The World’s toughest golf championship is upon us again. This year, the tournament heads to the midwest at Erin Hills in Erin Wisconsin. Designed by Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry, and Ron Whitten in 2006, this will be the first time this course will be hosting a major golf tournament, let alone a U.S. Open. Traditionally, the U.S. Open is one of, if not the toughest golf tournament of the year. And personally, I believe Erin Hills won’t stray from that tradition by any means. With the given conditions and the sheer length of the course itself, Erin Hills won’t be an easy assessment of golf.
Stretching to nearly 7,800 yards, the par- 72 course definitely feels like a tease to what appears to be a big ballpark. This course has a similar feeling to a links style course due to the open sites, significant lack of tree lines, and excruciating rough that will surely test the players. But in fact, this is no links course. Target golf will still be a huge influence this week. After looking at the layout, style of the grass and hazards, this to me looks like a combination of Shinnecock and Whistling Straits (Avid golf fans will be able to agree or disagree). Many different reporters however have been trying to compare this course to Chamber’s Bay, the site of the 2015 U.S. Open. I think that comparison is a stretch to say the least. Due to the given conditions this week, Erin Hills will prove to be much softer conditions with potential rain within the next few days. Chamber’s Bay proved to be a very dry course that displayed that driving the ball in the middle of the fairway didn’t necessarily mean that’s where you would be playing from. Also the lack of rough there, doesn’t compare to the ridiculous amounts of rough that Erin Hills has to offer. The one comparison that I have seen between the courses is the tricky lines and angles that each course tests off of the tee. The undulations in the course, and the carries on several of the holes will certainly test both the consistency and the creativity of each player.
Fairways, Fairways, Fairways. That will be the theme of this week. The first cut of rough will provide a challenging test of strength and focus. But then comes, the fescue that sits among either side of the first cut. Finding your tee shot, or even second shot for that matter, in the fescue will definitely bring big numbers into play. Several of the players, like Kevin Na and Lee Westwood, have already expressed their complaints about the unfairness of the rough. I do agree that there should be some mercy given to the players by rewarding good shots, and penalizing bad ones. But this is the U.S. Open. Nobody said this was going to be easy. And what several players have failed to realize is, Erin Hills is actually providing some of the widest fairways that the U.S. Open has typically offered. Although the bunkers, and hazards on this course are deadly and somewhat shorten the fairways width, the majority of fairways are widened to almost 50-60 yards. Not to mention the 5-10 yards of first cut rough that they will get on each side as well. Yeah. Plenty of room. If the best golfers in the world can’t hit the ball in the fairway given that width, then they are in the wrong profession.
This course will certainly favor longer players since the USGA has already discussed that they can stretch this course all the way to 8,000 yards. However, length will not be the only factor for success. Accuracy and control are far more necessary to be sitting high on the leaderboard come Sunday. And I don’t just mean accuracy off the tee box due to the rough. The bunkers and hazards on this course will be almost as troubling as the fescue, which will require players to be accurate and smart with their approach shots as well. But as always this championship tests every aspect of the game. Scrambling and putting will be the difference come Sunday afternoon.
Players, Power Rankings and Picks
As I have already expressed, a combination of driving abilities, both distance and accuracy, and scrambling will be the key components to putting together a solid round in this tournament. The U.S. Open is also the strongest mental test in golf, which certainly breeds an advantage for experienced players. However, this is the first time that this course has hosted a professional tournament, meaning this is the first time all the players are seeing this course at this level. So speaking in terms in course experience, everyone is on the same playing field, which will be exciting to watch. Although five out of the last seven U.S. Open champions were respectively first time major champions at that time, the names on that list provided no surprises.
Pebble Beach 2010- Graeme McDowell
Congressional 2011- Rory Mcilroy
Olympic Club 2012- Webb Simpson
Merion 2013- Justin Rose
Pinehurst No. 2 2014- Martin Kaymer (won 2010 PGA Championship)
Chamber’s Bay 2015- Jordan Spieth (won 2015 Master’s)
Oakmont 2016- Dustin Johnson
Something to look for this week will be a player who is able to avoid the rough and place there drives in scoring positions, but is also able to scramble out of trouble and remain mentally strong. The statistics that I believe to be most important that will reflect good play this week are driving distance, fairway percentage, scrambling, and strokes gained putting. Looking at this year’s tour statistics, previous play in majors and previous U.S. Open’s, and of course, some opinion, here’s my top 10 power rankings list for this week at Erin Hills:
1. Dustin Johnson
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Obvious number one pick? Maybe. Maybe not. Obviously on the list? Absolutely. One of the most consistent players on tour each year since his debut, and also the defending champion always puts Dustin in the conversation. The way he was playing prior to the Master’s, before taking himself out due to injury, and also how he has been playing upon return from injury, he is red hot and due for another win. Ranking 1st in driving distance, and having decent numbers in regards to scrambling and strokes gained putting (41st and 57th respectively on tour), DJ’s main focus this week needs to be keeping the ball in play off the tee. If he can avoid the fescue, he will no doubt be in the hunt on Sunday.
- Jason Day
Another consistent player in regards to major championships. Jason was considered Mr. Runner-Up in major championships, especially U.S. Opens, prior to his major breakout victory back in 2015 at Whistling Straits. Day is steady across the board in regards to the statistics. I believe he is due as well for another major win as long as he stays out of trouble with the hazards and fescue by the green. Day is a pretty safe pick for a top-10 finish if he can get off to a good start, since he has a tendency to fall just short down the stretch.
- Jordan Spieth
Putting Jordan at number three might be generous since he hasn’t quite played the kind of golf we saw from him back in 2015. However, a winner this year on tour nonetheless, I think Jordan deserves the respect in every major he plays in (at least for the next few years). If he plays well, he is the perfect combination of length and accuracy that is necessary for a course like this. The problem for him so far this year has been his accuracy off the tee and scrambling around the green where he normally excels. He is solid from 100-150 yards in which can prove to be useful if he finds himself in trouble off the tee. However, he will need to avoid the tricks around the greens. Then again, he’s a two-time major champion at the age of 23 and could prove to be built for this course.
- Jon Rahm
Possibly another pick that may be a little too high on the list, but he has been having one hell of a year. Currently ranked 4th in the FedEx Cup rankings with a win at the Farmer’s Insurance Open, and seven top 10 finishes, it would be hard to leave him off the list. This may only be his 4th major start, but so far he is 3 for 3 in cuts made in majors he has played. Rahm is also relatively high up in regards to statistics ranking 13th in driving distance, and 19th in scrambling. However, his biggest faulter is his lower fairway percentage which could prove to be an issue. I do believe he has the confidence and skill to be successful this week. It may be early for him to win a major, but crazier things have happened.
- Rickie Fowler
People are still waiting to finally see Rickie break out and win a major (myself included). He has all the assets to be one of the greats, but he obviously has had trouble getting the job done. He is sometimes a mere shot or two away from being a multiple major winner. This course suits Rickie well. He has been well rounded this year in regards to stats, and certainly has the experience under his belt. He is long off the tee, accurate, and has really improved on scrambling the past couple of years. Not to mention he ranks 7th in strokes gained putting. Statistically speaking, he is the favorite. But is it his time? Rickie’s biggest problem has always been avoiding that one hole where he puts up a monster number. If he can keep the ball in play this week, and take his medicine where he needs to, he can win. It’s not a matter of if. It’s a matter of when.
- Paul Casey
Another golfer that wouldn’t surprise anyone with a victory this week. Another major-less golfer with the tools and record that would argue otherwise. Casey isn’t particularly long off the tee compared to others, but can still put his ball out there. He statistically is playing well this year with a few top 10 finishes, but is still looking for a stand out performance. If he can get his putter going this week and take advantage of some of the easier holes, he may find himself in contention. I wouldn’t pick him to win above a lot of players that are well suited with this course, but I think he’ll be high on the leaderboard come Sunday’s end.
- Hideki Matsuyama
Two wins and four top 10’s so far this year speaks for itself. Hideki is another one of those younger players where it’s not a matter of if rather than a matter of when. Ranked number 4 in the world, Matsuyama can find himself in the winner’s circle if he is able to keep the ball in play and also get the putter going. Erin Hills doesn’t exactly match the type of courses where Matsuyama has had some success, but his consistency and ability to stay away from trouble may just be enough to keep him alive. He has had some strong finishes in majors but has yet to really show a breakout performance. He certainly has all the tools to pull out a win.
- Justin Thomas
The only thing holding Justin Thomas back is his experience on tour and in majors. That being said, in the six majors that Thomas has played in, he is 6 for 6 when it comes to making cuts. He is the definition of a fearless young gun. And with the way he is playing now, he would be higher on the list if it weren’t for more deserving players above him. Justin’s fairway percentage is low which can be an issue, and his scrambling isn’t great this year either. Justin’s wins that came earlier in the year were on courses that don’t require driving accuracy to be successful. But Justin’s length and ball striking ability could be the difference maker if he gets to the weekend.
- Jason Dufner
Fresh off his victory two weeks ago at The Memorial, Jason Dufner had to be among this list. Dufner’s first and only major win came at The PGA Championship at Oak Hill back in 2013. But Erin Hills doesn’t have too much to compare to Oak Hill. Dufner’s biggest asset this week is his ability to stay in tournaments and make the cut. He’s not the longest player, but certainly doesn’t hit it short either. His fairway percentage is pretty high along with good scrambling and strokes gained putting. He knows when to be aggressive and take advantage of opportunities. What he lacks in athleticism and stand out ability, he will certainly make up for in experience. That could be the difference down the stretch if he is up against a younger player.
- Shane Lowry
Shane makes the top-10 on the list due to his previous success in the U.S. Open. He is consistently on the leaderboard come father’s day every year. Although he hasn’t made a lot of noise this year, he is definitely considered a top golfer in this tournament. He is steady across the board in statistics, and only really waivers in scrambling, which we saw to be his kryptonite in the U.S. Open at Chamber’s Bay. Will people consider him to be a top pick this week? Maybe not. But somehow Lowry finds his way up the leaderboard when it really counts.
Notables to just miss the list:
The only reason Rory isn’t on the list is the lack of golf he has been able to play this year, and his health. Coming off a rib injury, his health is obviously in question, which could eventually be a factor coming down the stretch on sunday. However, this golf course suits Rory, and so do the conditions. Rory thrives in wet and soft conditions, which is why he certainly can win this week. Rory would be the favorite if it weren’t for unfortunate circumstances. In my opinion, I think Rory will either win, or be a no show due to his health.
Great Ball Striker. Veteran. And coming off a runner up finish at the Master’s. Rose can have some success due to the necessity to keep it in the fairway this week. Rose is as consistent as they come. However, the length of this course may just be out of reach for Rose. Statistically he is ranked rather high in driving distance, but Rose seems to get things together on smaller courses. Definitely can be a contender.
Master’s 2017 champion. Finally has got his first major out of the way after over 70 tries. This course doesn’t suit Sergio as well as it may suit others. But who knows. Sergio may go on a slew of major victories now that he has one.
Hits it a long way but can struggle keeping it in play at times. Adam Scott is a contention player though. He grinds it out when he needs to. If he can scramble well and get the putter hot, Scott can be a contender.
Other notables: Daniel Berger, Martin Kaymer, Matt Kuchar, Brooks Koepka, Branden Grace
This is the first major tournament in sometime where both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson won’t be playing (pending if Phil can somehow make it after his daughter’s graduation). But other than that, this tournament should be very entertaining with most of the top guys back and healthy. Typically, even par is a good score in the U.S. Open, and I still believe that to be true this week. But to win, players will need to take advantage of opportunities and minimize mistakes. The winning score seems like it will be around -8. With 156 players in the field, it’s obviously tough to say who will be the winner. Nonetheless, it should be entertaining. Thoughts?