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Friday, June 16, 2017

Some Observations on Erin Hills

No one knew what to expect when the US Open actually got started at Erin Hills. After all, it looked like a bomber's paradise.

Rickie Fowler on the tee at Erin Hills

What we learned in short order is that Mike Davis is as devious as Pete Dye. Erin Hills is a wolfish US Open layout in sheep's clothing. Those wide open fairways aren't as wide as they appear. How can that be? Isn't a 60-foot wide fairway plenty wide for all but the worst hack? Aren't the knee-deep fields of fescue too far off the centerline to cause trouble for the best in the world?

Much has been made of the lay of the land, shaped by receding glaciers 10,000 years ago and barely altered by the architects. But those severe mounds and valleys, coupled with tilted fairways that resemble waves on a stormy green sea, mean that golf balls don't necessarily bounce in predictable ways.

And apparently -- this is why I liken Davis to Dye -- apparently the length of the course and the rolling fairways create an illusion of narrowness, and Davis recognized this when he walked the original routing, even before the course was built. Even the best golfers, all of whom are familiar with the optical illusions Dye creates in his designs, simply can't convince themselves that they have enough room to just "let 'er fly." Instead, they tend to overshape their shots, actually flying the ball deep into the fescue.

With rare exceptions, it was the shorter hitters who posted the best scores on Thursday. Of the Tour's 26 hitters who average over 300 yards, only Brooks Koepka (#5 in the list) and Xander Schauffele (#22) made it into the Top10 on the leaderboard. Kevin Na's tweet that short hitters had a chance because accuracy would be more important than length this week -- and that short hitters are naturally more accurate -- seems to have been prophetic.

Then again, perhaps the shorter hitters just can't reach the fescue. That might have something to do with it as well.

As for the scores, Rickie Fowler's -7 tied the record for lowest opening round score in relation to par. The other holders of the record? Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskop, who both shot -7 (aggregate score: 63) at Baltusrol in 1980. It's worth noting that Jack won the tournament with -8.

Rickie's total on Thursday tells us nothing about what might win this week, but I won't be surprised if we see something similar -- either because the USGA toughens up the course (they probably feel safe doing so now) or because bad weather comes in.

There were also a record number of players under par -- a total of 44. However, only ten scored -4 or better, and another seven posted -3. So while there may have been more scores under par, most of them weren't unrealistically low. I don't think it will mean much for the final result.

Ultimately, I think this US Open will play out much as the others have. The USGA will toughen up the course, and the weather will complicate things (either with dry conditions and wind, or wet conditions and wind). It's possible that we could see a record low score, of course. But except for Tiger's win in 2000 (-12) and Rory's in 2011 (-16) -- both of which were weather-related -- no one has EVER needed a final score of more than -9 to take the title. I don't expect this championship to be any different.

Oh, and one more thing: Yesterday I said I suspected the 6-9pm ET broadcast on Fox would be a recap. I was wrong. I didn't take the time zone into account. The late broadcast on Fox is showing the late groupings, so you'll want to check it out if your favorite player has a late tee time today.


  1. Main difference is that Dye doesn't like all short par 4s


    Oakland Hills or Olympic Club?