Some thoughts on the U.S. Open at Erin Hills. But first, some preamble.
Once upon a time, the U.S. Open would go from one fancy tree-lined country club to another, grow the rough and give the championship trophy to the guy who hit his ball in the rough the fewest times.
That’s why I always preferred the Masters and the British Open. At the Masters, there was no rough. There was risk-reward joy mingled with crash-and-burn disaster.
I’ve always been partial to the British Open because it was the opposite of the pristine country-club. It was scruffy and prone to unbelievable weather—and it had Henry “Oh, deah! That’s in the Buhn!’’ Longhurst, who paved the way for all of those Anglo-accented commentators who followed him.
And then there was the PGA, which always seemed to be played in a sweltering Tulsa or Texas or Blythe, Calif., wherever the thermometer was boiling over.
Over time, golf’s four majors have become more homogenous.
The Tiger-proofed Augusta favors longer hitters and higher scores, like the U.S. Open. In an era where the U.S. Open (Pinehurst, Shinnecock Hills, and yes, Erin Hills) and the PGA (Whistling Straits) are going to courses that tip their cap to St. Andrews and Old Tom Morris, the British Open seems a bit less foreign than it used to. And the Brits have subtly lengthened their courses.
The lines also are more blurred between the U.S. Open and the PGA. The PGA, which was known for bold choices, has mixed things up by going to tradition-bound layouts. And the U.S. Open has become increasingly determined to discover, if not invent, its championship layouts.
Which brings us to Erin Hills. . .
All things considered, it was a fine U.S. Open debut. Some people will rail—actually, they already have—about the 16-under winning score and the record number of below-par finishers.
I don’t have a problem with low numbers. If the USGA had become obsessed with that (again), they could have made a mess of things with narrower fairways and nastier pin positions.
What some people tend to overlook is that USGA officials have to guess a bit about the weather (wind), and the softness of the course. So let’s not obsess about score.
It was a plenty difficult course. (Just ask Jason “Two Triple Bogeys in Round 1’’ Day.) Those guys are good.
There were times when I would see a player with an impossibly long-looking shot to the green, and a short iron in his hand—and I would think, `Is he laying up?’
The answer was no. He was going to hit an impossibly long 8-iron.
A few spectator notes: Erin Hills was just OK for viewing. The high mounds gave good sightlines, but were awfully far away. It wasn’t easy to maneuver if you didn’t have one of our beloved “inside-the-ropes’’ passes. Even then, the Hills part of Erin Hills complicated the sightlines and the walking.
No problem, though. First time around, there’s a learning curve.
I still don’t like the idea that Erin Hills is the only U.S. Open in the Central time zone from 2003 (Olympia Fields) to at least 2027, the next available date.
That’s 24 years, if you’re keeping score at home. Too long, even for Flyover Country. But I’ll save that rant for another day.
One of the troubling things about this Open is that Erin Hills somehow managed to take out 8 of the world’s top 12 golfers, including the top three, before the weekend.
I don’t completely understand why that happened. No disrespect to uber- talented Brooks Koepka, who played like a champion, especially on Sunday. And hats off to Justin “63’’ Thomas, Brian “5-foot-7, 150-pound southpaw’’ Harman and others who played well.
But I sort of feel like the U.S. Open produces more than its share of one-hit wonders. Even some of its two-hit wonders, and even one of its three-hit wonders, are not as high on my all-time golfers list as you would expect from multiple-U.S. Open champions.
But maybe that’s just me.
The point is, Erin Hills is a great layout that was in great shape—and it produced a pretty good tournament. The drama, which was good, would have been better if Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth had been trading punches. But they didn’t get it done.
At least we didn’t have any delayed-call penalties, like the one involving DJ at Oakmont last year, or the brown-greens debacle at Chambers Bay two years ago.
A nice clean Open. Nothing wrong with that.
Let’s face it. We like to dissect the U.S. Open. Because it’s our national championship, we want it to exceed expectations, if not be perfect.
The problem is, it doesn’t reach our lofty goals—well, mine, anyway—as often as the Masters and the British Open do.
Which is why I enjoy them more.
And now, we pause for this commercial message: If you are a TMG subscriber, thank you! And please tell your friends about us. . . . If you aren’t, please go push the $19.95 button. That’s like buying us a round of beers in exchange for a a whole annum of occasionally interesting sportswriting. Cheers!