America's Toughest 18
Carnegie Mellon History Professor Steve Schlossman (right) loves golf. He plays it. He studies its history. He writes about it. He developed and teaches the only collegiate–level course on golf history. And recently, he’s focused on setting the record straight on the history of one of the most infamous courses in the world: Oakmont Country Club.
Oakmont’s esteemed reputation and severe difficulty are often credited to the strict adherence to the design and philosophy of its creator, Henry Clay (H.C.) Fownes. Schlossman modifies this notion in an article published in Western Pennsylvania History that details how the course became legendary during 1903-1922.
“H.C. Fownes was not as all-powerful in shaping the future of the course as is commonly believed,” writes Schlossman. “The collective mindset that guided the course in its early years was neither rigid nor moored in blind celebration of the past. Instead it was adaptive, future-oriented and attuned to the need for regular modernization to build the course’s stellar reputation and enhance its unique character.”
In May, Schlossman’s book, “Chasing Greatness: Johnny Miller, Arnold Palmer and the Miracle at Oakmont,” was released. Co-authored by H&SS alum Adam Lazarus, the book tells the story of the 1973 U.S. Open Championship in which a relatively unknown player, Johnny Miller, shot a record-low 63 on the final day to come from behind to beat legends Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Weiskopf and Julius Boros.
"When Miller shot a 63 on what is thought to be the nation's hardest course, it instantly became one of the most luminous moments in golf history," said Schlossman. "In the years since, many factual errors had become part of the myth around this unforgettable championship. We wanted to solve the inconsistencies and recreate the drama for modern-day readers."
Schlossman doesn’t just research and write about golf or Oakmont. For “Chasing Greatness,” Schlossman wanted the reader to really be there, so, in the company of the club’s head pro, Bob Ford, he putted all of Miller’s final-round putts on Oakmont’s greens.
During the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open which was held at the revered course, Schlossman attended every practice and regular round. On the first day of formal competition, he watched Michelle Wie and documented all of her 82 (not so great) strokes. He walked much of the final round with eventual champion Paula Creamer’s manager, Jay Burton.
“Jay was a bit nervous until the 17th hole when he was convinced she was going to win,” said Schlossman, who has hosted Burton in his golf history class. “It was another historic moment at Oakmont. Creamer had a dramatic turn-around from the tournament the week before when she didn’t even make the cut.”
And, don’t worry. Schlossman’s golf research isn’t done yet. Currently, with the collaboration of Pittsburgh golfing legend Carol Semple Thompson, he’s working on the history of the Curtis Cup, the most famous event in women’s amateur golf.
Listen to Schlossman talk about how he became interested in the history of golf and why he wrote “Chasing Greatness” in a podcast at http://www.cmu.edu/news/multimedia/chasing-greatness.mp3.