STOP PRESS! Steve Bamford has published his final selections for this year's US Open - read his 2017 US Open Tips 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 golf courses across the country, but 2017 sees the United States Golf Association's (USGA) throw a curve ball with the pretty much unknown Erin Hills hosting the tournament from Thursday 15th June to Sunday 18th July 2017. The 117th United States Open Championship sees this famous Major Championship visit Wisconsin for the very first time and take on a course that very few in the field will have ever played competitively.
Now into our 8th season, Golf Betting System will as ever be hunting for profit with our US Open tips from Paul Williams and Steve Bamford. Golf Betting System has full 2017 coverage with outright market tips, long-shot and alternative market selections, a full range of free tournament and player statistics, plus of course our famous statistical Predictor Model.
Recent US Open history features a new breed of Major winners. 2016 saw the buccaneering Dustin Johnson show huge mental resolve to capture his first Major despite being told on the 12th tee of the final round that he was being assessed for a 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 2017 US Open champion?
So what do you need to know about the host course, Erin Hills?
USGA Executive Director Mike Davis has decided to go down the new course route which he followed with Chambers Bay in 2015. 2 years ago the course located on Puget Sound came in for some incredibly negative feedback from players, spectators and commentators alike, but although only 11 years old Erin Hills should offer a more traditional test. Erin is the romantic name for Ireland and the course has plenty of links to the Emerald Isle with the club's logo being a shamrock and there's also an Irish pub on the property. The course certainly has links-type connotations with golden fescue surrounding each hole and the layout will be the first Par 72 contested for this Major since 1992. Davis has already admitted that we may well see lower scoring in 2017 with the course facilitating a yardage of up to a maximum of 7,900 yards but featuring wide fairways which, in normal conditions, offer plenty of run.
What to Expect at Erin Hills
Erin Hills is located a 40 minute drive to the north-west of Milwaukee. Set in rolling countryside, the course undeniably has a links-like feel with plenty of undulations, fescue covered mounds, uneven fairways and a number of elevated green complexes. Designed by Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and Ron Whitten, they set out to mould the course to the local glacier defined topography and that is something they have achieved, letting the natural contours of the land provide the main challenge to the 2017 U.S. Open competitors. The result being that despite the course being completed as recently as 2006, Golf Digest ranked Erin Hills as the '8th best public course' in the United States and 42nd amongst the United States' greatest courses. In the views of USGA Chief Executive Mike Davis, the course stands up to the likes of Pebble Beach, Oakmont and 2018 U.S. Open venue Shinnecock Hills. High praise indeed.
Erin Hills Golf Course, Erin, Wisconsin: Designer: Hurdzan, Fry and Whitten 2006; Course Type: Technical, Inland Links; Par: 72; Length: 7,692 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 1; Fairways: Fine Fescue; Rough: Fine Fescue; Greens: 6,650 sq.ft average A4 Bentgrass.
The USGA have marked Erin Hills up as a 7,692 yard, par 72. With 3-5 tee boxes on most holes, there's in-built flexibility across the property. The course undoubtedly has a set of huge challenges which plenty of the players in the field will find wanting for. The course has elevation changes the like of which are rarely seen and the number of blind and semi-blind tee shots and approaches per round is notable. Fairways themselves are cantered with most of them featuring uneven landing areas. A mixture of deep and sprawling bunkers plus lengthy surrounding golden fescue generate a huge penalty for the wayward, plus a high number of the greens complexes are both raised and multi-tiered. Another Erin Hills feature which will differentiate it from other U.S. Open host courses is the number of green complexes that are surrounding by closely mown areas. Greens are well contoured with many of them repelling approach shots away from the putting surface and into deep surrounding swales. Undoubtedly high greens in regulation, scrambling from distance and 3-putt avoidance will be critical.
As the USGA did with Chambers Bay, Erin Hills hosted the United States Amateur Championship back in 2011 to assess how the course plays and to see where improvements can be made to make it a sterner test for the U.S. Open. Below is a list of players who played that week, many of whom will be competitors in the 2017 U.S. Open:
Below are some revealing comments about Erin Hills from the 2 finalists who competed here in the final of the 2011 US Amateur Championship:
Patrick Cantlay, Runner-up: "It was definitely the firmest day. Not quite as firm as Chambers, I don't think, especially in the fairway. The greens were close, but not the same. But it's still very firm, and the wind was blowing early this morning, made some holes play much different. I chipped 3-wood into 8, and yesterday I hit 9-iron or pitching wedge into 8. So that's just how much the golf course can change."
Kelly Kraft, Champion: "Yeah, you definitely have to play for that first bounce. In stroke play you could spin some shots back, but you didn't really have to play for any extra distance with your longer clubs whenever they landed on the greens. But now I think that you gotta play it 20 or 30 feet short of the flag if you have a 5-iron. You can't land it right on the hole because it's not going to stop. You're going to be 30 or 40 feet past the hole. So you definitely gotta play for that. With a wedge, they'll bounce probably 10 to 15 feet before they check. They'll check hard at the end. You know, they're not spinning back at all. But I mean I hit a couple like gap wedges that I kind of bounced in there, landed them 30 feet short and they spun right close to the hole. We play in the wind quite a bit, and the wind hasn't been horrible here. And right now the courses back in Texas are really hard, so we're used to playing hard courses, real firm courses. I don't know. I think it's great that there's some Texans in the matches tomorrow."
Erin Hills has never hosted a professional golf tournament. The course is long, wide and features contoured fairways which are surrounded by relatively thin primary cuts of rough, which will naturally be 4"+ thick. Any wider drives will visit thick, gnarly golden fescue. So key stats to look at should include Total Driving, Strokes Gained Tee to Green (on the PGA Tour) plus Greens In Regulation from other than the fairway. The property features no trees so the course is extremely exposed to the elements, which as ever could well be a huge factor. A wet course will be extremely long for shorter hitters and any meaningful wind will turn this into a ball-strikers contest.
Controlled length off the tee has to be an advantage at Erin Hills and players with a low stinger drive in their armoury if conditions get tough will have a huge advantage. Naturally a course that has a links-type feel always plays to the strengths of creative players who have excellent 'on the ground' skills in terms of both approach shot chip and runs and scrambling. That becomes imperative when green speeds are likely to be touching 12 on the stimpmeter, with plenty of raised green complexes featuring shaved run-off areas around them. Unlike Chambers Bay, the greens though should be excellent here as they feature established A4 Bentgrass putting surfaces.
But these comments made at The Masters in April by Mike Davis may prove to be very revealing when it comes to defining just how Erin Hills will play and what the target winning score might be, "All things being equal, I think the scoring will be lower at Erin Hills than at most other sites. The course should set-up at between 7,700 and 7,800 yards, but in reality the golf course actually will play shorter than most U.S. Opens. Shinnecock in 2018 will play longer as it will be a 7,500 yard Par 70. Not to mention that the fairways at Erin Hills are very generous and bouncy. Those who report that this will be over the top distance-wise, they don't get it. The clubs that the pros will hit into these greens, I promise you, will be less than some Opens."
Erin Hills: A links-style test where long-range aggression is rewarded.
The United States Golf Association always hold a media day prior to their premier tournament and this year it was held on Wednesday 17th May. It's always fascinating to get a view from Mike Davis how exactly the course will play, how it will challenge and glean as much information as possible about what players the challenge is likely to suit. Below are some key statements from Davis' 20 minute presentation that uncover exactly what Erin Hills will play like:
Course Type: "You know, the architects describe this as a heartland golf course, and that really is appropriate. We've seen some people saying, well, it's a links course or it's links like. Folks, it is not a links course - I'll go into it a little bit. It's not really links like. Yes, there are fescues out there, yes, it's windy, yes, there aren't a lot of trees, but that's where it stops. I think we prefer and the architects prefer is it really is a heartland golf course, and it is in so many ways an American original."
Tee to Green: "In terms of characteristics, rolling fairways. The architects laid this golf course right on this beautiful land, and because of it, what you've got out there are a lot of fairways that have movement to them. So you don't have a lot of flat lies here at Erin Hills, and even for the world's best players, if you put them on a sloping lie, it's a harder shot than a flat lie. The fairways themselves are bouncy. They're predominantly fescue. There's some ryegrass and some other grasses in there, but the soil or the subsoil here is kind of a gritty, well-draining soil, so the combination of the grasses and the subsoil really do make this a bouncy course, so you're going to see balls hit and move, and because of that and because of the wind out here, the fairways are most certainly wider than most U.S. Opens. If you were to pace off the widths and compare it to say a Winged Foot or Pebble Beach or Oakmont, I dare say they're 50 percent wider and in some cases they're easily double the width.
Because of this Kettle Moraine land and the movement to it, there are a lot of semi-blind shots out there, at least shots where you don't quite see where you're hitting to, and sometimes there's a completely blind tee shot where you cannot see where your ball is going to land. Other times you get a little peek. Sometimes you're hitting into greens and you don't see the whole green. You don't see any of the green. Maybe you see the top half of a flagstick. The reason I mentioned that is that does take some homework on the part of the players. It takes some imagination when you get a semi-blind shot, and it takes a commitment to it because you can't quite see where you're going."
Green Complexes: "The greens themselves architecturally are fascinating because they sit really on land forms that the architects found, so in some cases they're sitting up on like a dune or land form, and other times they're in a saddle between two of these dune like features. The greens themselves are wonderfully conditioned. I can't remember coming into a U.S. Open where greens were this smooth, and these are almost totally hybrid bentgrass. It's an A4 variety, and we all believe, we've talked about it, that we're going to see a lot of putts made at this U.S. Open. Part of that's because of the design of the green, that these are relatively subtle greens, but part of it is just because they are so well-conditioned. When you hit a putt, if you get it on the right line, the right speed, it will go in here, and we don't expect to see many things hit and moving sideways. You know, these greens, they're probably slightly larger than average size relative to other U.S. Opens. As I say, they're subtle, so if you think about Winged Foot that has a lot of internal features in it or Pinehurst that are kind of domed greens, turtle back greens, if you will, Pebble Beach, which are tiny, tiny greens, or Oakmont that's lightning fast greens, their personality here is that they're relatively subtle, though there's a handful of greens here that do have enough internal undulations that the players are really going to have to think, not only on their putting but as they hit approach shots into the green.
Something that's pretty unique about Erin Hills that I guess really would only be rivalled by Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina is every single one of these greens is closely mown surrounds, and because of that, you're not going to see many players who miss a green, assuming they're not in bunker, hitting pitch shots out of thick rough. What you're going to see is recovery where the players got a choice. They may putt it, they may hit a bump or run or they pitch it. Again, that's very reminiscent of Pinehurst No. 2, and that is not necessarily easier, particularly when you give choice. Sometimes the choice in and of itself makes the play a little bit more difficult.
The greens will be average U.S. Open speed, maybe even a little faster than U.S. Open speed. Part of that's just going to depend on what kind of winds we get predicted for a certain day."
Penal Bunkering: "I would say you'd best keep out of those bunkers because relative to most U.S. Opens, these are really hazards. Tour-level players, that they are so good out of bunkers that oftentimes if they know their ball is going to miss a green at a U.S. Open, they're begging for it to get in a bunker. I don't think that's going to be the case here because when you look at these, they're so natural. I think the architects referred to them as some erosion bunkers, some coffin bunkers, some blowout bunkers, whatever the term is, when you look at these things, there's a lot of nooks and crannies where a ball could get where you're uncomfortable, and I'm not sure I've seen a golf course where the bunkers have so many lies where you have a downhill lie, an uphill lie, a side hill lie, and that in and of itself, when you're in a bunker, even for a good player, makes it challenging."
Expect, Firm, Fast and Windswept: "This is obviously a very windswept property. As many times as I've been out here, it's a rarity to go out on this property and not get any wind. This golf course was designed for some wind. We've got more width because of that in terms of the fairways, and we do hope that maybe it comes out of different directions. But the reason for that is it just adds to the test of golf where a player has to say, you know, instead of it being 178 yards and I'm going to fly it 178 yards and the ball is going to stop, if we can get firm conditions with a little wind, it just makes them think even more, and it makes them control their trajectory of the golf ball more, so we're excited about that. We think we're going to get a firm golf course and a windswept one, so those are exciting."
Yardage: "In terms of the scorecard yardage, it's going to be 7,692 yards. We won't play that yardage on any one of the four days I'm quite certain. It may be slightly more than that, it may be slightly less than that, but we really don't figure out exactly what we're going to do until really the day before or even the day of once we know what the wind conditions and the firmness is going to be. But while that sounds long on a scorecard, remember, we're playing a par-72, and that's the first time since 1992 we've done that at a U.S. Open. If you think taking 300 to 450 yards off that, now all of a sudden you actually get to a point, assuming this is a bouncy golf course, where I actually think that Erin Hills will be a little bit shorter in terms of how it feels to a player than some of the Opens we go to."
Par-5s: "I will tell you that in terms of key holes, we do have four par-5s here that go in different directions by and large, so some of those will be downwind if we get wind, some into the wind, but I do think that all four of the par-5s, depending on where we set tee markers, depending on the player and the firmness, are reachable in two, and all of them, all four of these par-5s do offer up some risk-reward."
Recent Form Is Paramount
It’s hard to draw comparisons between Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Martin Kaymer, Justin Rose, Webb Simpson, Rory McIlroy, and Graeme McDowell but that's the beauty of the US Open course rota system. McDowell triumphed on a classical, poa annua greened coastal course. McIlroy created US Open history by taking apart a rain-softened, hybrid classical course which yielded the Northern Irishman an incredible 19 birdies and an eagle allowing Rory to shoot a US Open record low 268/-18 winning total. So it was guaranteed that the USGA would not allow that to happen again, cue Simpson's +1/281 total at Olympic Club (2012), Rose's Level/280 total at Merion and only three players broke par at Pinehurst in 2014. Fowler and Compton shot -1/279; but the USGA were thoroughly defeated by the sublime play of Martin Kaymer who lapped the field by shooting -9/271. The manufactured, coastal challenge of Chambers Bay by comparison was generous, allowing 8 players to shoot under par with Jordan Spieth winning when he converted for birdie on the 72nd hole, whereas Dustin Johnson 3-putted. This made Johnson's victory last year all the more impressive at Oakmont where his power-packed game, love for technical tracks and poa annua greens eventually prevailed after Shane Lowry crumbled in the Pennsylvania heat.
So with such disparity it’s interesting to note that all 7 players have one thing in common. They had all found top form going into the US Open. Nothing earth shattering in that, but in addition they had all performed well on courses that had similar characteristics to those on which they then went on to win on to capture the US Open.
Dustin Johnson had finished 4th at Riviera Country Club in February which featured poa annua mix greens. He had also finished 4th on an ultra-fast Augusta set-up despite finishing Thursday in 34th spot. A warm-up 5th the week before at the notoriously grinding TPC Southwind had also featured a closing -7/63. Spieth had won at the difficult Copperhead layout in February and finished 2nd at the technical TPC San Antonio prior to winning his first Major at Augusta. Kaymer had won The Players Championship at the technical TPC Sawgrass. Rose finished 4th at the technical PGA National and runner up at classical Bay Hill, before warming up with a strong 8th at the classical tree-lined Muirfield Village a fortnight before his 2013 Merion triumph. Simpson finished 10th on the technical, tree-lined Copperhead course at Innisbrook and 4th at classical Quail Hollow prior to his 80/1 triumph in San Francisco. McIlroy dominated at the most classical golf course on the planet, Augusta National for 54 holes, 2 months prior to capturing his first major championship at Congressional. However as part of his post Masters rehabilitation a chat with Jack Nicklaus produced a 5th behind Steve Stricker at the classical, bentgrass greened Muirfield two weeks prior to Congressional.
Dustin Johnson 2016 Results Pre US Open:
Jordan Spieth 2015 Results Pre US Open:
Martin Kaymer 2014 Results Pre US Open:
Justin Rose 2013 Results Pre US Open:
Webb Simpson 2012 Results Pre US Open:
Rory McIlroy 2011 Results Pre US Open:
Graeme McDowell 2010 Results Pre US Open:
Be Extremely Wary of the World Number 1
Tempted to get on the World Number 1 at the US Open? OWGR No.1 and defending champion Dustin Johnson (at the time of writing) undoubtedly has the perfect game for a long, inland links-like affair like Erin 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.
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 there:
|US Open Winner||World Golf Rank|
Razor-Sharp Approach Play
Ask me what the key attribute is that a player needs to win the US Open and without hesitation I'll answer strong approach play with irons and utility clubs. The US Open invariably boils down to a key putt here, a missed putt there, but to be in the mix coming down the stretch on Sunday, a player needs to be hitting plenty of greens in regulation compared to the rest of the field. None of this is rocket science I grant you, but invariably players who can hit the ball close from the fairway, plus make putting surfaces when their drives stray from the short stuff, will have a huge advantage at Erin Hills.
Take the past 3 years where in 2014 Martin Kaymer, before arriving in North Carolina, had finished 3rd in the Greens in Regulation category at both TPC Sawgrass and Wentworth. Spieth (not known for his approach play in particular) had been 3rd for Greens in Regulation in Houston, 2nd at Augusta, 9th at Colonial and 2nd at TPC Four Seasons. 2016 saw Dustin Johnson play 2 consecutive weeks building up to Oakmont on tough golf courses, namely Muirfield Village and TPC Southwind. Results of 3rd and 5th were eye-catching enough, but Dustin also finished 3rd for Greens in Regulation at The Memorial Tournament and 10th for Greens in Regulation at the St Jude Classic.
|US Open Winner||Greens in Reg %||Season Green in Reg%||Proximity to Hole|
|2010||McDowell||58.33%, 12th||76th (Euro)||1st|
US Open Tips 2017
STOP PRESS! Steve Bamford has published his final selections for this year's US Open - read his 2017 US Open Tips here!