and away from the fairway. Good luck getting the ball to stop where you want it. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN)

Whatever perceptions you may have about the ‘Church Pew’ bunkers that are straddled by the third and fourth fairways, multiply the difficulty and trouble they cause by at least five.

The ‘pews’ are high, deep, and covered with thick fescue that you’d be lucky to find a ball in if you’re not lucky enough to have it come to rest in the sand.

The thick, fescue covered mounds that are known as the “Church Pew” bunkers caused quite a problem for several golfers throughout the week at Oakmont. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN)

The bunker must also serve as a magnetic force.

Throughout the week, countless players would hit their tee shots from the elevated fourth tee box, and watching from the fairway, you could tell right away the ball was destined to come to rest in the pews.

Timothius Tamardi takes a shot from in between the ‘Church Pew’ bunkers while playing the 4th hole at the 121st U.S. Amateur Championship. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN)

If you didn’t get enough of the ‘Church Pews’ on the third and fourth holes, you’re in luck, because there’s a mini version featured on the 15th hole, as well.

Mounds of the mini ‘Church Pew’ bunker on the left of the 15th fairway can cause trouble for errant tee shots. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN)

Shortly after I set up behind the fairway bunker on the 15th hole on Sunday afternoon, Austin Greaser landed his tee shot between the ‘pews,’ forcing him to pitch out to the fairway, not allowing him to attack the pin.

Austin Greaser takes a shot from inside the mini ‘Church Pew’ bunkers on the 15th hole during the Championship round of the 121st U.S. Amateur Championship. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN)

Oakmont’s sloping fairways, deep bunkers, and rolling fairways and ridges make for quite the sight when you’re walking the grounds.

Oakmont’s 2nd hole, as seen here from below the 1st green on the other side of the Turnpike, climbs up a hill, with rolling and sloping fairways and numerous fairway and greenside bunkers. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN)


As the tournament moved through the week, starting with a field of 312 players, slowly shrinking down to a field of 64, 32, 16, eight, four, and a championship final of two, more and more spectators started to gather on Oakmont’s ground, catching a glimpse of golf’s potential up-and-coming stars.

As the Round of 64 got underway on Tuesday, the crowds weren’t as packed in, except for the group following Greensburg’s own Mark Goetz, who had a cheering section of his own.

Mark Goetz takes his approach shot from the 18th fairway. Goetz would fall to David Nyfjall, losing on the last hole of their match.(Mike Darnay/PGN)

As the tournament field started to shrink down, more and more people gathered around the course, particularly as the weekend arrived and the semifinals were contested on Saturday.

Spectators surround the 2nd green as Austin Greaser and Travis Vick compete in the Semifinals at the 121st U.S. Amateur Championship. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN)

By Sunday, for the 36-hole championship, Austin Greaser and James Piot had thousands of people following them as they battled back and forth for the title of U.S. Amateur Champion.

Spectators climb high above the back nine holes at Oakmont, gathering near the 18th tee box, where they could look down on the 15th, 16th, and 17th holes. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN)

As Peacock, NBC, and the Golf Channel provided coverage of the tournament, on-course analysts Notah Begay and Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay were all over Oakmont, staying out in front of groups and doing what they do best.

Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay interviews Austin Greaser after he defeated Travis Vick in the semifinals of the 121st U.S. Amateur Championship. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN)

Mackay usually doesn’t cover amateur tournaments, but willingly wanted to participate in covering this year’s event at Oakmont.


After shooting a -5 round at Longue Vue and a -1 round at Oakmont, Stanford’s Michael Thorbjornsen earned the #3 seed in match play, but in the Round of 64, he was in a good bit of trouble.

Michael Thorbjornsen looks out into the morning sun while teeing off on the 1st hole during the Round of 64 at the 121st U.S. Amateur Championship. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN)

Thorbjornsen and Harrison Ott halved each of the first five holes, before Ott rattled off wins on the 6th, 8th, and 12th, finding himself 3 Up with six holes to go.

Thorbjornsen’s fortunes changed, and he went on a birdie streak, making birdie on 5 consecutive holes, not only erasing his 3-hole deficit, but turning it into a 2-hole lead, sealing the victory with a birdie on #17, defeating Ott 2&1.

Thorbjornsen would go on to trade holes back and forth with ultimate semifinalist Nick Gabrelcik in the Round of 32, losing 2&1 on the same 17th hole he won his prior match.


As temperatures soared into the 90s during the match play rounds on Thursday, there isn’t much shade to be found at Oakmont and players were faced with the heat and humidity head-on.

Gene Soriano, a Cranberry Township resident, finds some relief in the shade while waiting to serve as a volunteer marshal on the 9th hole. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN

One golfer carried his own bag during his first two matches, until a helping hand offered to serve as his caddie.


Nearly four hours of rain delays on both Tuesday and Wednesday, with a brief delay on Thursday not only threw a wrench into scheduling plans for the tournament, but also changed conditions from dry and fast to wet and … still pretty fast.

Rain drops fall from the awning of the clubhouse at Oakmont Country Club as inclement weather caused a 3 hour, 50 minute delay during the 2nd day of stroke play at the 121st U.S. Amateur Championship. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN)


With all of the features that have already been mentioned, like Oakmont’s tight fairways, deep bunkers, and fast, sloping greens, missing fairways can be more troublesome than it would be at perhaps any other course.

The deep, greenside bunker on the right of the 17th green can make a par save quite the task. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN)

Deep drainage areas less than five yards off of the seventh fairway at Oakmont can be big trouble. Similar areas separate fairways elsewhere on the course. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN)

With those kind of trouble areas, when one has a bad miss off of the tee, a less than satisfactory reaction is more than understood.

Palmer Jackson points right after missing the 5th fairway during stroke play at the 121st U.S. Amateur Championship. Palmer, a Murrysville native and Notre Dame standout, missed the cut. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN)

Luke Potter reacts to his tee shot after dropping his driver following his tee shot on the 15th hole during stroke play at the 121st U.S. Amateur Championship. Potter qualified for match play and advanced to the Round of 32 before being defeated in 19 holes by Thomas Hutchison. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN)

James Piot points and calls ‘fore right’ after missing the first fairway during the Championship round of the 121st Amateur Championship. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN)

Funny enough, this was Piot’s tee shot on the first hole of the second 18 in the Championship round. What a turn of feelings from 1 to 17.


Austin Greaser is congratulated by and celebrates with his girlfriend, Alayna Liskey, after defeating Travis Vick in the Semifinal of the 121st U.S. Amateur Championship at Oakmont Country Club.(MIKE DARNAY/PGN)

During the championship round, Austin Greaser made the only birdie on the front nine between himself and James Piot, and took a non-traditional route to get there.


Forget Joe Cool, it’s time to introduce yourself with James Cool.

James Piot flashes a smile while walking to the first tee to get ready to begin the second time through Oakmont Country Club in the final round of the 121st U.S. Amateur Championship. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN)

Little did I know on the first day of stroke play on Monday, that randomly capturing James Piot knocking down a birdie putt on the par-3 6th hole while catching as much action as I could would be business as usual for him by the end of the week.

James Piot makes a birdie putt on the 6th hole during stroke play at the 121st U.S. Amateur Championship. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN)

Piot would birdie the 6th hole three times and make par the other 4 times he played it during the tournament, never doing worse than halving the hole.

Laser focus. James Piot focuses in on his tee shot from the Par-3 #8, which stretched to just under 300 yards for the weekend play at the 121st U.S. Amateur Championship. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN)

After a grueling week-long grind of 36 holes of stroke play and six match-play rounds, James Piot cemented himself into golf history by becoming the 121st U.S. Amateur Champion, defeating Austin Greaser 2 and 1 on the 17th hole on Sunday.

James Piot lifts the Havemeyer Trophy after winning the 121st U.S. Amateur Championship at Oakmont Country Club.(Mike Darnay/PGN)

Piot was mobbed by his Michigan State teammates, who were all gathered around the 17th green, waiting to celebrate with the fifth-year senior.

Party Sparty. James Piot is surrounded by his Michigan State teammates after winning the 121st U.S. Amateur Championship. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN)

What a phenomenal championship experience it was being able to cover the U.S. Amateur. Special thanks and appreciation to the USGA for their hospitality, preparation, and constant help.

Until next time …

A sign sits near the parking area, thanking spectators for attending the 121st U.S. Amateur Championship. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN)

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