U.S. Open 2017: Erin Hills will be physical test; midweek rain could yield low scores
Erin Hills is a monster, the USGA is better than you think and Dustin Johnson remains the favorite
ERIN, Wis. -- On the eve of the 117th United States Open, the rain is pelting eastern Wisconsin, and the players have wrapped up their final prep work for the week. Tomorrow morning, the show (probably) begins (Phil Mickelson is hopeful it begins more around brunch time or after lunch).
Here are a few final thoughts before the second major of the year:
I walked most of the gargantuan property at Erin Hills on Wednesday, and it's certainly going to make for a fascinating tournament. There are loads of blind shots, tempting carries for the big boppers and more plateaus and ridges than one would think possible from a natural slice of land like this.
The walk is forever and the ballpark is massive, but depending on the setup, I think this could be the fair, unremarkable U.S. Open the USGA needs. Despite early feedback about the fescue, I don't think the course is going to be out of control like maybe it was at Chambers Bay. Also, the Wednesday night rain will help calm it down and give us a lot of red numbers.
In defense of the USGA
The USGA catches a lot of heat, and much of it is deserved. But CEO Mike Davis said something illuminating on Wednesday.
"If we're being honest, yeah, we're human," Davis said of the last few U.S. Open mishaps. "We know we've had some issues the last two years. As I like to point out, there's a lot of things we're very proud about with Chambers Bay, proud about at Oakmont.
"When I look back at Chambers Bay and introducing a new part of the country, a public golf course, folks think about the drama. Think about the drama at the end with Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth and that leaderboard. Yes, we didn't like the quality of the greens, but that aside there's a lot of things to love about Chambers Bay.
"Last year at Oakmont we were really thrown a curve, so to speak, with just some dreadful weather. But think about how well Oakmont performed as a golf course. Think about Dustin Johnson and that performance he put on, especially given the rules situation. So I think we'll look back at those with a lot of fond memories. But, yes, there are some things that of course we had some issues."
He's right on all accounts.
"So moving forward we want a nice, smooth U.S. Open. But, listen ... you never know what's going to happen with Mother Nature. You're never going to know what happens with certain rule situations or how the players play the course. So you just deal with them and you remain nimble and flexible."
The course here is super lush so unless they do something absurd with greens or pin placements on the weekend, I think this tournament will be controversy-free (famous last words, I know).
Does Rory McIlroy get No. 5?
After walking the course, Rory McIlroy seems like a reasonable choice to win his fifth major championship. It's a massive track that will be wet overnight, and he seems quite loose this week. The big dog will eat over and over again, and that's when McIlroy is at his best.
"I wasn't crying when I saw that rain last night and this morning," McIlroy said 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."
The question for me is whether his short game will have all the rust knocked off after only one tournament since the Masters and a new putter in the bag.
There will be opportunities to get up and down around the greens around here, and if McIlroy does, he could get his fifth major at age 28, putting him in the company of Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Bobby Jones. It would be a great story, and this seems like a perfect U.S. Open setup for him. Thursday and Friday will (obviously) be telling. If he goes out with a 66 in Round 1, this thing is going to be on.
Phil Mickelson won't make it
It's unfortunate, but it doesn't look like Lefty is going to make it in time from California for the tournament; there's only a 10 percent chance of rain in the morning.
There is a lot of talk around here about how well this course could set up for him, and Jim "Bones" Mackay is out here scouting for him. But unless something unforeseen happens, he's going to be out for the first time in over 20 years.
The course doesn't feel major-y
This is difficult to explain, but after walking most of the 18 holes here, it doesn't have the feel of a major course or setup. I don't mean that derogatorily (because it's an awesome course), and I think not having many fans out for practice rounds has a lot to do with it, but there's something about putting a major into this expansive of a property that dilutes the intensity.
Hopefully that changes when the tournament starts. It's also a really, really difficult and tiring traipse. I'm not sure many of the old heads will be able to bang it around for all 72 holes.
As an aside: The ninth and 18th holes are going to be awesome. No. 9 is a tiny par 3 with one of the nastiest greens I've ever seen. It's going to see some big numbers depending on where the pins are. And No. 18 is a beautiful sprint to the finish line that could allow some of the big thumpers a chance at a miracle eagle at the very end.
Dustin Johnson is still going to win
He's the best swinger of the golf club in the world right now. Not ever, and probably not even of his generation. But right now at this moment, he's the best.
He also gives the most amazing press conferences. This is art, people!
Question: You kind of talked about the whirlwind 48 hours that it's been for you. How do you mentally prepare? You seem like a pretty calm customer, but how do you mentally prepare? Monday you have a son, Tuesday you come here to work, Wednesday you're defending a U.S. Open title. Maybe you're so pumped up you want to go out there and play now. How do you go about that range of emotions?
Dustin Johnson: "You just do it. I don't know."
Just do it. For the second successive year.
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