U.S. Open for the golf illiterate

Can’t lie, I’m stoked for the U.S. Open to be in San Fran this week.

My apartment is right down the street from the Olympic Club. After many a Sunday sitting on my parent’s deck on a certain first-hole green in Danville, I could probably hop the fence next week and do color commentary myself.

But for some reason, I can’t find any other golf enthusiasts in a close radius.

Granted, here in San Francisco, we have a saturated baseball-football fan base. But heck, there’s gotta be more passion for the PGA out here, right?

Even before Ron Kroichick’s recent SFGate piece, I had noticed that the Bay Area not only doesn’t seem to produce golf talent, but golf’s overall existence seems forever frozen at niche status.

I mean, sure, everyone is hip to Tiger Woods’ salacious dramas, and many of us have heard about Phil Mickelson’s recent issues with cell phones. But as for tuning in live while the rounds are on?

Maybe what we need around here is a little basic golf education to get amped for this week’s festivities. Let’s start with some pre-Open facts and highlights before the pros take over the fairways on Wednesday:

Once upon a time, the Bay Area churned out some high-quality golfers. As Kroichick points out, Bay Area-bred golfers churned out 81 PGA victories between 1954 and 1994. Since then, only one —  San Mateo native Arron Oberholser, at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in 2006 — has tasted victory.

Yes, there will be Bay Area talent on the course this year. While we might not have a slew of hometown boys competing next week, we will be represented by San Bruno native James Hahn.

Hahn clinched his Open berth last weekend at the sectional qualifiers at San Fran’s Harding Park, just hours after flying back from Raleigh, North Carolina where he’d just won a Nationwide tour event.

The US Open in San Francisco was 1998. In that Open — the 98th in PGA history, also at Olympic — Lee Janzen beat the now-late Payne Stewart with a single stroke in the final round of play.

Mickelson was also present, finishing 8-over par in a four-way tie for tenth place. A 22-year-old Tiger Woods didn’t make the leader board, but made the fourth-most money in the PGA that year and ended the year ranked No. 1 in the world.

Big names, big pairings, big galleries. Speaking of Lefty and Tiger, the biggest names in golf are being paired up for the Open’s opening rounds. World No. 3 golfer Lee Westwood — who also competed at Olympic in 1998 — tees off in the same group as defending champion Rory McIlroy. Fashion-forward Rickie Fowler will play with Japanese phenom Ryo Ishikawa.  And the pièce de résistance: Mickelson, Woods, and Masters champion Bubba Watson will be grouped together for the first two rounds.

Other Bay Area sports are getting in on the action. Irish national McIlroy will throw out the first pitch at the Giants game on Tuesday to kick off Irish Heritage Night. (Coincidentally, a few dozen of Team SFBay’s finest will be crashing that game, *wink wink nudge*, drop by in section 323, rows 9 and 10, for some free SFBay goodies.)

And most importantly, for anyone that thinks that golf is a snooty sport. . . it’s not. Trust me. At the Masters, they awarded a recycle-bin-green blazer to a guy named “Bubba.” There’s nothing stuffy or intimidating about that.

So grab a polo and a visor, even if it’s foggy. I’m in the market for a U.S. Open crashing buddy.