Previewing the 117th U.S. Open, Erin Hills
Jack Nicklaus calls this the most important major championship to him. It’s our nation’s championship and winning it meant more to him than any other major.
It’s also the one week of the year that the USGA gets to be down right mean to the players who take to the course. Incredible distances, ridiculous rough, slick as ice greens. Hands down the toughest test these players will face all year.
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Welcome to Erin Hills in Erin, Wisconsin, for the second major of the year. Like Chambers Bay two years ago, Erin Hills was built exclusively with hosting the U.S. Open and other championships in mind. 652 acres of natural landscape. Minimal amounts of dirt needed moving to convert it to the championship golf course that it is today. Erin Hills looks like a course straight out of the British Open rota. Also like Chambers, Erin Hills is a public course. It opened in 2006. Once a $50 green fee will now run you about $280 to play the same track the pros play for a major title on.
Unlike Chambers, the course is in pristine condition. It has not even been open for play since October 2016 to ensure that it is perfect for the U.S. Open, just the way the USGA is intending it. They want it tough, but fair. Chambers Bay bordered unfair on the greens and perfect drives just rolling until it hit rough somewhere.
The story of the course this week will be the element of unpredictability coming in here as many of the pros haven’t played Erin Hills before in competition. Only 18 players competed here before in the U.S. Amateur in 2011. One of them being Jordan Spieth.
Some holes have as many as six or seven different tee boxes allowing the hole to play longer or shorter depending on how the USGA feels that day. It is listed as playing at a long 7,800 yards for the championship. That makes it the longest track the U.S. Open has ever laid out. The course has no trees on it inviting wind into play. Rain could be a factor. Without rain, the fairways that are cut very short will lend to lots of roll and will shorten the 7,800 yards a bit. Especially with a tail wind. With the rain softening the grounds up, it could play much longer. Wet rough will also cut down on distance you get out of there.
Some won’t be surprised if the winner gets to double digits under par. Some won’t be surprised if no one ends up in red numbers. That’s how unpredictable this U.S. Open will be.
The rough and the bunkers will also play into the unpredictability. The first cut is just below ankle deep. Deep enough where you can barely see the top of your ball. The second cut is just above ankle deep. Deep enough you won’t be getting more than a 7-iron through there. The third cut, well, isn’t cut at all. Good luck finding your ball. Bring a sickle with you. Very links like. The sides of the bunkers as can lead to some unplayable lies. Where your backswing or follow through is hitting the lip of the bunker.
Golf Digest ranks Erin Hills as the #8 public course in America. It’s the first U.S. Open the state of Wisconsin has hosted. It is also going to play to a par of 72 rather than the typical 70 for U.S. Open Golf, Sporting four par 5s versus two.
1st hole: Par 5, 608 yards. The first of the four par 5s, all over 600 yards in length. This one actually can play as one of the easiest. An accurate tee shot can leave the player with a creative approach short right of the green that can catch a slope, and roll right down onto the putting surface. Eagle is possible here, should be able to start your day with a birdie on one of the easier holes on the course.
4th hole: Par 4, 439 yards. After easing your way in, the 4th hole could ruin your day quick. Giant bunkers in front of the green and middle of green demand a perfect tee shot, or your laying up for your third shot. The elevated green slopes sharply off the back, so you must hit a high ball into this green to stick it. With the windy conditions, it makes it that much harder. Take par and move on.
9th hole: Par 3, 135 yards. A short par 3 will play from 135 to 165 yards during the weekend. The green features a large swale on the right half that funnels balls right off the green. The left side of the green is the aim point. Conveniently, the left side is guarded with treacherous bunkers from front to back that will make getting up and down extremely hard, given the swale. Miss the green here and bogey or worse is likely.
17th hole: Par 4, 481 yards. A pretty straight away par 4 with no bunkers coming into play anywhere. The rolling undulations of the terrain will make for difficult lies for iron shots into the green. But the games best can grab a birdie here, closing the gap, or extending their lead late in the rounds. Makes for some drama heading home.
18th hole. Par 5, 663 yards. That’s right. 663! It’s the third longest hole in U.S. Open history. This double dog leg is in fact reachable in two for the big hitters. In practice this week, Rory McIlroy was spotted hitting a 386-yard drive with a bit of a tail wind helping him out. Then smoked a 5-wood 290 yards to just off the side of the green.
Seems like the course opens with some birdie opportunities, closes with some birdie opportunities, and you hope to just maintain through the middle 12 or 13 holes.
Predictions among the unpredictable play lean in favor of the European players. The course plays like a links course. Dealing with blind shots on 12 or so holes, howling winds, deep rough and bunkers, uneven lies and slopes a plenty. It’s what the Europeans grew up playing on.
U.S. Opens typically favor the big hitters who can hit lofty wedges or short irons into elevated, hardened greens. Hard to stick some of these greens with the longer irons if you’re short off the tee. At 7,800 yards, you will need to be long. But these fairways are going to be some of the widest ones you’ll see at a U.S. Open. Some of them 50 to 60 yards wide. If not long, you need to be accurate and allow the hard fairways to roll your ball long. If the rain comes, only the true long hitters will have a shot.
European. Long and accurate off the tee. Sounds like Rory McIlroy to me. McIlroy is a 12/1 favorite to win the event, just behind Jason Day (11/1), Jordan Spieth (9/1), and favorite Dustin Johnson (7.25/1).
Dustin Johnson is the defending champ and no one has repeated as U.S. Open Champ since Curtis Strange in 1989.
Sergio Garcia is the only player who can win the grand slam in 2017. Can get half way there this weekend. Only 6 players have ever completed the first two legs. Craig Wood, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, and Jordan Spieth.
Jordan Spieth leads all players in scoring average, score to par, birdies/eagles, and one putts in majors since the start of 2015.
Rickie Fowler ranks really well in four performance statistics. Strokes gained tee to green (11th), putting average (9th), scrambling (22nd), bogey avoidance (15th). No one else ranks as high across all four. Fowler is an 18/1 shot to win.
For a bit of a longshot, Jason Dufner performs really well at U.S. Opens, finishing in the top-10 in each of the last three. Only Jason Day and Dustin Johnson have done that. Dufner also comes in playing well having beat some stiff competition to win The Memorial Tournament a couple weeks ago. Rebounded from a 3rd round 77 to win. He’s got the mental fortitude which will be tested by Erin Hills.
For an even bigger longshot, go with Englishman, Tyrell Hatton. The 100/1 shot has quietly finished top-10 in two of his last three majors, and is currently number one on tour in strokes gained putting.
Featured groups (World ranking)
(Th) 7:51 am (Fr) 1:36 pm: Hideki Matsuyama (4), Rickie Fowler (9), John Rahm (10).
All three are seeking their first major championship. Rahm has a tour best seven top-10s in 15 starts. He was also the low amateur at last years U.S. Open (T21).
(Th) 8:35 am (Fr) 2:20 pm: Martin Kaymer (58), Jordan Spieth (5), Dustin Johnson (1).
This grouping features the last three U.S. Open Champions. DJ at Oakmont last year, Spieth at Chambers Bay 2015, and Kaymer at Pinehurst No.2 in 2014.
(Th) 1:36 pm (Fr) 7:51 am: Bubba Watson (37), Adam Scott (12), Sergio Garcia (7).
This grouping features three previous Masters winners. Watson in 2012 and 2014, Scott in 2013, and Garcia going for the second part of the grand slam after winning at Augusta in April. The Masters group doesn’t include Jordan Spieth (2015) who is in the U.S. Open winners group, or Danny Willet (2016) who is in another, less prestigious Masters group with Zach Johnson and Angel Cabrera.
(Th) 2:09 pm (Fr) 8:24 am: Jason Day (3), Justin Rose (11), Rory McIlroy (2).
This group takes off just as the morning featured groups wrap up their rounds, making the U.S. Open an all day watching affair. Jason Day has five top-10s in six U.S. Opens, with two runner ups. Justin Rose won the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion, and was runner up at this years Masters. Also the Olympic Gold Medalist from Rio last year. McIlroy resume speaks for itself as he makes his first start since The Players as he nursed a rib injury.
(Th) 2:20 pm (Fr) 8:35 am: Steve Stricker (85), Stewart Cink (158), Phil Mickelson (23).
You must be 40 and over to play in this group. Stricker is this years Presidents Cup team captain. Also a Wisconsin native will have the local fans behind him. Cink had to qualify to make it into the U.S. Open, his first since 2014. Mickelson has said it would take about a four-hour rain delay for him to make It to Erin Hills on time for his tee time, opting to see his daughters high school graduation instead.
Thursday: Partly cloudy in the AM, Sunny in the PM. 85 degrees. 10mph winds. (Looks like Lefty will miss out)
Friday: Sunny in the AM, Scattered T-Storms in the PM. 83 degrees. 10mph winds.
Saturday: Scattered T-Storms all day. 82 degrees. 15mph winds.
Sunday: Partly cloudy all day. 77 degrees. 20mph winds.
Thursday and Friday: 11am-6pm (FS1) 6pm-9pm (FOX)
Morning Featured groups and Featured holes online, USOpen.com
Saturday: 11am-8pm (FOX)
Sunday: 11am-8:30pm (FOX)
Monday 18-hole playoff (if necessary): Noon-4pm (FOX)
Mike was born on the Eastern Shore, raised in Finksburg, and currently resides in Parkville. In 2009, Mike graduated from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. Mike became a Baltimore City Fire Fighter in late 2010. Mike has appeared as a guest on Q1370, and FOX45. Now a Sr. Ravens Analyst for BSL, he can be reached at [email protected]