Plus 4 or better
Both historically and today, the US Open is such a difficult test that relatively few players actually beat par. A better test might be to look at a more reasonable standard…let’s say four over par. That’s assigning four strokes to the reality that, hey, we’re playing for a national title here.
What percentage of the full field has come within four strokes of par on each course?
The table below shows how many players have completed four US Open rounds at each site, how many came in within four strokes of par, and what percentage of the whole that figure represents. Obviously, the fewer the percentage who do it, the tougher the layout.
Competitors Plus 4 or better Percentage
Winged Foot 311 10 3.2
Olympic 331 27 8.2
Merion 318 33 10.4
Shinnecock 276 29 10.5
Oakland Hills 407 46 11.3
Oakmont 558 69 12.4
Pebble Beach 426 86 20.2
Baltusrol 341 88 25.8
Winged Foot not only doesn’t give up many sub-par scores, it doesn’t let players approach that number either. Of the 10 who did finish at plus-4 or better, six did so in the same year, 1984. That was the first time the USGA returned to Winged Foot following the 1974 “massacre”, and there was a strong suspicion that course preparation was eased up at least a bit to avoid a repetition of the field carnage that had ensued in 1974.
The striking thing about this table is that no other course is especially close to Winged Foot in denying low (by Open standards) scores. Olympic has hosted only a couple dozen more Open competitors, yet it has allowed nearly three times as many plus-four or better rounds.
On a percentage basis, Oakmont – the course often viewed as Winged Foot’s closest competitor for “toughest” honors – has allowed nearly four times as high a percentage of “low” rounds in its Open history.