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The best take to the Erin Hills

Golf

The 117th US Open tees off in Wisconsin on Thursday. Jacques van der Westhuyzen highlights everything you need to know about the year’s second Major.

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The US Open Championship Trophy seen in the Lexus fan experience during the opening practice round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Erin Hills. Photo: Michael Madrid/USA TODAY Sports

KEY FACTS

IT’S NOT A LINKS COURSE

It looks like a “links” course – it’s got fescues grass, it’s got wind, it’s got no trees – but it’s not a “links” course. Rather, it’s what one of the course architects, Dana Fry, likes to call, a “heartland” course – something in between a links and parkland course.

IT’S A FIRST FOR WISCONSIN

Of the first 116 US Opens, 65 have been held in the Great Lakes region – 18 in New York, 17 in Pennsylvania, 13 in Illinois, seven in Ohio, six in Michigan and four in Minnesota. This will be the first US Open held in America’s Dairyland.

IT’S A PAR 72

For the first time in 25 years, the US Open scorecard is at par 72. The last time came at Pebble Beach in 1992, when the 502-yard second hole was still played as a par 5. Since then, the US Open has generally been played at par 70.

AVOID THE BUNKERS

There are 138 of them and unlike bunkers at most courses, there are almost no flat bottoms. Tour pros, who normally don’t mind finding bunkers if they miss a green, will now have to suffer the consequences of an endless variety of uphill, downhill and sidehill lies. They will have restricted backswings, and at times won’t even be allowed to play at the green, let alone the pin. These are genuine hazards.

FLEXIBILITY

Erin Hills could play differently off the tee in each of the four rounds, thanks to the flexibility the architects embedded with their design. Every hole, except the par-4 11th, has at least two different teeing grounds. The par-5 18th has four grounds. Depending on the yardage, the drive zone may be different, and bunkers may come into play one round and be a non-factor in another. Plus, the par-4 15th will likely be drivable in at least one round.

SIX HOLE SHOOTER

The last six holes on Sunday could provide a frantic finish. There are two par 5s (14 and 18), two par 4s (15 and 17) and two par 3s (13 and 16). Par 72 courses such as TPC Sawgrass and Augusta National have shown that having two par 5s on the back side can produce fireworks down the stretch.

THE SA CONTINGENT

CHARL SCHWARTZEL

The 32-year-old won the Masters in 2011, he won the Valspar Championship last year and he finished runner-up at the FedEX St Jude Classic on Sunday. He’s in decent form.

LOUIS OOSTHUIZEN

The winner of the Open Championship in 2010 is also in good form having made every cut on tour this season, with a best finish of tied-second at the Players.

BRANDEN GRACE

A man for the big occasion, the 25-year-old has done well at the Majors before, but he hasn’t set the scene alight since winning the RBC Heritage a year ago.

ERNIE ELS

The veteran, four-time Major winner has bagged two US open titles, in ‘94 and ‘97, but he has made just four cuts in America this year, possibly his last full season on tour.

GEORGE COETZEE

For many, the 30-year-old is the most likely local man to go all the way. He has performed well in recent weeks and with a trimmed body might be a surprise package.

BRANDON STONE

The three-time European Tour winner will tee it up at a US open for the first time which will excite him, but he’ll have to keep his emotions in check. Making the cut would be awesome.

THOMAS AIKEN

Like Coetzee and Stone, the 33-year-old had to qualify for the tournament, the second time he’ll play a US Open. He finished tied- 25th in 2015 and will hope for a good showing.

OLIVER BEKKER

The rookie in the field, the 32-year-old has enjoyed a stunning season, winning twice this season and finishing third on two occasions. This will be his Major debut.

A bell seen off the 7th fairway during the opening practice round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Erin Hills. Photo: : Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports

DARK HORSES

JASON DAY

The Australian can never be written off, but he has not hit the same heights he reached a few years ago when he won the PGA Championship in 2015 and finished second a year later. He’s not in the best form right now.

SERGIO GARCIA

The veteran Spaniard, pictured here, was a popular winner at the year’s first Major, the Masters, and wouldn’t it be great if he could go back-to-back? He’s got the game and the temperament, it’s just about putting it all together over four days.

RICKY FOWLER

The likeable, former Players champion, will be desperate to bag a Major and he’s got as good a chance as anyone this week. His form has been a bit up and down though and like so many of the favourites, he’ll want consistency in his game over the coming days.

HENDRIK STENSON

The Open Championship winner from a year ago hasn’t been in the best form this year, struggling with his irons and putting, but if he finds his game at Erin Hills, look out! The Swede has everything going for him to be a US Open winner, too.

THE CONTENDERS

DUSTIN JOHNSON

The defending champion has lost a bit of form since picking up an injury that forced him out of the Masters, but never write him off. He is a big bomber whose game will suit the course, so expect him to be back in the mix.

RORY MCILROY

A four-time Major winner, he has flown under the radar this season but, like Johnson, he hits it a mile so he’ll enjoy the course. If he starts well, he’ll be in contention come Sunday … and how awesome would that

JORDAN SPIETH

The young American loves the big stages of the golfing world and, with two Majors in the bag, he’s shown he has the game to be a winner. He goes into the tournament in hot form, but will need to keep his emotions in check if he’s to challenge.

JON RAHM

The young Spaniard could be the big star this week. He has already won on the PGA Tour in this, his rookie season. Rein Hills is a course that suits his big, booming drives.

@jacq_west

[email protected]

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