Erin Hills Hosts U.S. Open For First Time
The U.S. Open is annually the toughest and most rigorous championship in golf. Since the 2000 PGA season, the U.S. Open has ranked as the toughest tournament in golf with a scoring average near 74. In six of the past 12 U.S. Opens, the winning score has been par or higher. This year's 117th edition at Erin Hills will play to a record 7,741 yards, and is the first time any PGA Tour championship has been held at the 11-year old venue 34 miles Northwest of Milwaukee. Tees will be adjusted prior to each round based on anticipated weather conditions. Low 80's temperatures and near a 50 percent chance of rain is forecast Friday, Saturday and Sunday with moderate winds up to 12 MPH. However, with few trees impacting the course or play, there is no protection from air streams, and crosswinds will create havoc for the players and their performance. Anything near 20 MPH winds will make the course a torture chamber, as the crosswinds will make hitting even the wider fairways more difficult.
Additional humps and bumps combined with firm fairways will make for more bad bounces and recovery from the terribly thick fescue, which stretches 3-5 yards wide bordering the fairways. The penalty for extremely errant tee shots will be severe. Underrated is the impact of the winds on putting, which is more difficult at the U.S. Open as players face more par-saving putts to precarious pin positions from greater distance. The bent grass greens, however, have less slope, and they are pristine and roll to perfection.
Predicting a winning score is also difficult, and more so at Erin Hills in the U.S. Open. The philosophy of the United States Golf Association (USGA) is to make the U.S. Open the most rigorous, yet fair examination of golf skills while testing all forms of shot-making. It's an examination of strategy and course management, and it's a test and strategy of nerves with a player's mental makeup and survival skills on display.
It's also a most tiring test this week as walking the golf course itself takes a physical toll and if the wind is blowing harder then the walks and whacks of the shafts get even longer. Efficiency, endurance and energy will play a part in a player's ability to excel and execute in a pressure-packed environment.
The USGA will alter the setup based on the winds, weather and perhaps even player complaints (not really). But expect some of that, as the early returns from the players is that they like the course and it's in sensational shape, but the fescue is overdone. Still, the USGA's goal is to set up the golf course in such a way that tests every aspect of the game. This year, that includes the latest golf shot called 'hack'.
Erin Hills is a special place that was built amid farms and winding country roads three miles West of Holy Hill –a Roman Catholic Shrine dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Many players will be praying for pars this week. Erin Hills is a public links-style golf course, but has not been open for play since last fall. The course is very open and natural and has much topographical movement with predominantly fine fescue grasses. The course presents an interesting challenge given the relative unknowns of the layout.
In 2011, Erin Hills hosted the U.S. Amateur, and current PGA players and winners that played in that event were Bryson DeChambeau, Harris English, Emiliano Grillo, Russell Henley, Si-Woo Kim, Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Peter Uihlen. (Kelly Kraft upset world No. 1-ranked amateur Patrick Cantlay in the 36-hole finale).
Many of the holes at Erin Hills involve blind or semi-blind tee shots. Players won't feel too comfortable and the eye-test will be troubling to some as they take aim. Only a few water hazards come into play, but not a single tree will present any problem. Around the greens and putting surfaces, the fescue rough has been mowed down so that it can play as tightly cut chipping areas.
As with most any U.S. Open test, if you don't hit the ball in the fairway and putt very well, you have no chance to contend on Sunday. Precision on approach play is paramount here. Two very tough stretches on the course are between holes 6-12, where every hole goes in an opposite direction and different directional winds will make it more difficult. The closing five holes will be most difficult with the risk-reward drivable par 4 15th and the monstrous par 5 18th playing up to 675 yards. The opening hole No. 1 is also a par 5, and the 2nd hole is the shortest par 4. The 9th hole is an elevated par 3 that plays 135-165 yards with a 26 foot drop to a front-to-back tilted green surrounded by steep and deep bunkers.
Key strokes gained stats at Erin Hills are - Strokes Gained: Off the Tee along with Strokes Gained: Approach.
Last year Dustin Johnson won the U.S. Open at Oakmont in terrible weather with a 4-under par 276 total. Just three other players broke par and all tied for 2nd place at 279. That included Jim Furyk, who has no shot to win this year as a short hitter at Erin Hills. Sergio Garcia was one of two other players at even par in last year's U.S. Open, and after winning his first major at the Masters this year, he's a contender with a tee-to-green game that can seemingly have success at Erin Hills.
When match-up betting or filling out your fantasy lineup, you can gain an edge as well by identifying the better putters. Clearly players that cannot control their golf ball consistently can be eliminated. Are key strokes gained stats are noted. However, while there is no stat for mental toughness, you can identify those players from past play and see that experience plays a big part in handling the demanding conditions of a U.S. Open.
Check back prior to Thursday as we identify and profile players of interest with win wagering, match-up betting and value plays for potential long shots and contenders.
FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Read more great insights from Jay here and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay