The 117th United States Open Golf Championship will be played at Erin Hills in Wisconsin, 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee, beginning today at 11 a.m. CST. This will be the first time since 2003 that a U.S. Open will be played in the Midwest and the first time ever it has been played in Wisconsin. As always there are great storylines heading into the big event, but for me the story is how Erin Hills came to be and how it has landed itself a major event so quickly. Up until 2000, the U.S. Open was played almost exclusively on private courses. Since then however, it has been played eight times on publicly accessible courses. It was the dream of Bob Lang, a Delafield developer, to build a course in the Kettle Moraine of Wisconsin that would one day host our national championship. From what I understand Mr. Lang purchased an option to buy the 600 plus acres of cattle land in the late 90’s and had two years to act on it. In 2000 as he attended the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, one of the most famous golf courses in the world, it occurred to Lang that his land was better and more dramatic. Outside of a few holes bordering the ocean, Pebble Beach had nothing on the hundreds of acres he would soon own in the shadow of Holy Hill. To golf insiders, the notion of building a course for the United States Golf Association’s signature championship on speculation was laughable. No one had ever done such a thing. No matter how spectacular the land, the idea of staging the U.S. Open on a newly built public course in rural Wisconsin was almost beyond comprehension…except for Bob Lang. Construction began in 2004 and the course officially opened in 2006. Lang began his journey by hiring Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and Golf Digest architecture critic Ron Whitten. Their design theme was minimalism, moving little dirt at little cost to create a course with a $50 green fee. Determined to bring the U.S. Open to Erin Hills, Lang made many self funded changes during the next couple of years to the layout of the course, in fact dramatically changing several holes. Lang’s ultimate goal and obsession with bringing the U.S. Open to Wisconsin eventually forced him to sell the course, due to financial difficulties. In 2009, Andrew Ziegler purchased the course, removed hundreds of tress, built a magnificent clubhouse and modern maintenance facility, and also placed a ban on motorized carts to improve conditioning. Meaning unlike most modern courses, Erin Hills is not outfitted with paved cart paths, something I think is kind of cool to see. The course also includes a manor home specifically built as a hotel that includes a pub, and a refurbished barn available for private events. The grounds have been upgraded to include cottages for overnight stay. Erin Hills is also home to an Irish themed clover that was inspired by the old bell on the course imported from Europe. Keep in mind this is the first USGA regular men’s event ever awarded to a course owned by one person. Wow…what a track! (Source: PGATour; Wiki) Below are some additional highlights:
Par 72 – For the first time in 25 years – and just the ninth time since World War II — the U.S. Open scorecard is at par 72. The last time came at Pebble Beach in 1992, when the 502-yard second hole was still played as a par 5. Since then, the U.S. Open has generally been played at par 70, with Pebble Beach adjusted to par 71 the last two times it hosted the event. Erin Hills actually played to a par-73 in 2009 after some alterations to the course but switched back to par 72 the next year.
Bunkers Unlike Any Other – There are 138 of them. Unlike bunkers at most courses, there are almost NO flat bottoms. Tour pros who normally don’t mind finding bunkers if they miss a green will now have to suffer the consequences of a endless variety of uphill, downhill and sidehill lies. You’re going to see shots this year out of the bunker that you’ve never seen before, and comments from pros that you’ve never heard before. Players may face a restricted backswing or be unable to go at the pin from the bunker, instead having to choose a long iron to play sideways. The par-3 ninth has the toughest set of bunkers, including one with a narrow curlicue. If a ball winds up there, players may not even have a shot at the green, much less the pin.
Longest U.S. Open Course – The USGA noted the official yardage for Erin Hills at 7,741 yards. That would make it the longest in the tournament’s 117 years – if it’s played at that length, obviously it will vary each round depending on the setup. I’ve been hearing however that it feels like it’s playing shorter as it has four par-5’s.
Shootout To The Finish – The last six holes on Sunday could provide a frantic finish. There are two par 5s (holes 14 and 18), two par 4s (15 and 17) and two par 3s (13 and 16). And as mentioned earlier, the USGA has the option of making the 15th drivable. ??In other words the last five or six holes could produce a wild finish!
Kevin Na’s Tweet On Erin Hills Rough: Kevin Na isn’t so much concerned about hitting good shots out of the U.S. Open rough at Erin Hills this week, he is more concerned about finding his ball. During a practice round this week Na took to twitter to vent. See HERE. I have to believe a guy who is allowing distractions he has no control over isn’t mentally prepared to win the most grueling test in golf. Keep it in the fairway Kevin!
Davis Love III Will Caddie For Son “Dru”: Davis Love III is making his 24th appearance in the U.S. Open, only this time he will be cleaning clubs instead of hitting shots. He is caddying for his son. Davis Love IV, who just finished at Alabama and turned pro, qualified for his first U.S. Open as an alternate from the Georgia sectional qualifier. Dru couldn’t have more experience as Davis is a Major Champion and a Ryder Cup Captain. I can only imagine the memories the two will share in a rare opportunity for a father and son over Fathers Day Weekend.
Steve Stricker Plays His Way In: With the first ever U.S. Open being played in the state of Wisconsin, some though Steve Stricker would get an exemption. When the USGA turned him down he still a chance to play his way in. When he tapped in for birdie on his 36th hole in Tennessee, he finished as medalist and earned his way into the 117th U.S. Open. I wouldn’t imagine even the hometown crowd can push Stricker to victory but it sure would be nice to see him play on the weekend and get his due ovation on Sunday as he walks off 18 green.
Phil Mickelson To Miss Tournament For Daughters Graduation: Mickelson’s decision to attend commencement over a shot at closing out the career Grand Slam has been questioned by some and lauded by others. I have to applaud Phil’s decision to attend his daughters graduation, she will definitely remember it.
The Favorites: Dustin Johnson 6/1, followed by Rory McIlroy 9/1 and Jordan Spieth 10/1. I’m also hearing a lot of buzz about Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler and last years low amateur Jon Rahm.
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