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.
The U.S Open used to have a specific identity: narrow fairways, deep rough, hard fast greens; a tough course that tested every facet of a player’s game and par actually meant something. Recently, the USGA has gotten away from their typical set-up to include more wide open courses such as Chambers Bay and Erin Hills where birdies were plentiful. Which type of set-up do you prefer for a U.S. Open?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): To be honest, I’d pick something in between narrow and wide open… like “naropen”. I certainly believe that the US Open should be the best test of golf in the US each year (the Masters is more the golf equivalent of the Miss America Pageant), but it was getting painful watching guys hack out of knee-deep rough, having hit their drives or wedges one inch offline. And greens putting at 14 on the stimp is like mini-golf in my view, silly to play and silly to watch. But then Chambers Bay and Erin Hills were like MAXI-mini-golf, from tee to green. Chambers in particular was like watching a bad acid trip. It sounds like the USGA has set up Shinnecock as the happy medium that I’m suggesting, which clearly means the USGA reads the Round Table religiously.
Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: Personally, I like the ‘old’ way better. I don’t think we need to return to Myopia Hunt the site of four US Opens in the first 14 years. The course was deemed ‘too difficult’ and the event didn’t return. Oakmont, Oakland Hills, Olympic and Winged Foot each produced scores over par which somehow doesn’t quite ‘fill the bill’ for me. I really don’t like to see scores much under par. I enjoy seeing how the best players defend against bogies and not have a birdie-fest.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I prefer US Opens to have narrow fairways, gnarly fescue and granite greens. I want to see players up to their shins in the rough and unable to hold the green on their approach shots, and for that reason I have not been very impressed with either Chambers Bay or Erin Hills as venues. Sure, those tracks are extremely long, but they do not offer too much of a challenge for most of the guys in the field.
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I’m not a huge fan of the typical US Open set up generally, but for one championship a year, it makes sense. Chambers Bay and Erin Hills were fun to watch in their own way, but I like that they are returning to a traditional course with narrow fairways and long rough to see how the guys handle it. Even with those courses, you still get a mix of champs, from the long, crooked drivers like Tiger and DJ to the shorter, straighter hitters like Pavin, McDowell and Furyk. The one thing it does is allow the cream to rise to the top every year, which is the way it should be.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Brutally tough but fair. Easy bogey, hard par – and birdies only for exceptional shotmaking and putting. Week after week we see great players shred supposedly tough courses with a bomb and gouge strategy. That rarely requires accuracy and doesn’t demand much in the course management category either. A U.S. Open is supposed to identify the best all round golfer so it’s imperative that all skills are tested. The course set-up isn’t supposed to favour one type of player over another but that doesn’t mean some holes can’t be biased for accurate bunters while others will let the bombers flail away with impunity. On Sunday night I want to see everyone mentally drained like they’ve been through a war.
Who is your pick to win the U.S. Open?
Deeks: Since it could be any one of 144 players who are all playing well (except for Spieth), I’m going to go with the sentimental pick of Phil Mickelson. Failing Phil, my dark horse is Adam Hadwin.
Schurman: My picks are: Stenson, Rose and Noren. The last time we tried to pick a winner I picked Paul Casey in the Players. He W/D’d before the first round…….I heard you guys laughing at me.
Kaplan: I think Jon Rahm wins his first career major this week. The young man has the game to get it done, and I think he takes that next step at Shinnecock Hills.
Rule: I think Rory is trending in the right direction, so I like his chances if he can hit it relatively straight. But Justin Rose is my pick this week, he just has the all-round game, and less pressure since he’s already got one in his back pocket!
Mumford: I said a few weeks back that my pick to win every major for the next 20 years would be Jon Rahm. He has unbelievable upside but I’m not sure he’s quite ready this week. I think it comes down to a two man battle between Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler with Rose capturing his second Open.
Every major delivers multiple storylines about who might win, sentimental favourites and players that should be there in the end but aren’t. Phil Mickelson will be looking to complete his personal Grand Slam at age 48 (his birthday is on Saturday), Rickie Fowler may be the best player never to have won a major (he just got engaged), Tiger Woods is close to winning again, Sergio Garcia, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed are MIA etc etc. Obviously not all of the storylines can have happy endings at the U.S. Open. Which player either excites or disappoints the most this week?
Deeks: Tiger always excites everyone (except me) just by showing up. If he’s within eight shots on Sunday morning, assume every other camera on TV will be focused on Tiger. But there would certainly be Joy in Mudville if Phil is in contention on Sunday, and euphoria will sweep the land if Rickie Fowler wins. (Just think of all those Allison Stokke cutaways!!) At least one of those guys will be on the leaderboard on Sunday afternoon, I’m sure. But if it’s Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Jimmy Walker or the Spitter (Keegan Bradley) on top, you can find me around the 8th tee of the course around the corner.
Schurman: There ‘s obviously something wrong with me because I’ve had enough of the Tiger stories, the Phil stories and the Rickie stories. When Spieth landed onto the stage I said then I couldn’t figure out how he could win so much so easily (other than he was the best putter from over 20 feet on TOUR). Dustin Johnson is by far the best athlete and has the game to play anywhere but he doesn’t excite me. So what would I find exciting? I think this is a perfect opportunity for Michelle Wie to come back with her wish to play with the boys but let’s make an exception in her case……no cut. Let her post scores for all four rounds. It should be easy enough for her – after all she did win the Ladies US Open.
Kaplan: Disappoints the most: Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Excites the most: Jason Day, who has had a really good bounce-back season with two victories, four top 10s, and no missed cuts in 11 starts. I can envision J-Day stirring up plenty of excitement with his excellent ball-striking and clutch putting.
Rule: Sadly, I think Tiger will disappoint this week since he just can’t hit it straight enough to keep the big numbers off the card. I think Phil might just surprise us and be there on the weekend, teasing us with the potential of the career Grand Slam. I’m excited to see Garrett Rank play and hopefully make the cut, which would be one of the feel good stories of the week for sure. Then I’ll watch up close and personal as he kicks my ass in the Ontario Mid-Am next week!
Mumford: The most interesting storyline for me is Canadian Garrett Rank qualifying to play. The three time Canadian Mid Amateur Champion and former Team Canada member is a full time NHL referee. He’s a real long shot to win on his first attempt but he beat a lot of very good golfers to get there. If he can duck 100 mph slapshots and get in the middle of a fight between NHL heavyweights, nothing at Shinnecock Hills should scare him. Probably the biggest disappointment will be Phil Mickelson getting close but not able to nab that elusive U.S. Open title.