The world’s best are making their final preparations for the second major of the year and getting more acclimated with first-time host Erin Hills. Every player in the top 50 of the world rankings will be in the field (the only question mark being Phil Mickelson, who, without a four-hour weather delay on Thursday, is still unlikely to play because of his daughter’s high school graduation).
If you haven’t yet be sure to join our free U.S. Open Pool with prizes from Callaway Golf and Holderness & Bourne. We will also have a weekend pool which will be released after the completion of Friday’s round and in Saturday’snewsletter.
Speaking of weather...
It hasn’t been great in Wisconsin, as storms rolled through Monday night and Tuesday morning, dousing the golf course and softening up conditions. Coupled with the softness was the USGA’s decision to trim back some of the heavy fescue that sat about 5 yards off the fairway on some holes. The USGA has said the decision stemmed from the rain – which rendered the fescue even more difficult – rather than the numerous player complaints about it. Rains are supposed to hit again today and are possible for Thursday and Friday, giving some hope to Phil fans and making the bombers happy. With the softer fairways and cut back fescue, the driving corridors will be much wider, giving an edge to the longer hitters.
All eyes will be on World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who conquered a rain-soaked Oakmont and an infamous rules controversy to win his first major. Johnson was absolutely dominant from tee-to-green, overcoming a four-shot final round deficit to Shane Lowry, who shot a final round 76 to fall into a tie for second with Jim Furyk and Scott Piercy.
Wisconsin’s Inaugural Run
Wisconsin gets its first U.S. Open with Erin Hills, a course the USGA has listed as a 7,700+ yard par 72. The course has a number of tees, which allows it to play significantly longer or shorter than that yardage and can significantly change the strategy on holes. I really enjoyed the course and think that it will be an excellent championship venue. The driving areas are a little wider than a typical U.S. Open, which allows players to focus on hitting particular sides to set up good angles and attack flags. Read my full thoughts on Erin Hills here.
Preview Pod with D.J. Piehowski and Brendan Porath
SB Nation’s Brendan Porath filled in admirably for Tron Carter, who is was under the weather. We discussed the course, the fescue, players we like and don’t like and much more. Listen on the website, iTunes or Stitcher.
Storylines to watch
The USGA and the course
The past two U.S. Opens have been filled with controversy – the course at Chambers Bay and the rules fiasco at Oakmont. This year, the pressure is on the USGA to come out unscathed at a first-time host, Erin Hills. The spectating experience will be average at best, which is a tough place to start.
The best without
The past six majors have been won by first-time major winners, leaving the “best player without a major” title up for debate. Today’s challengers are veterans like 44-year-old Lee Westwood and Matt Kuchar and a bunch of 20-somethings: Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama and even Jon Rahm, who competed as an amateur in last year’s championship.
It’s been about three years since Rory McIlroy locked up his fourth major championship. At that time, he seemed like a lock to be the “Tiger Generation’s” best player. But his recent drought in major championships has offered a glimmer of hope to some others in their early thirties and twenties to snag the crown (or at least make it a debate).
Players such as Jordan Spieth (2 majors), Dustin Johnson (1) and Jason Day (1) have all shown the ability to dominate golf for long stretches of time, but will need to start racking up major wins in a hurry to stand a chance at matching McIlroy’s already illustrious career marks.
Looking to add to their legacies
Looking a generation north, many of the players who arrived amid Tiger’s dominance will look to become multi-major champions in the next few years without his shadow looming over them. Even one more win could give any of their legacies a significant bump. These players include the likes of 2017 Masters winner Sergio Garcia, 36-year-old Justin Rose, last year’s Open Champion Henrik Stenson, last year’s runner-up Jim Furyk and sweet-swinging Louis Oosthuizen.
Last week, Haskins Award winner Braden Thornberry nearly won in Memphis, marking the latest close call for amateurs in professional tournaments. The last amateur winner on the PGA Tour was Phil Mickelson’s 1991 triumph at the Northern Telecom Open. And while Shane Lowry won at the European Tour’s DDF Irish Open as an amateur in 2009, the last amateur to win a major came in the 1933 U.S. Open, when Johnny Goodman won at North Shore C.C.
This year’s field boasts a talented crop of amateurs, and one or two could potentially find themselves in contention. A few to keep an eye on include former No. 1-ranked amateur Maverick McNealy; the current top-ranked amateur, 18-year-old Joaquin Niemann; Masters low-amateur and reigning Mid-Am champion Stewart Hagestad; and first-team All American John Oda.
Who should you pick?
Last week, Paulie’s pick of Daniel Berger earned him his seventh win of 2017. Check out who he likes for DFS, One & Done and longshots here.
I put together a list of 12 sleepers who I liked for Erin Hills based on what I saw from the course on Sunday.
As Paulie and I did for the Masters we drafted out teams of ten to take on each other in a head-to-head competition. At Augusta, Paulie took me down by a couple thousand dollars after my team was foiled by DJ’s slip. Check out who we each ended up with here.
Other golf news
This week, the Web.com Tour is down in Wichita for the Air Capital Classic. The secondary Tour will continue on its slog of 14 straight weeks of tournaments. Unlike the PGA Tour, players on the Web are forced to play as much as possible to secure a place in the Top 25 and ideally a high position in that 25.
This week’s U.S. Open puts Web.com Tour members in a precarious situation: attempt to qualify and, if successful, play in the U.S. Open, or don’t attempt to qualify and focus on playing the Web Tour. I spoke with a handful of Web.com Tour pros last week and it seemed like an even split on whether players attempted to qualify. In the end, 14 players with Web status will tee it up this week at the U.S. Open, bypassing the opportunity to further advance their money list position and chance to earn their PGA Tour card.
The solution to is simple: have an off-week (perfect timing given the 14 straight tournaments). If this week was a necessity because of an outside factor, why not give players who qualify some sort of bonus for doing so and possibly weighting it based on their performance? This would alleviate the tough situation the current system puts players in.
A new home for the NCAA Championships
The NCAA announced that the Greystone Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, would be the host site of the 2020, 2021 and 2022 NCAA Men’s and Women’s Championships. It will be the first time since the format change that the championships will not rotate. This decision has led to a lot of criticism, which suggests that Southwest schools will be at a decided advantage three years in a row. I don’t quite agree with that but I don’t like the idea of playing a national championship in “dome-like” conditions for three straight years. If the goal is to identify the best player, part of that is being able to play in weather conditions that require skill and nuance – something that desert golf tends to diminish.
In more amateur news, the Golfweek All-American teams were announced check them out here.
The U.S. Team beat the European’s to win the Palmer Cup
The Sunnehanna Amateur kicks off today, follow live scoring here.