Local Knowledge? Area Natives Hahn, Allen Might Have Advantage At Olympic This Week
By Thomas Bonk
San Francisco – James Hahn is from Alameda across the San Francisco Bay. He said he has played The Olympic Club about 20 times. Michael Allen, who has been an Olympic Club member since childhood, estimated that he has played more than 2,000 rounds on the layout. Matt Bettencourt, born in Alameda, and University of California-Berkeley grad Charlie Wi are also on a first-name basis with The Olympic Club.
Add it up and it could amount to a home-course advantage at this week’s U.S. Open.
Hahn said he’s certain there’s an advantage to The Olympic Club variety of home cooking.
“It’s absolutely a big advantage, all these guys are going to hit San Francisco weather and let’s just say they are in for a real treat,” said Hahn, who played at Cal. “It’s going to get cold, they’re going to have to wear extra layers they aren’t expecting to, the ball is not going to do what they think it will do. They’re not going to know how to react.”
Allen sounded the same note of caution.
“It’s amazing how short the ball can go at times when it gets cool and breezy,” said the 52-year-old Champions Tour player who qualified down the road at Lake Merced Golf Club and TPC Harding Park on June 4.
All atmospheric pressure issues aside, there’s the matter of the golf course, which may not be overly long at 7,170 yards, but remains unfailingly difficult with all the ups and downs. The fairways lean one direction or the other and that means the players must shape the ball and hope it doesn’t run out into the rough. Sidehill lies are also customary on the Lake Course.
Allen has been playing Olympic since he was 14 and said he knows what to expect, or at least he’s got some clues.
“When I play here normally, the fairways are soft and even the short game plays pretty long,” he said. “Now, they get the fairways firm, every fairway cants one direction or the other.
“I believe that the key to this golf course is … shaping the ball into the fairways on the tee shots. Once you get the ball on the fairway, the greens are relatively small, they kind of sit on a plank, so you never really have any straight putts.”
So there you have it. Hit the ball exactly where you are aiming, make sure it rolls to the proper distance, hit to a small green and hope the ball holds, then make putts of all distances and directions.
Hahn said he’s more excited than concerned.
“The circus is in town and I’m part of it,” he said.
“The Olympic Club is one of the best golf courses I’ve ever played in my life,” added Hahn, who also qualified at Lake Merced Golf Club and TPC Harding Park after taking an overnight flight from Raleigh, N.C., where he won a Nationwide Tour event on June 3. “It’s got so much history. And these are the greatest greens I’ve ever putted on.”
Neither Hahn nor Allen has ever played in a U.S. Open at The Olympic Club, although the latter has made five previous U.S. Open appearances. Hahn, a U.S. Open rookie, said he has a favorite this week.
“Michael Allen,” Hahn said. “I would make him the prohibitive favorite. He’s played here so many times before. Me, I have zero expectations, mostly because I shouldn’t even be here, you know what I mean? Somehow I got through the sectionals. I’ve had so much luck over the years, so just being here is a bonus. Being in the Open is just a dream come true.”
Allen missed out on both the 1987 U.S. Open and the 1998 U.S. Open at Olympic, so this opportunity is something he’s not going to forget.
“It’s just going to be fulfilling for me, a lifelong dream of being able to play in this championship,” he said. “I’ve grown up here.”
He’s picked up a little local knowledge along the way.
Thomas Bonk is a San Francisco-based freelance writer who is contributing to usopen.com this week.