PITTSBURGH — After dropping four strokes in a four-hole stretch, Alex McCulla turned to his caddie, Tyler Bertram, as they walked to the tee box of a nearly 500-yard par-4 and gave Oakmont Country Club a well-deserved salute.
“I told him this is when you take your hat off to the golf course,” McCulla said. “You have to give your respects to the golf course. Whoever built this course, they built it right. It’s tough.”
The Quincy native learned Tuesday morning how unyielding it can be.
Sitting in the top 60 of the 312-player field at the 121st U.S. Amateur following an opening-round even-par 70 at Longue Vue Club — 58 of the top 60 golfers played the easier course Monday — McCulla’s hope of advancing to match play was dashed with a 7-over 42 on his final nine at Oakmont.
He finished at 9-over 79 for a 36-hole total of 149. He was tied for 202nd when play was suspended by dangerous weather before the afternoon wave of golfers could start.
“You can’t be too hard on yourself is what I’m kind of thinking,” McCulla said. “There are a lot of good golfers who struggle on that course.”
His threesome included an NCAA Division II All-American, yet they combined for five double bogeys on Oakmont’s front nine.
Changing weather conditions, which included 20 mph winds as the storms rolled in, impacted their play. However, the unforgiving fescue, the church pew bunkers and the putting-on-glass greens made those final nine holes so treacherous.
Teeing off on the back nine to start, McCulla made the turn at 2-over after a birdie on No. 14 and three straight pars on Nos. 16-18. He followed it with back-to-back pars on Nos. 1 and 2.
Then came the par-4, 439-yard third hole, rated as the toughest hole on the course. It has a 25-yard-wide fairway at its peak and church pew bunkers down the left side. McCulla found the church pews off the tee.
“That’s like the kiss of death if you hit it in there,” McCulla said. “I never realized how small the areas are between the rows of fescue. I just had to pitch it out.”
After his third shot found the collection area behind the green, he did his best to limit it to a double-bogey.
“Once it starts going bad, it makes the next shot even harder,” McCulla said.
Making matters worse, the greens lived up to their billing as ultra fast.
“I was amazed by the greens,” McCulla said. “You can’t get aggressive with anything, even if you’re uphill. You have to have mainly experience on those greens.”
They were running around 14 on the stimpmeter, the high end of the scale used to measure the speed of the greens.
“When you get on greens running 14s with winds about 20 mph, you can’t do much,” McCulla said. “If you’re downwind, downhill, you don’t have a chance.”
It turned playing an iconic course into an exhausting test.
“If I’m being honest, I can’t say Oakmont is that enjoyable,” McCulla said. “The big thing about it, once the train goes off the tracks, you can’t get it back on. There’s not a single hole there that is a let-up hole. There’s not a hole where you have a bailout right or a bailout left. If you get it going bad and you start hitting it not very good, you don’t have a chance.
“There’s not a single easy hole out there. I’ve never played a golf course like that. There truly is not a single easy hole out there. It’s one of those courses where there’s no let up. It’s full-on full-time.”