The Scottish Mail on Sunday
Testing Hills course gives Rory and rivals mountain to climb
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a freak back injury on the eve of the tournament, while Rory McIlroy has sat out half of this season to date having withdrawn from as many tournaments as he has played with rib problems.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.