The U.S. Open is returning to a relatively new course for the second time in the last three years (Chambers Bay in 2015). With it comes a lot of unknown for the 117th playing of this tournament.
What we do know is that, per the usual, this will be one of the toughest tournaments on the PGA Tour schedule (although it might not be as tough as usual). Erin Hills is a Scottish-American hybrid course that will look a lot prettier on television than it will to golfers in the field who can’t find the fairway.
The U.S. Open is rarely the most exciting major on the slate, but it is often the most dramatic. Here is everything you need to know about this year’s edition.
1. Last repeat winner: Let’s start with where we ended last year with Dustin Johnson winning the United States Open. Nobody has successfully repeated as champion since Curtis Strange did it in 1989 at Oak Hill. The closest anyone has been is Tiger Woods finishing T6 in 2009 at Bethpage Black. I think D.J. changes that this year.
2. Field breakdown: U.S. Open fields are alsways quirky, and this year’s is no different. Of the 9,485 golfers who entered (the fifth-most ever, by the way), here is how the group of 156 for the 117th U.S. Open looks.
- U.S. Open champions: 11
- U.S. Amateur champions: 8
- Amateurs: 14 (only 2015 and 2009 had more since 1983)
- Golfers who started in local qualifying: 21 (fewest since 2013)
- Golfers who played in 2011 U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills: 18
- Golfers from United States: 87
- Total countryes represented: 23
- First-timers: 50
3. Sleepers I love (but wouldn’t bet on): These are golfers whose odds don’t match up with their recent performance or my projection of how they’ll play at Erin Hills.
- Brandt Snedeker: 80-1
- Marc Leishman: 100-1
- Ben An: 100-1
- J.B. Holmes: 100-1
- Tommy Fleetwood: 125-1
- Chris Wood: 200-1
- Jim Furyk: 250-1
- Jordan Niebrugge: 250-1
OK, maybe I’d bet on Niebrugge. But only if somebody lent me a couple bucks.
4. Rain dance: Phil Mickelson said he needs four hours worth of rain on Thursday morning. Judging from how the week is going so far, he might get it. The unintended consequence of all this rain is that the longest course in U.S. Open history will play even bigger than its nearly 7,800-yard number suggests. Good news for Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Co.
“I wasn’t crying when I saw that rain last night and this morning,” said McIlroy on Tuesday. “It’s a long golf course and it’s only going to play longer. That benefits a few guys, and luckily I’m one of them.”
5. In defense of Erin: Fox broadcaster Paul Azinger had a tremendous breakdown of the course on Shane Bacon’s podcast recently. He said the property is windswept and that the Scottish-American hybrid course (my words, not his) will play less like St. Andrews than it will like Augusta National. Collection areas that provide tight chips combined with pure greens will make this a fascinating second major of the year.
“I don’t see par winning the tournament,” said Jordan Spieth on Tuesday. “I see closer to 5 to 10 under. Someone who has very good control of the ball off the tee will have plenty of opportunities to make birdies, given the conditions that we’re expecting. And I think the USGA is very much okay with that. And I think that they’re looking for a really exciting championship that they’d like to be tough but fair.”
6. The rough is insane: Like, it’s really, really insane.
And now it’s being cut.
So I don’t know what to make about this situation now.
7. The founder of the course is in prison: Seriously! Steve Trattner murdered his wife shortly after helping find and develop this property back in the late 1990s. He said he’ll watch every shot from the same jail Steven Avery of “Making a Murderer” infamy once resided in.
8. Ultimate group: If you’re looking for a group to follow, you could do a lot worse than this one. The other elite pairing includes the last three U.S. Open winners of Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Martin Kaymer.
9. Average age is 30.5: The oldest golfer in the field is Senipr U.S. Open champion Gene Sauers (54), and the youngest is local and sectional qualifier Mason Anderson (18).
10. The experienced ones: After Stewart Cink and Steve Stricker tee it up on Thursday, there will be five golfers in the field who will have played in 20 or more U.S. Opens. That is a remarkable number.
- Phil Mickelson (26)
- Ernie Els (24)
- Jim Furyk (22)
- Stewart Cink (19)
- Steve Stricker (19)
- Angel Cabrera (17)
- Sergio Garcia (17)
Stricker is the most notable of this grou as he was born less than 100 miles from the course and qualified for the first U.S. Open ever in his home state after being denied a special exemption. If he went on to win, it would be one of the best golf stories of the past decade.
11. Jordan Spieth is good at majors: Not exactly breaking news here, but it’s easy to forget just how elite Spieth has been over the past few seasons. I’m really stepping out on a limb here, but I think the No. 1 ball-striker on the PGA Tour currently is going to be a force at this tournament.
12. Amateurs abound: I mentioned the 14 amateurs earlier but failed to mention that only the 2015 and 2009 U.S. Opens have had more since 1983. Those in the field include Brad Dalke, Maverick McNealy and Stewart Hagestad. Former low ams at this tournament include Jon Rahm (2016), Matthew Fitzpatrick (2014) and Jordan Spieth (2012).
13. Tiger Woods will not win: The one prediction I know I’ll get right this week.
14. All the money: The USGA increased the purse of its most prized commodity by 20 percent (!) from last year from $10 million to $12 million overall. After PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan spoke to a group of players about their current golfing concerns, he allegedly went to the USGA to discuss how much of that nearly $100 million a year the USGA got from Fox was going to the folks providing the product. Voila, a few weeks later the $12 million was announced. Or maybe it was was just a coincidence. Who knows?
15. Middle America Majors: I drove to the tournament this year, right through the heartland of the country where … not that many U.S. Opens have been played. Here is a list of them in the last 50 years.
- 1975: Medinah (Ill.) Country Club (Lou Graham)
- 1979: Inverness Club, Toledo, Ohio (Hale Irwin)
- 1985: Oakland Hills Country Club, Bloomfield Hills, Mich. (Andy North)
- 1990: Medinah (Ill.) Country Club (Hale Irwin)
- 1991: Hazeltine National Golf Club, Chaska, Minn. (Payne Stewart)
- 1996: Oakland Hills Country Club, Bloomfield, Mich. (Steve Jones)
- 2003: Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club (Jim Furyk)
16. The construction worker: There is a former construction foreman in the field this week named Derek Barron. He qualified in Tacoma, Washington. This is his first U.S. Open.
17. Sergio Garcia’s big shot: Can the Masters champion pull off leg No. 2 of the grand slam? Only six golfers have ever done it.
- Craig Wood (1941)
- Ben Hogan (1951, 1953)
- Arnold Palmer (1960)
- Jack Nicklaus (1972)
- Tiger Woods (2002)
- Jordan Spieth (2015)
18. The winner: I’m picking D.J., but I’m very, very concerned about Spieth. We should be in for another great one after the last four produced, in order, Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Spieth and Johnson. Incredible.