The Scottish Mail on Sunday

Test­ing Hills course gives Rory and ri­vals moun­tain to climb

- By Derek Lawren­son

FOR THE first time in 25 years the US Open this week will be staged on a course with a par as high as 72 but that might be where the good news ends for those who will gather for the sea­son’s sec­ond ma­jor.

Not for noth­ing do they sell hats in the club­house bear­ing the in­scrip­tion: ‘Erin Hills — not for the faint of heart.’

Given the orig­i­nal owner was not happy un­til tees were put in place to cre­ate a course mea­sur­ing 8,800 yards per­haps we should be thank­ful it will ‘only’ play at 7,700 yards, oth­er­wise we might have been see­ing six-and-a-half-hour rounds and oxy­gen tanks handed out for ex­haus­tion.

But the over­rid­ing im­pres­sion left on ev­ery­one who has seen it so far is that it this course is still long. Very long. Only 11 years old and host­ing its first ma­jor, Erin Hills, sit­u­ated about 45 min­utes from Mil­wau­kee, Wis­con­sin also has some­thing of a links feel with deep, pe­nal bunkers, few even lies and fur­ther pro­tec­tion usu­ally pro­vided by test­ing breezes. With gen­er­ous, fast-run­ning fair­ways by US Open stan­dards that al­low the pos­si­bil­ity for 400-yard plus drives, it should also of­fer the two men at the top of the game every chance of mov­ing on from past dis­ap­point­ments.

De­fend­ing cham­pion Dustin John­son had to sit out the Mas­ters when in the form of his life af­ter suf­fer­ing a freak back in­jury on the eve of the tour­na­ment, while Rory McIl­roy has sat out half of this sea­son to date hav­ing with­drawn from as many tour­na­ments as he has played with rib prob­lems.

McIl­roy was due to play the course yes­ter­day with joint course ar­chi­tect Dana Fry and will hope in­ten­sive prepa­ra­tion makes up for the ob­vi­ous dan­ger of com­pet­i­tive rust. At least the North­ern Ir­ish­man will be buoyed by a favourable draw for the first two rounds, since he will play with Ja­son Day and Justin Rose. Then there is Phil Mickelson, who is down to play in the first round even though he will be at­tend­ing his daugh­ter Amy’s high school grad­u­a­tion on the same day in Cal­i­for­nia.

A six-time US Open run­ner-up and still chas­ing the one ma­jor he has not won, the lefty is ev­i­dently hop­ing for a weather de­lay so he can fly across the coun­try in his pri­vate jet to play. All very com­mend­able want­ing to at­tend his daugh­ter’s big day, of course, but the first al­ter­nate for the tour­na­ment has every right not to feel so im­pressed. Talk about want­ing to have your cake and eat it. One man who def­i­nitely will not be there is Steven Trat­tner, who saw the po­ten­tial for a great golf course and talked a lo­cal busi­ness­man into buy­ing the land. Trat­tner was on the cusp of be­com­ing the first gen­eral man­ager when he went home one night and mur­dered his wife. Now in­mate num­ber 500995 at a nearby max­i­mum se­cu­rity pen­i­ten­tiary, he will watch the ac­tion from be­hind bars.

What­ever im­pres­sion Erin Hills leaves this week, it has to be an im­prove­ment on that one.

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