2017 U.S. Open Preview
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.
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?