11th June 2018 Update: Steve Bamford has now published his final US Open tips - you can read his thoughts on the event here.
June in the golfing world means only one thing…it must be time for the US Open!
There's no doubt that the United States Open Championship is the hardest of the 4 Major Championships to win from a course difficulty perspective. The US Open has a history of visiting the most challenging classical golf courses across the country and 2018 is no exception with the United States Golf Association (USGA) selecting Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in New York State as the host course. This will be the 5th US Open held at the course, which is located close to the wealthy Hamptons area on eastern Long Island, and will be played from Thursday 14th June to Sunday 17th July 2018.
Now into our 9th season, Golf Betting System will as ever be hunting for profit with our betting previews from Paul Williams and Steve Bamford. Golf Betting System has full 2018 coverage with US Open tips, long-shot and alternative market selections, a full range of free course and player statistics, plus of course our famous statistical Predictor Model. You can also listen to our weekly Golf Betting System podcast which is also available on iTunes.
Recent US Open history features a new breed of Major winners. 2017 saw the power-packed Brooks Koepka shoot a joint-record US Open low score total of -16/272 on an Erin Hills course which was far too easy. 2016 saw the buccaneering Dustin Johnson show huge mental resolve to capture his first Major Championship despite being told on the 12th tee of the final round that he was being assessed for a one-shot penalty sustained for his ball moving on the 5th green as he was addressing his putt. 2015 saw 21 year-old Jordan Spieth win back-to-back Majors at a versatile Chambers Bay course which split the opinions of both players and the wider golfing public. 2014 saw Martin Kaymer in a class of his own as he made playing Pinehurst Number 2 look unnaturally easy on his way to winning his 2nd Major title. 2013 saw Justin Rose capture his first Major Championship with an emotional victory at Merion Golf Club. These victories followed on from first Major wins from Webb Simpson (Olympic Club 2012), Rory McIlroy (Congressional 2011), Graeme McDowell (Pebble Beach 2010) and Lucas Glover (Bethpage Black 2009). So just who will be the 2018 US Open champion?
Course Information: Shinnecock Hills is an inland links-style golf course, famous for being the first links golf course in the United States. One of the founding courses of the USGA and certainly an iconic United States golf course, Shinnecock Hills was re-designed in the 1930's by William S. Flynn. An open property set in rolling hills, Shinnecock features plenty of long fescue grass, the likes of which players love to take images of their balls disappearing into before the tournament. In reality though, the course is actually wide for a US Open venue, despite a move in late 2017 where 7 acres of the club's 50 acres of fairway were replaced by mowed fescue and full grown seed-headed fescue.
The course has also been significantly changed since the last US Open held here in 2004 which was won by Retief Goosen. A Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore (think Pinehurst Number 2) inspired renovation in 2012 saw hundreds of trees removed, green sizes increased and over 400 yards added in length. With ever changing routing, the real challenge of Shinnecock for the players is thinking about the wind and understanding how to hit relatively small and well-defended green complexes. A commonly held view is that Shinnecock Hills feels more like Scotland than almost any other golf course in the United States.
Shinnecock Hills Golf Course, Southampton, New York: Designer: William S Flynn, 1937, with Crenshaw & Coore renovation, 2012; Course Type: Technical, Inland Links; Par: 70; Length: 7,445 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 0; Fairways: Bentgrass and Poa Annua; Rough: Bluegrass, Rye and Fescue; Greens: 6,000 sq.ft average Poa Annua.
Shinnecock Hills is undoubtedly a United States classic. The club has hosted US Opens across the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries and golf history is absolutely everywhere in the clubhouse. A true links golf course, the course has a Scottish feel to it and across the 1995 US Open won by Corey Pavin and the 2004 renewal won by Retief Goosen it yielded winning scores of Even/280 and -4/276. Going back to 2004, the tournament highlights the well-known fact that links golf is inextricably linked to weather conditions. With a softer than desired golf course and light winds on the opening day, Angel Cabrera, Jay Haas and Shigeki Maruyama shot -4/66s to lead. Jeff Maggert on Friday led at one point at -7, with Maruyama and Mickelson eventually leaving the course with the joint lead at -6/134. But with the course becoming increasingly firm and fast, allied to stronger, gusting winds, scoring stalled. At tournament's close, Goosen and Mickelson were the only players under par.
So what should we expect in 2018? Course-wise, Shinnecock Hills following the restoration in 2012 now plays some 450 yards longer after championship tees were added on 10 holes. 7,445 yards for a Par 70 is stretching. Below you can see how Shinnecock compares to other post-2010 Par 70 Major Championships host courses:
Shinnecock is a strategic golf course, which, unlike Erin Hills, cannot be totally overpowered by the bombers. A set of 4 par-3s which include the 254 yard 2nd Hole are mentioned in the highest regards from a global standpoint. 7 of 12 par-4s are over 450 yards, with the 3rd and 14th playing over 500 yards. As you would also expect with a US Open venue, the par-5s are no pushovers either at 587 yards (5th) and 612 yards (16th) from the tips.
But there are a couple of interesting points which we need to bear in mind with the revised Shinnecock track. Firstly, whereas the sub-7,000 yard layout featured fairways which ranged in width from 26 to 28 yards, the Coore and Crenshaw renovation, in their quest to take the course back to its 1930's William Flynn roots, widened the fairways to over 40 yards in lots of circumstances. Now the USGA with their desire to make the course more of a challenge, in September last year replaced some significant chunks of fairway with rough. But they readily admit that Shinnecock's fairways will be the widest that we have seen in Championship play at 28-34 yards in the typical landing areas. That's very generous in modern day golf terms when compared to the likes of very long Torrey Pines South where fairway widths are 26 yards at 300 yards from the tee. To add a little detail, the 13th hole features the thinnest fairway at 19 yards at 275 yards from the tee. But apart from that, all holes feature fairways that are a minimum of 30 yards wide, with the 8th at a huge 64 yards wide. No matter how you look at this set-up, power is sure to be a huge advantage and even inaccurate drivers will find plenty of short grass.
Secondly the renovation also saw green sizes grow a little, so green complexes at 6,000 sq.ft average are more generous than those we saw in 2004. Putting surfaces are Poa Annua, which we know aren't to every player's taste.
So undoubtedly Shinnecock Hills, as per all links venues, will play as hard as the conditions allow. A firm course, with target 12.5ft stimp greens and plenty of wind, will be an absolute beast. However if Mother Nature throws rain into the mix and tranquil conditions, no matter what Mike Davis and the USGA try to do, this will be a mid-score (-10 and above) winning golf tournament.
Below are some revealing comments about Shinnecock Hills from the USGA CEO Mike Davis:
Mike Davis: "What you will see today is those fairways which used to be 26 yards wide for this U.S. Open will average 41 yards wide. So this is a wider U.S. Open, but we think it's appropriate. It really allows the best players in the world, to use angles and brings bunkers into play and I think when you look at it aesthetically it by and large makes sense.
Another thing that has changed from the U.S. Open held here 14 years ago was that you will see much larger closely mown areas around these greens. Many of these holes had rough right up against the greens, which is how it was designed when Flynn built the course. So the club did a marvellous job taking these out. So right off the bat when you play the 1st hole, when you used to go over that green it falls down a hill. If you went over the green you used to go into the rough. Now all of a sudden you go down a hill, and what these closely mown areas do - think Pinehurst Number 2 - what they do is give options to the players, but they don't necessarily make it easier. So a player might be able to putt it, hit a bump and run, hit a pitch shot. But it gives options to the players, but also gets a ball farther away from the green when you miss it."
Rory McIlroy also had this to say about Shinnecock at the recent Memorial Tournament:
Rory McIlroy: "Yeah, I think, I mean, look, I think they would love to get it fast and firm and that would play more like an Open Championship than it does a U.S. Open, but Shinnecock doesn't give you the opportunity too much to run balls into greens. You still have to fly it on to the greens. Where an Open Championship on a links course over there you can run it in. So you still have flight your irons, you still have to be able to stop it pretty quickly, especially if they do get the greens as firm as they want them."
Below are some revealing comments about Shinnecock Hills from the 2004 US Open:
Retief Goosen: "Today the wind got up. It really turned within one hole. When we played the first hole we played it downwind, and when we got to the second tee, the wind was completely turned around and we were playing into the wind instead of downwind. The wind suddenly switched within one hole, and that made the golf course play a little bit different. Today the golf course really played like a US Open. The greens were pretty much dead out there. There's a few pins that we saw on TV, the ball runs up to the hole and runs away from the hole. And the fairways and the wind got up, so today the course really showed its teeth. A lot of elevation and sidehill and uphill lies and things like that. You've just got to try and hit the fairways and keep it below the hole and give yourself uphill putts, which some of the holes are pretty impossible to leave yourself an uphill putt."
Phil Mickelson: "Well, I did come in early, and the way I'll attack the course won't be too different than say a Tour event with the exception that you cannot fly the ball at the hole here and get the ball to stop, so you have to be very careful trying to get the ball close to the hole with all the runoffs that we have. I'll try to hit a lot more middle of the greens and putt from the middle up into the corners where pins are placed and make birdies that way. But you really have to pick your spots where you try to make birdie. There's only four or five holes out there that when you stand on the tee you feel like you have a good chance to make birdie. So it's not a hole that I'll attack per se as much as I will try to attack the course from the centre of the fairway, centre of the green. I like the greens, how the break is very subtle and you're able to pick it up and I'm able to read the greens well. It's poa annua grass, which I grew up on in southern California. It's a course that provides anybody a great chance to win or to do well if you're playing well. I don't feel like there's any tricks to it that you need to play here for years to know the course. I feel like if you're playing well it's pretty straightforward golf and you can do well."
Jeff Maggert: "This is a very difficult golf course. I don't remember the firmness and the speed of the fairways being quite so quick. In the past, in 95, I thought the fairways played a little bit slower, so it's very difficult to hit the ball in the fairway. You've got to really drive the ball well, and if you do that, you can take advantage of the course. I didn't feel like you could really attack this type of golf course. If you play well and have an opportunity to shoot a low score, if you shoot at the pins on every hole and don't hit good golf shots you're going to pay for it. I've tried to take a little bit more conservative approach and accepted a 10 or 15 foot putt for a birdie as opposed to trying to shoot at pins and land them three or four feet. The way the greens are and the slopes off the sides of the greens and the pin placements near the edges, if you're off a little bit, you're really going to pay for it and make bogeys. I hit the ball extremely well, hit the ball in the fairway and gave myself a lot of opportunities to putt for birdies."
Shinnecock Hills: The United States oldest genuine links test.
So what are the key factors to watch out for, what trends need to be taken into account and what skill-sets does a US Open Champion have to have in his locker?
Ball Strikers Paradise
Lets take the final skill statistics from Retief Goosen, Phil Mickelson and Jeff Maggert who finished 1-2-3 at the latest 2004 US Open at Shinnecock Hills. This gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
In Retief Goosen, who won the previous 2004 US Open held here, we have a long and straight driver of the golf ball whose patient approach paid huge dividends. A 4-time top 10 finisher at the Open Championship, Goosen was no stranger to success on links-style golf courses at the highest level and naturally had also won the United States Open Championship 3 years earlier at Southern Hills. His victory was sealed by a combination of excellent driving - he ranked 3rd for Total Driving - and top-notch ball-striking where he topped the field. However when he missed greens his 70% up-and-down rate was also the best in the field.
Naturally we can't base all of our assessments on 2004 with a course that has changed significantly. We also can't be 100% sure how the course will play, but what is clear is that Shinnecock rewards both long and straight driving. Find a patient sort who can also scramble and you won't be far wrong. Another potential angle from 2004 was the make-up of the first 3 players home. All experienced, with 34 Major top 10 performances between them.
Major Championship Experience Counted Hugely at the 2004
US Open Retief Goosen had accumulated 6 Major top-10 finishes prior to winning at Shinnecock Hills, including the 2001 US Open title hosted at Southern Hills:
Phil Mickelson had accumulated 18 Major top-10 finishes prior to finishing runner-up at Shinnecock Hills, including The Masters title 2 months prior:
Jeff Maggert had accumulated 10 Major top 10-finishes prior to finishing in third place at Shinnecock Hills including 5 US Open top 9 finishes:
Correlating Course Form
It's worth taking a look at courses where Retief Goosen has played well at in the past to get a view on correlating form that we can transfer to the 2018 field. I have focussed mainly on the PGA Tour, but have also highlighted one of his European Tour victories which transfers nicely when it comes to links golf course upside:
Top 4 Finishes
Key Player Statistics To Look Out For
In this day and age of abundant golf statistics, it's interesting to look at what inbound player skill strengths, if any, are particularly shared by US Open winners. Naturally this can't be an exact science as the US Open moves from course to course, with venues changing in terms of key requirements required by the eventual winner. However there are undoubtedly patterns which are not exact, but definitely highlight trends.
For instance 9 of the last 11 winners of the US Open ranked in the top 13 in the All-Round skill category in their last appearance. That becomes 8 out of 11 if you raise the requirement to top 10 All-Round as Brooks Koepka in 2017 ranked 13th for All-Round the week before at St Jude. We did say this is not an exact science, but there are definite trends which help to highlight players who are strong in key US Open areas.
It's fact that no recent US Open winner has been outside the top 18 for Greens in Regulation in the week they won. Naturally hitting your irons and approaches well is a huge upside. But if we're looking for strong skill-sets in a winner's previous appearance, we actually need to look for top-level driving. In Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Martin Kaymer and Justin Rose we have 5 players who ranked 1st, 1st, 16th 1st and 8th for Total Driving in their previous appearance. For Martin Kaymer that happened to be at Wentworth, so he has to be excluded from the next Strokes Gained stat angle, but that Total Driving number also translates very well to Strokes Gained Off the Tee. Koepka (2nd), Johnson (4th), Spieth (5th) and Rose (13th) clearly had real confidence with the driver when they arrived at Erin Hills, Oakmont, Chambers Bay and Merion respectively. If the European Tour had a consistent Strokes Gained Stat back in 2014, Kaymer would have been very close to the top of it at Wentworth.
|US Open Winner||Greens in Reg %||Previous App||All-Round Prev App||Total Driving||SG Off The Tee|
|2017||Koepka||86.1% 1st||St Jude||13th||1st||2nd|
|2016||Johnson||76.40% 1st||St Jude||2nd||1st||4th|
|2014||Kaymer||62.50% 18th||BMW PGA Champ||1st||1st||N/A -Wentworth|
|2011||McIlroy||86.11% 1st||St Jude||18th||16th||20th|
Be Extremely Wary Of Backing The World Number 1
Tempted to get on the World Number 1 at the US Open? New OWGR No1 Justin Thomas (at the time of writing) undoubtedly has the perfect game for a long, inland links-like affair like Shinnecock Hills. One of the very longest from off the tee, his outstanding wind play, accurate wedge game and top-class short game always make him a favourite when conditions get technical like at the Honda Classic which he won earlier this year. However fact is a player going into the US Open as the World Number 1 ranked player has only won the title once in the last 13 attempts and that was Tiger Woods, who had won at Torrey Pines 6 times prior to his 2008 US Open victory:
|US Open Winner||World Golf Rank|
US Open Tips - Final Previews
Steve Bamford will publish his final US Open tips for the 2018 renewal on the Tuesday before the event starts. Steve published his final preview and selections for the 2017 US Open last year -read his US Open Tips here.