Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.
Erin Hills is a new venue for a U.S. Open. It’s an inland links course, open and rambling and susceptible to some low scoring, assuming the wind doesn’t howl. In that regard it will be more like Chambers Bay (2015) than typical U.S Open courses that are very penal with extremely narrow fairways flanked by deep rough and lightening quick greens. Do you like the wide open style where lots of birdies are possible or would you prefer to see the pros struggle to make par? What do you expect from Erin Hills?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I haven’t had a chance to look into Erin Hills, so I’ll let weekend TV unfold it for me. On principle, I like the US Open to be an event that really challenges the skills and creativity of players, as opposed to the usual weekend walks in the park. That said, Chambers Bay was a travesty that simply rewarded good luck (notwithstanding the fact that the two best players finished 1-2.) For me, the perfect US Open is one in which the winner, and maybe runner-up, are the only guys under par. I hope Erin Hills delivers.
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I’m excited for Erin Hills. The US Open isn’t always my favourite major, I’m not a huge fan of the course setups, but this will be different, and that makes it interesting. Even though the course is long, I think we’ll see quite a few birdies, but ultimately the USGA is pretty good at getting the winning score near even par, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s there on Sunday afternoon, especially if it stays dry and firms up.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I definitely prefer to see the pros struggling out there and I think we’re going to see a fair bit of that this week. The fairways may be wide, but they are anything but flat! Balls hit on the wrong side of the short grass will roll down strategically placed slopes, coming to rest either in the sparse rough or the waist-high fescue that borders every single fairway on the course. Kevin Na played the course earlier this week and observed that only about 5-6 yards of rough exists between the fairways and fescue to catch errant shots on each hole. As Na pointed out, you are dead if you’re ball flies into the fescue, most of which is not staked! Chances are you won’t find your ball, and even if you do, there is no guarantee that you’ll even be able to get a wedge on it successfully. If it is windy out there this week, you can expect to see some ridiculously high scores.
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Thankfully, no place is like Chambers Bay — ill-conceived and badly executed, typical of Jones Jr. The wide open, wind swept Hills are a welcome option to the narrow, tree line venues that these guys play almost every week. The visuals will be terrific, and the guys will have plenty of options and chances to hit creative shots. The USGA will keep par in the equation but I think it will be a great week.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): I like the look of Erin Hills but the supposed width of the fairways is mitigated by excessive side slopes that will kick the ball into the primary rough or worse yet, deep fescue, if players fail to find the correct landing spot. The fescue is long and thick so there will be some embarrassingly big numbers and some smaller players may be lost. The greens have crazy contouring so putting will be a challenge too. If the wind blows, expect a winning score at or above par. This will be fun to watch.
Phil Mickelson presumably won’t be playing in this year’s U.S. Open but would easily be the feel good story if he were to complete his personal Grand Slam. In the absence of Phil, which player is the feel good story and do you have a dark horse candidate or sentimental favourite that you’ll be rooting for?
Deeks: Lots of old guys I’d love to see win (e.g., Ernie, Padraig, Graeme McDowell), but they don’t have a chance anymore. I might have put Stewart Cink in that category, but he’s found some sort of moonshine lately, so he’s actually got a shot! I’d be happy to see Spieth, or Day, or McIlroy, or Fowler, or even Sergio come out on top… but my combo dark horse AND sentimental fave would be Adam Hadwin.
Rule: Steve Stricker has to be the feel good story, after not getting an invite but then going low in qualifying to get into the field in his home state. He has no chance of winning as he isn’t long enough, but it would be cool to see him compete into the weekend. Of course from a Canadian perspective, Adam Hadwin and Corey Connors are my sentimental favourites, but my other choice would be Lee Westwood, because I just want him to win a major already!
Kaplan: I think that Steve Stricker would qualify as the sentimental favourite this week, but I’m not pulling for him. I’m rooting for Canadians Adam Hadwin and Corey Conners, Englishman Andrew “Beef” Johnston, Spaniard Jon Rahm, and Americans Bryson DeChambeau and Maverick McNealy (a). I’m also hoping for a thunderstorm on Thursday that somehow allows Phil Mickelson to arrive in Wisconsin in time to play his opening round.
Quinn: The first time I watched Matt Kuchar play was at the late-lamented Vancouver Open when he was billed as one of the Young Guns. He still has that youthful smile, still is a huge hit with galleries everywhere, and an awful lot of golf fans would love to see him get a Major. The S.A. entry — Oosthuizen and Schwartzel — is a sweet swinging long shot.
Mumford: Stricker will obviously get home town support and Rickie Fowler is America’s darling but I like Sergio as the sentimental favourite. He got the monkey off his back at the Masters and arrives at Erin Hills as the only player with a possibility of completing the Grand Slam. Call it payback for Bethpage Black but the Midwest crowds will be on his side this time and Sergio has more of a sense of history than most. It took him a long time to win his first major but I think he has a burning desire to make sure it’s not his only major.
The odds suggest that this year’s champion will come from a small group of top ranked players (Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama). Do you agree? Who will win the U.S. Open?
Deeks: I don’t disagree with the odds. And if Dustin Johnson can keep his head free of all foreign matter (including newborn diapers), I’d say he wins.
Rule: I think this course will really favour the long hitters, and pretty much all of those guys are in that class except maybe Spieth, although he’s still slightly above tour average. I like Rory’s chances this week, I think he will finally kick start his year and pick up his second US Open.
Kaplan: Hard to bet against any of those guys, especially DJ on a course of this length. However, if Spieth is rolling the ball well, I like his chances the most! Give me the Texan for the win!
Quinn: As Duval might say, it would be right if one of the top guns wins it. It’s always more entertaining, and meaningful, if a great player wins a Major and not some one-and-done type. If not one of the top half dozen, it wouldn’t be surprising if Jon Rahm harnesses his power and touch in consecutive rounds. If there are no surprises, likely D.J. or Rory.
Mumford: If the wager is that group against the field, I’ll take the Sweet Six. To pick a winner from that batch is tough but I’m leaning to Spieth who has found his putting form of late and nothing is more crucial at US Opens than putting. As noted above, my sentimental favourite is Sergio and, although not really a longshot, I’d also put a couple of quid on Adam Scott, who seems to have been forgotten lately. Hey – it’s just a hunch.