The golf world has turned their attention to Erin, Wisconsin, population 3,664, as 156 of the world’s best amateur and professional golfers will tee it up at Erin Hills to try to be the 117th US Open champion. Erin Hills will be making its first public appearance to the public sports world, outside of die-hard golf fans, so here’s everything you’ll need to know heading into Thursday of the United States Golf Association championship.
Erin Hills is a daunting test of golf. Stretching out to 8000+ yards with tee markers pushed all the way back (for all of you who don’t know, that’s a lot of golf course.). The par-72 layout provides a type of look that is uncommon to American golf courses. With a relatively flat contour and high fescue lining each side of the fairways, Erin Hills appears to be built a lot like a European-style course. The course, designed by the Hurdzan golf design company, uses the natural lay of the land to provide a formidable test of golf.
Hosting USGA Championships is nothing new for Erin Hills. The Hurdzan design, built in 2004 and opened in 2006, has hosted the US Women’s Public Links Amateur in 2008 and the US Amateur in 2011. However a plot twist has taken place in 2017.
The USGA, famously known for coming in and making drastic changes to make courses harder for the Open, was even taken back by the blatant difficulty of Erin Hills, calling for changes to make the golf course a little more manageable, even for the best players in the world. So don’t be surprised to see USGA officials having the course playing only 7600 or 7700 yards, still long, but not the gargantuan 8000+ that the course has the ability to play to.
A rare last second change was made to the golf course as well. On Tuesday the USGA announced they would be cutting the fescue lining the fairways shorter, because…well… as Kevin Na found out the hard way it’s not fun to hit out of.
No matter if you find the course conditions to be inhumane or embody what an Open should be like, there’s no doubt Erin Hills will deliver a thrilling week of golf.
The US Open, as the name suggests, is open to any professional or amateur with a USGA handicap index under 1.4. This makes the Open field the most diverse in the world with this mix of pros and amateurs alike. In the past couple years the Open has served as a stepping stone for great seasons (Jordan Speith in 2015 and Dustin Johnson in 2016), so it is very possible we could see a first time winner lifting the 18 inch silver jug come Sunday evening.
Half of the 156 man field has reached Erin Hills on exemptions given out by the USGA, and those who found themselves not on that exemption list, professional or not, must go through the gauntlet known as local and sectional qualifying. To be one of the 78 to survive the qualifying stages is a big accomplish in its own right as 8,979 players vied to make it to Erin Hills this June.
14 amateurs will be teeing it up this week and are hoping to do the impossible, win the Open as an amateur. It’s fair to note that it has been done before, but not in 84 years when amateur John Goodman won in 1933.
With such a large field it becomes even more important to separate the contenders from the pretenders, so here’s my predictions for who will be in contention coming down the stretch Sunday.
WHO TO WATCH FOR:
Stewart Hagestad (Amateur)
It’s not realistic to say Hagestad will definitely be in contention at Erin Hills, however the 2016 US Mid-Am Champion did win low amateur honors at Augusta this April. Hagestad, a financial analyst in New York City, played at perennial power USC proving he is and has been good for a while now. He may just be able to come away as low amateur in the year’s first two majors with solid play.
The Spanish born rookie, is in fact nothing close to playing like a rookie. With a win in the Farmers Insurance Open earlier this season, as well as being in contention on the weekend in numerous events this year, Rahm is no stranger to pressure-packed Sunday’s. Not to mention Erin Hills is made for Rahm’s game with his long and pinpoint accurate drives off the tee. Expect some low scores from this Spaniard this week, as a win may propel him into a conversation with the likes of Speith, Day, and Johnson as the next generation to take the sport by storm.
Day is another play whose mouth should be watering at the chance to play Erin Hills. The 29 year-old Aussie, who is a 10-time tour winner, also has great length off the tee but has fallen victim to inaccuracy with his driver in the past. Luckily enough for Jason, Erin Hills has some of the most welcoming fairways a major championship has ever seen with some even stretching as wide as 60 yards. Add in the fact that Day is masterful around the greens, (1st on the PGA Tour in strokes gained around the green) this could be the perfect storm for Day to become the third Australian to win an US Open.
A dark-horse selection for sure, but Kisner may be the hottest player in the world right now with a win at the Dean and Deluca Invitational less than a month ago to go with five other top ten finishes in 2017. The 33 year-old from South Carolina won’t overpower Erin Hills by any means, but is statistically the most solid player on tour being in the top 40 of all six strokes gained categories. A win from Kisner this week in Wisconsin would mark the official coming-out party for the hottest player on tour right now, who is still flying under the radar.
US Open coverage starts at 11am Thursday on Fox Sports 1 and will continue all week on Fox Sports Networks. Come back to Send It Sports for a recap of the action after each day.