DID ERIN HILLS DE­LIVER AS A MA­JOR VENUE?

It was the long­est course in US Open his­tory... but failed to test the best. So where now?

Golf World (UK) - - Us Open Review -

It was never go­ing to be your typ­i­cal US Open. Con­sider the fol­low­ing. At nearly 8,000 yards in length, Erin Hills was the long­est course ever to host Amer­ica’s na­tional cham­pi­onship. For the first time since 1992 at Peb­ble Beach, a level-par round would add up to 72, not 70. For the first time ever, the cham­pi­onship was be­ing held in the state of Wis­con­sin. And the course set-up? Some fair­ways would be 60 yards wide, bor­dered (even­tu­ally) by per­haps the only sur­vivor from a more tra­di­tional US Open course pre­sen­ta­tion: pe­nal rough in­tended to re­duce even the most gifted per­former to the level of mere hacker.

Pre­dictably, the den­sity of the fes­cue grass off the fair­ways pro­voked out­rage in cer­tain quar­ters. Amer­i­can Kevin Na’s rant on so­cial me­dia was first. Then Lee West­wood, ac­com­pa­nied by ‘crawl­ing through the un­der­growth cad­die’ Billy Fos­ter, made his point more sub­tly and hu­mor­ously. And PGA Tour player Wes­ley Bryan il­lus­trated how easy it was to lose a ball only feet off the fair­way.

On the other hand, when the USGA suc­cumbed and ‘har­vested’ much of the rough in the lead-up to the cham­pi­onship, Rory McIl­roy was quick to take of­fence. “If you can’t hit a 60-yard wide tar­get off the tee you re­ally shouldn’t be here,” was the gist of the world num­ber two’s ar­gu­ment.

In­evitably though, the main fo­cus as far as the course was con­cerned fell on the un­prece­dented yardage, a num­ber that, in­ad­ver­tently or not, re­vealed some of mod­ern-day pro­fes­sional golf’s home truths. Able to use their driv­ers with some­thing close to im­punity, the play­ers pro­duced some ex­tra­or­di­nary num­bers. At the half­way mark, for ex­am­ple, as many as 116 mem­bers of the field were av­er­ag­ing over 300 yards from the tee.

Anec­do­tal ev­i­dence abounded of how far the mod­ern ball can travel when struck by mas­sive driver heads. The forced carry from tee to 1st fair­way was 278 yards – no prob­lem. De­fend­ing cham­pion Dustin John­son was through the green in two shots on the 676-yard 18th hole. And the new cham­pion, Brooks Koepka, struck a 379yard 3-wood off the same tee en route to vic­tory. Clearly, dis­tance alone is not some­thing that scares or in­tim­i­dates the 21st cen­tury pro­fes­sional.

Then again, many fin­gers pointed to the win­ning score of 16 un­der par, ty­ing the record-low for the cham­pi­onship. While much of that can be put down to the rais­ing of the par – re­duc­ing just a cou­ple of the par 5s to 4s would have left Koepka only eight-un­der for the week – it is clear that Erin Hills has left the USGA with a choice to make in fu­ture. Do they re­turn to the tried-and-tested for­mat of nar­row fair­ways, thick rough and firm, fast greens? Or are we on the edge of an era that will soon see US Open cour­ses stretched be­yond 8,000 yards in an at­tempt to bring the driver back into play and re­tain the width that was such a fea­ture at Erin Hills?

THE TAKE­AWAY: The fact that pretty much ev­ery player in the field lauded the de­sign should tell you that Erin Hills de­serves an­other shot at host­ing a US Open, but it will need nar­rower fair­ways, thin­ner fes­cue, a lit­tle less rain and more wind to make it a proper chal­lenge for the world’s best.

‘ARE WE ON THE EDGE OF AN ERA OF US OPEN COUR­SES BE­YOND 8,000 YARDS?’

Erin Hills’ his­toric length did not un­duly test the world’s finest play­ers.

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