If it is early June, the pros must already be whining about the U.S. Open set up. This year the tour heads to the farmland of Wisconsin to tackle Erin Hills. To induce the U.S.G.A. to choose Erin Hills, the ownership agreed to close the course for nearly a year. As such, I am told the condition is pristine. Nevertheless, there is already grumbling about the rough. Since the course will be one of the longest in history (just under 8,000 yards, depending upon the tee boxes) the professionals will have to be bombing from the tee. An inaccurate drive is likely to be heavily punished. The greens will undoubtedly be lightening fast, so there will be a premium on the short game. Lastly, Erin Hills is quite a trek. When I have played there I typically start to drag around number 15.
Based upon the foregoing, the winner is likely to be someone who drives the ball long and straight, has tremendous patience, can putt lights out and is in good physical shape. This is the first men’s professional event on the site, so few of the players will have much experience with the course.
Here are my top 10 choices for the second major of 2017:
Dustin Johnson will be at the top of everyone’s list. The world number 1 seems to have recovered after his layoff. He leads the tour in Driving Distance and Shots Gained off the Tee. He is only 57th in Shots Gained Putting, but figures to have an advantage on most of the field as he leads in Greens in Regulation. He is number 1 in Overall Shots Gained. If Dustin can keep from injuring himself off the course he figures to be a heavy favorite.
Justin Thomas has had a tremendous year. The diminutive Thomas is tied for 11 in Driving Distance, and 12th in Greens in Regulation. Despite the high percentage of greens in regulation he ranks 29th in Shots Gained Putting. This is a formidable combination. It is hard not to like Jordan Spieth’s old college teammate in Wisconsin this week.
Rory McIlroy feels like a guy who is about to find his “A” game. Another bomber, Rory would be my pick if he were making putts. The first round is always critical for McIlroy, who has shown a recent propensity for having to come from behind.
Ricky Fowler continues to amaze and frustrate. Statistically, only Dustin Johnson leads him in Overall Shots Gained. Fowler is 33 in Driving Distance and 25 in Driving Accuracy. Shots Gained Tee to Green he is ranked 11 and he is ranked 7 in Shots Gained Putting. If he does not flame out with a couple to triple bogeys, he could win his first major. I worry about his ability to finish, but one of these days his lead will be large enough to take off the pressure.
Jon Rahm has not been as hot as early in the year, but continues to challenge the leaderboard. He does not seem fazed by the pressure, so he should be fine. Rahm is 13 in Driving Distance and 3rd in Overall Shots Gained. Number 15 in Greens in Regulation suggests an excellent ball striker. A win by Rahm would not be a complete surprise.
Jason Day has shown me nothing so far in 2017 to suggest he deserves to be here, however, he is less than one year removed from being the best golfer on the planet. Day has the long game to compete, however, his approach shots and putting have fallen off. Biggest concern is that he seems to be pressing. Nevertheless, he has demonstrated an ability to hit all the shots, so his inclusion, like that of McIlroy, seems necessary.
Justin Rose has proven he has the game to win a U.S. Open. He has plenty of length, is a great ball striker and has the ability to get the ball in the cup. With a winning total near even par, he should be in the hunt. Rose is 16th in Greens in Regulation and 13th in Overall Shots Gained. His experience under pressure could come in handy. The Olympic gold medalist is one of the better bets to garner a top ten. He will need to make some putts, however, to win.
Sergio Garcia got the monkey off his back with the Green Jacket. He is playing at an elite level and could easily be a factor this week. Sergio has a good record in majors when it comes to top 10’s. He is 12th in Overall Shots Gained and second in Shots Gained off the Tee. Garcia is also ranked 7th in Greens in Regulation. All of these statistics would suggest a hot putter could carry him to victory.
Brooks Koepka does not have a major win on his resume, but Erin Hills seems to set up well. He is number 5 in Driving Distance, and number 24 in Shots Gained Putting. Greens in regulation will have to improve.
Hideki Matsuyama is too good at ball striking to leave off the list. He is 21st in Driving Distance and 10th in Greens in Regulation. As always, with Matsuyama, the flat stick is the biggest area of concern. The current ranking of 181 in Shots Gained Putting makes a win this week less likely.
There are a few others to consider. I do not know what to make of Jordan Spieth. Although he seems to be in a slump, the numbers suggest otherwise. Mentally, he is tough enough to win and no one doubts his putting ability. I am just not sure he will be handle his innumerable trips into the “hay”. Adam Scott claims he is starting to putt better, which could make him a factor. Daniel Berger is coming off a great win last week, and could find himself challenging again.
I am saving my money on Bubba Watson, despite his length and better recent performances. Henrik Stenson seems to be off form. Matt Kuchar has been playing well, but like Zach Johnson probably does not have the distance to challenge for the lead. I think the physical challenges will be difficult for some of the older guys like Furyk and Stricker to survive four days.
Regardless the outcome, the field is terrific and there are a number of great pairings. Matsuyama, Fowler and Rahm go early on Thursday, with Spieth, Kaymer and DJ a bit later. In the afternoon, Day, Rose and McIlroy could be fascinating. This is definite must watch television, especially given the potential for big swings on any given hole.
Weekly Observation: I hope the weather is poor on Thursday so Michelson can make the field. I do not, however, think he has a chance to win on this course. Nevertheless, no U.S. Open should be played without Lefty.
Paul Laubach is completely unqualified to provide expertise with respect to golf course rankings and design, however, he is a highly opinionated golf addict who believes everyone should be entitled to his thoughts. He has recently released Confessions of a Golfaholic: A Guide to Playing America’s Top 100 Public Golf Courses; now available in hardcover edition. Please visit tophundredgolf.com regularly for more (im)practical information.