US OPEN 2017 AT ERIN HILLS
Although the host the USGA is trying to get away from it, for years the U.S. Open has marketed itself as "the toughest test in golf." Whether you love it or hate it, it's unique and has its own strong to quite strong identity. There will be frustration, yelling,absurd anger, drives, exquisite shots, and a major champion. Here are 10 things towatch and know for this week's 117th edition at Erin Hills in Wisconsin.
Mad About Grass
The always entertaining wall-to-wall coverage of some course featured or forms hascentered around the high fescue grasses of Erin Hills this week. We always get something every U.S. Open, whether it's the debate over "native sandy areas" at Pinehurst, wrecked greens at Chambers Bay, and now this in Wisconsin. It's hilarious to watch, if you just keep a little perspective.
Kevin Na, of all people, ignitied type this year's forms on Sunday, when he posted an Instagram videos twig (maybe half-jokingly) about how thick the fescue was just off the fairways here.
There’s fescue at British Opens and other American venues, but what made this different was how dense it was just off the fairway. It was basically a hazard — you’d struggle to find your ball and if you did, you might not be able to hit it more than a couple feet. The best case scenario was a hack out into the fairway maybe 40 yards or so. There was also the legitimate problem of the fescue being the most dense just off the fairway and thinner farther off of it — rewarding those who actually hit a worse shot that was more off line and into the thinner stuff.
So this grass became the talk of the championship and the USGA made it even more of a drama on Tuesday when they just started removing huge chunks of it while players were out practicing. It looked like a pretty significant alteration just 36 hours before the championship started.
The USGa was adamant that this was one of a "prescribed plan" of maintenance and not some reaction to Na and other players saying it was too much. They cited heavyrains early in the week making it "lay down" and become even more dense.
So that led to a reaction to the reaction, with Mr. Rory McIlroy being the most vocal.Rory's biggest issue was that these are the widest fairways — 60 yards in many spots — in the history of the U.S. Open and if you can't hit them, maybe you deserve to lose your ball or go into that stuff. And if you're mad about it, you should go home.
In the end, the USGA removed chunks of the fescue and mowed it back on four holes. But the move looked panicky so close to the start of the major and that combined with social media player complaints to give us a big ol' grass forms that sucked upall the oxygen of the practice round days.
So be on the lookout for players trying to play out of that stuff and hollering about it when they do.
Air Phil 1
Unfortunately, it looks like Phil Mickelson is not going to make it to the U.S. Open. Phil said he needed a four-hour delay on Thursday in order to get his daughter's from high school graduation to Wisconsin before his tee time. Thursday looks like the only definitively clear weather day, with a 0 percent chance of rain until late afternoon. So Phil will not even board his private jet to try and make the mad dash to ErinHills, which is a real shame--tracking Water Phil 1 all Thursday was going to be so much fun.
Phil’s unlikely arrival _means this is will be the first major without 'Mickelson or Tiger Woods since the 1994 Masters. We’ve accepted this “young” crop of superstars — Rory, Spieth, DJ, Day, Rickie, Hideki — as the changing of the guard awhile ago. But that’s a narrative you are going to get this week with Tiger and Phil officially off the premises.
Pace and Space
The fescue may be a cause of what will become interminably long rounds. When player hit into it, it’s going to take time to find the ball or they will exhaust the allotted time they’re allowed to look before giving up and having to play another one. And if they do find it, they’re not going to advance it far and we’re going to be adding shots and adding time. This is also a course meant to be playe in the wind, and if it’s up and blowing the way the USGA didn’t expect, then that’s going to add a ton of time too.
But that’s just a part of what will make these long rounds. A U.S. Open always slow and deliberate its the 'toughest test' for a reason and player's always take an extra mental beat before playing a shot, This Erin Hills property, however, is going to make the physical challenge a demand too and probably have everyone moving a little slower.
Players on the ground are saying this may be the longest and most demanding walk they have had at a U.S. Open. Kevin Van Valkenburg of ESPN called the place “too big” on Wednesday.
The biggest one of the issue is the walk from green to tee, some of which are 200 yards. The course is extremely hilly and about an 8.5 to 9 mile walk -- an average pro round is usually in the 6 mile range. Justin Thomas measured that he took almost 20,000 steps during one of his practice rounds.
Now, you might scoff at theses millionaires having to walk a bit more and that’s fine. But play a U.S. Open at the same time in June heat and the 9-mile walk becomes a little different. And it’s going to slow things down — the USGA is allotting 4 hours and 52 minutes for threesomes the first two days. If that’s what they’re hoping for, expect rounds well in excess of five hours.
A trendy pick to win this week is Jon Rahm. While he might not be the most mainstream name, it’s not exactly a longshot. The 22years old is likely the next superstar in golf and absolutely has a major in his future, and very real soon. This time last year, he was winning low amateur honors at Oakmont. Now as a pro, he’s already worked his way into the top 10 in the world rankings, which is an astoundingly fast rise.
Rahm has the full 14-club game, but he’s been strongest tee-to-green this year. He’s second on Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green, third in SG off-the-tee and second in SG total. Rahm is the one of world-class player and a big personality too. One of those facts you’ll hear every single broadcast to fill up the profile will be that the Spaniard learned English at Arizona State by listening to rap records.
So familiarize yourself with Jon Rahm. This venue sets up well for him and he’s a talent that will soon, if not already, be joining the cadre of DJ, Spieth, Rory, Day, and other more recognizable superstar names.
The U.S. Open always bashes us over the head with some new word or term of art that we hear all week during the wall-to-wall coverage. Expect to hear a lot over these next four day's about the Ketttle Moraine, the geological name for this land formed by the collision of two glaciers. The “natural land movement” (another term you’re hearing a lot) is spectacular and should provide the players with lots of sloping and uneven lies, a different kind of test that maybe the modern player is not used to so much. The course architects hardly moved any dirt and relied on this natural topography. It’s visually stunning when a camera is able to capture the rolling terrain, which also apparently occurs within bunkers too.
So if you want to sounds informed, or like a enormous dorks, throw Kettle Moraine out there when watching with friends this week, only this week.
Is Rory ready?
This is Rory McIlroy’s best chance for a U.S. Open win since his 2011 runaway at Congressional. It’s all right there for him. It’s a long course, but wide enough to let him use the biggest weapon in his bag, the driver, as much as you’ll ever see at a U.S. Open. The rains that have pounded Erin Hills during practice days also play right into his hands. He admitted as much, saying he definitely wasn’t crying when he saw storms roll in on Monday. He’s also been adamant that he “loves” the course, which is usually half the battle at a U.S. Open, where players oftens psych themselves out of the tournament before they ever hit a competitive shot.
A long, soft course is where McIlroy thrives, hitting the high ball and making it stick right on top of the flag. Those were the exact conditions that led to his dominant 2011 US. Open win, which set records.
So he loves the course, the conditions are perfect, and the setup gives his biggest “skill,” as he will remind you is the word to describe his driving power, a huge advantage. What could go wrong? We’ve not seen much of Rory this year, and when we have, he’s been aggravating a rib injury that’s bothered him since January. He is played just once since the Masters and in that event, The Players, he told us immediately he was having a back problem. Some argued he should have withdrawn but McIlroy played through all four rounds, got a scan, and then skipped every tournament between then and this week.