2017 U.S. Open Pre­view

HK Golfer - - Contents - By Mike Wil­son

The mus­cu­lar na­ture of the Erin Hills course, reach­ing close to 8,000-yards could play into the hands of the big hit­ters, per­haps po­si­tion­ing de­fend­ing cham­pion Dustin John­son in the box seat.

With a prize fund of US$12m, this month’s U.S. Open will see the win­ner bank the first-ever US$2mil­lion cham­pion’s cheque, as the event tops the ‘Ma­jors’ money list, ahead of the Mas­ters, the Open Cham­pi­onship and the USPGA Cham­pi­onship. As Mike Wil­son writes, the mus­cu­lar na­ture of the Erin Hills course, reach­ing close to 8,000-yards could play into the hands of the big hit­ters,

per­haps po­si­tion­ing de­fend­ing cham­pion Dustin John­son in the box seat.

Erin Hills is ev­ery­thing a U.S. Open Cham­pi­onship should be, an au­then­tic ex­am­i­na­tion of the best play­ers in world golf, test­ing their phys­i­cal­ity and men­tal­ity in solv­ing the many prob­lems and ques­tions this course poses, us­ing ev­ery club in the bag and shot in their ar­mory, and, as a bonus, whether watch­ing at home on TV or for­tu­nate enough to be amongst the 35,000-strong daily gal­leries, it’s nat­u­rally scenic, wild but spec­ta­tor friendly.

Hav­ing ex­am­ined the scale and na­ture of the task at hand, pick­ing a win­ner looks ev­ery bit as tricky as the Mil­wau­kee course it­self.

De­fend­ing cham­pion Dustin John­son has been, for var­i­ous rea­sons - pri­mar­ily in­juries this time around - what they would call in horserac­ing par­lance, ‘Lightly-raced,’ this term, just 10 ap­pear­ances up to the Play­ers Cham­pi­onship; it’s been a mat­ter of qual­ity over quan­tity, three suc­ces­sive vic­to­ries, in­clud­ing back-to-back WGC ti­tles, plus two top-three fin­ishes, just the one half­way cut missed, and that’s why DJ is the clear favourite to win the 117th U.S. Open Cham­pi­onship.

Favourite he may be, but, if history is to be be­lieved, the odds are stacked against him; only five times in the 122-year history of the event has the US Open ti­tle been suc­cess­fully de­fended by the reign­ing cham­pion and only twice, by Ben Ho­gan in 1950 and 1951 and Cur­tis Strange in 1988 and 1989 since World War II.

Win­ning the US Open is clearly one thing, but the pres­sures of com­ing into mid-June and the USGA set­ting the golf course up to de­mand the best and pro­tect its in­tegrity and do it all over again the fol­low­ing year is clearly some­thing many great past cham­pi­ons have found all too tough.

Greats of the game such as Wal­ter Hagen, Jack Nick­laus, Hale Ir­win, Lee Trevino,

Tom Wat­son, Andy North, Retief Goosen, Ernie Els, and even Tiger Woods all won the US Open on more than one oc­ca­sion, but a suc­cess­ful ti­tle de­fense eluded them.

Look­ing for a prospec­tive US Open Cham­pi­onship win­ner in par­tic­u­lar is never easy, es­pe­cially with 14 dif­fer­ent cham­pi­ons over the past 14 years, but, given the sheer length and de­mand­ing na­ture of the course, to­gether with the phys­i­cal and men­tal de­mands of clos­ing the deal on the big­gest stage of all, one could be for­given for think­ing that the long­est hit­ters – like Dustin John­son - will be at a dis­tinct ad­van­tage.

Hit­ting the green in reg­u­la­tion (GIR) could be key to win­ning the event too, DJ is up top too for GIR at 75.21%, fol­lowed by Jor­dan Spi­eth (73.89%), Gar­cía (73.15%), Mat­suyama (71.2%), Rahm (70.58%) and Rose (70.14%), these ‘Steady Ed­dies,’ with length on their side too are likely to be in the mix.

But, ac­cu­racy off-the-tee is of­ten as im­por­tant as length; John­son is al­ways long but of­ten way­ward, find­ing the fair­way just 58.31% of the time.

Fac­tor in GIR from over 200-yards and John­son’s prospects, per­haps sur­pris­ingly, take a turn for the worse, hit­ting the green just 53.33% of the time, his sin­gle putt per­cent­age be­low 40%; DJ has been known to get the jit­ters over those vi­tal putts, of­ten par-saves from 5ft – 10ft, and he’s way off the scale as the 188th best on the PGA Tour, not much bet­ter from 15ft – 20ft, putts of­ten for birdie in 118th place, and 87th in hol­ing-out from be­tween 20ft – 25ft.

If not DJ, who ad­mit­tedly rates highly in the only sta­tis­tics that ul­ti­mately count, scor­ing av­er­age (69.19), money won (US$6,006,600) and wins (three-from-eight) the then who might in­herit the crown?

Sta­tis­ti­cal anal­y­sis can be about as re­li­able as a mys­tic read­ing tea-leaves, but the 2017 U.S. Open Cham­pi­onship win­ner, who will have earned ev­ery cent of his US$2m first

prize (which, gen­er­ous though it may be com­pares un­favourably with the US$3.5m on of­fer to the men’s and women’s sin­gles cham­pi­ons at ten­nis’s U.S. Open) around a course that is quite dif­fer­ent to those the PGA Tour pros play over week-in, week-out.

The cham­pion is go­ing to be the player who brings his best all-round game to an Erin Hills course that will test ev­ery com­po­nent part of his game; thus, play­ers who rank above av­er­age in all parts of the game are likely to pre­vail and who can cope with both pres­sure, the un­ex­pected and the phys­i­cal­ity of an atyp­i­cal PGA tour course are most likely to be in con­tention go­ing down the stretch.

Hav­ing got the mon­key off his back by win­ning the 2017 Mas­ters, Sergio Gar­cía could go well, as could those who have been there be­fore, Rory McIl­roy, Ja­son Day, Hen­rik Sten­son, Justin Rose and Martin Kaymer.

Of those with­out a ‘Ma­jor’ win to date - let alone a U.S. Open Cham­pi­onship - Ja­panese star Hideki Mat­suyama has the game and the tem­per­a­ment, ris­ing Span­ish star Jon Rahm is in the form of his life and 2010 U.S. Open cham­pion Graeme McDow­ell is, at last, show­ing some signs of a re­nais­sance.

But, hav­ing looked at the Erin Hills course and ex­am­ined the sta­tis­ti­cal cre­den­tials of those who hope to reign supreme in the late af­ter­noon of the fi­nal Sun­day be­fore mid-sum­mer’s day, clutch­ing at straws is the last re­sort.

Three things have made Mil­wau­kee fa­mous, first, it’s the home of the Miller Brew­ing em­pire, sec­ond, the HQ of the iconic Har­ley-David­son mo­tor­cy­cle is in the city and, third, the 1969 hit song, ‘What made Mil­wau­kee Fa­mous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me) ‘; but, with­out a Miller, Har­ley, David­son, Lee or Lewis in the bounds of pos­si­bil­ity, I’m play­ing it safe and go­ing for a Euro­pean win­ner, a toss-up be­tween Justin Rose and Jon Rahm.

36

Dustin John­son poses with the win­ner's tro­phy af­ter win­ning the U.S. Open at Oak­mont Coun­try Club last year; Ris­ing Span­ish star Jon Rahm (far left), who was still an am­a­teur by the time, is in the form of his life this sea­son

The mus­cu­lar na­ture of the Erin Hills course, reach­ing close to 8,000-yards could play into the hands of the big hit­ters

Justin Rose looks to the heav­ens in ac­knowl­edge­ment of his de­ceased fa­ther af­ter putting on the 18th hole to win the U.S. Open in 2013. Can he win it again?

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