The season's second major is upon us as we head to New York for the U.S. Open Championship.
It's the 118th running of this event and the fifth time that Shinnecock Hills Golf Club has hosted. It's the only course that has hosted the U.S. Open in three different centuries.
The first time hosting came way back in 1896 when the event was just 36 holes and the course played at 4,423 yards. The game has come a long way since then so let's have a look at the current course.
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Located on Long Island, this links-style layout is set to play as a par 70 that stretches out to 7,440 yards. That is a beast of a track but we should expect the USGA to mix and match tee boxes to play a bit shorter most days.
The last time Shinnecock Hills hosted this event was 2004 and it was listed 444 yards shorter on the scorecard. Retief Goosen won that year with Phil Mickelson coming in second. Goosen gets somewhat buried as a past champ since the USGA steals the show, having lost control of some of the greens which led to some wacky conditions, especially in the final round. The field average in Round 4 was 78.727! Whoops. Improved agronomy methods should prevent that from happening again this year but this course still won't be a walk in the park.
Since 2004, the fairways were expanded but recently narrowed. Overall, they will still play wider than the 2004 edition which is probably good since there was so much length added to the course. Last year the field averaged a whopping 74.61 percent of fairways hit at Erin Hills. During the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock the field averaged 50.95 percent. I would expect that number to be somewhere in between this week.
Despite all the added length, many of the long par 4s reportedly play downwind with the prevailing breeze which means drivers may not be AS crucial as you'd expect on this long of a layout. That will largely be influenced by the weather, though, which we can say about the entire event. If we get a soft course or calm conditions then the winning score could reach double digits. However, if the wind is howling or the course plays firm and fast, I'd expect a low number under-par to win the event.
Judging off early-week photos, the rough is nasty and after a recent prep trip, Phil Mickelson called the rough a true hazard. That wasn't the case last year at Erin Hills where we saw whispy fescue allow many golfers to get lucky and have no troubles from the deep stuff.
There is a pond on Hole No. 6 but it doesn't come into play, so there are no true water hazards for golfers to worry about this week. Nearly all of the trees have also been removed, adding to the attributes you'd expect from a links-style layout.
On approach shots, the field will see plenty of false fronts and run-off areas around the greens. That puts an emphasis on precision into the greens but elite scramblers can also survive since the shaved areas around the greens will allow them to reach into their bag of tricks and play different short-game shots as they see fit.
Once golfers reach the greens they will be faced with poa annua greens that will be prepped to run around 12 feet on the stimp. As we usually see with poa, it will likely be a poa/bent hybrid. Looking for golfers with success on anything outside of bermudagrass or paspalum should be useful. UPDATE: Based on pre-tournament pressers, poa annua seems to be at the top of mind for many golfers. Performance on pure poa annua should be given the most weight.
Sifting through some past quotes over at the Fantasy Golfanac, let's try to break down the courses to see how they will play...
Phil Mickelson: "I think it’s the greatest setup I’ve seen in a U.S. Open. I think that the fairways are a very fair width, the rough is brutal, it will be as penalizing as a hazard, trying to just get it back to the fairway. But the fairways are so wide that a well-struck shot ends up in the fairway. It’s not like in the past where you could hit a great drive, get a bad bounce, and you have no lie. It rewards great shots and around the greens because of the old school grading, being soft, it’s not like these big bulldozers with huge pitches."
Charles Howell III: "The golf course sure looks like (a British Open course), doesn’t it? It’s not your standard, run-of-the-mill U.S. Open course."
Tiger Woods: "It’s really dependent on weather. Wind blows there, and the winning score’s over par. "
Retief Goosen: "It is very much like Southern Hills, a lot of elevation and sidehill and uphill lies and things like that. I think it does remind me of 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: "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."
Overview: The consensus seems to be that Shinnecock Hills will truly reward great shots and lead to a great ball-striking champion. With a lot of uneven lies and run-off areas around the green, golfers with creativity should ping your radar.
Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, etc. here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:
Muirfield Village GC
THE NORTHERN TRUST
U.S. Open Championship
The Open Championship
Courses like TPC Boston, Firestone CC, and Muirfield Village all have some length, share some similarity with grasses while they are also in the same region of the country and feature a strong field.
Riviera CC has a lot of long par 4s and poa annua grass.
THE NORTHERN TRUST is located in New York/New Jersey which gives us a good sense of who plays well in the area.
Lastly, we can look at performance across all U.S. Opens to see who likes the challenge of a USGA setup or The Open Championship to see who likes a links-style layout.
Thursday: Sunny with a high near 77 degrees. Winds 10 to 15 MPH with gusts around 20 MPH.
Friday: Sunny with a high near 72 degrees. Winds 7-to-15 MPH with afternoon gusts up to 25 MPH.
Weekend: Temperatures sit in the low 70s with afternoon winds forecasted.
We take a break from the extreme heat we've seen over the last month.
It's still extremely early to rely on wind forecasts especially since you'll see drastically different wind forecasts already depending on what website you look at. But the very early look would suggest the PM/AM wave would have the better side of the draw as Thursday looks steady while Friday shows a big differential from AM to PM. Again, it's way too early but that's something to keep an eye on as the event draws nearer.
Golfers to Watch
Just lapped the field in Memphis. Was already one of the favorites but now he's really thrown himself into the "man to beat" category. Has all the tools to contend at modern-day U.S. Open setups. His recent results back that up with finishes of T4, T2, and WIN before his missed cut last year.
It's easy to make a case against Spieth but why should we ignore all those takes? A quick glance through the transcripts from the last champ at Shinnecock Hills will give us some clues. First, Goosen said this, "In a U.S. Open you are going to get rewarded for it [ball striking], it's not going to be that much of a putting competition." That's good for Spieth who enters the week ranked outside the top 175 in strokes gained putting.
Next he added, "Yeah, it is very much like Southern Hills, a lot of elevation and sidehill and uphill lies and things like that." Judging sidehill lies is something Spieth often brings up whenever he's contending at Augusta National or Kapalua.
Last we look at his resume on links-style layouts. He won The Open last year at Royal Birkdale and he also hoisted the hardware at Chambers Bay in 2015. Spieth finally snapped his putting woes at Muirfield Village so it's just a matter of syncing up his entire game not. Not easily done, but Spieth shouldn't be overlooked.
Withdrew mid-tournament back in '95 and finished T17 here in 2004 but it looks to be a much different test this time around with added length, fairways expanded, and greens increased in size. More recently, Woods is rounding into mid-season form, especially with his irons (+11.2 strokes gained on approach in his last start). The problem? He just lost 7.7 strokes putting at the Memorial and all four of his top 15s this year have come on courses with bermudagrass greens. Before the Masters he mentioned that it'd literally been years since he'd seen bentgrass greens. It doesn't take long for someone with this kind of talent to adjust but that is a minor concern.
Rewind to 2004 when Shinnecock Hills last hosted and we'll find three South Africans inside the top 6 thru 54 holes (Goosen, Els, Clark). Goose and Ernie actually played in the final group together. That could be a coincidence or there could be something about this coastal, links layout with loads of bunkers that caters to the South Africans. If I needed to pick one South African this week it would be Branden Grace who has heaps of success in major championships but still hasn't crossed the line. Grace has five finishes of T6 or better over his last 12 majors played.
He was built for these USGA challenges. He's finished inside the top 30 in 9 of his last 10 U.S. Open appearances. The problem? Well he's 51 and still searching for his first major championship. A win is probably not in the cards but he should earn a paycheck.
Doesn't impress with any tee-to-green stats but he rarely does. His elite short game makes him a threat to win anytime he tees it up... unless he's playing at his home course, Muirfield Village, obviously.
He's been dominating on the Web.com Tour but he's yet to test his skills on the big stage. If we adjust his Web stats to the level of competition then he hovers around golfers like J.B. Holmes, Russell Henley, Jason Dufner, Martin Kaymer, and Peter Uihlein. Those golfers are all very capable of contending which makes Im a nice sleeper option in deeper formats like DFS.
Played a ton of golf in the lead-up to qualifying for this event. That must have put a toll on him and his caddie as he's made a switch for this week's tournament. He also seems to be on the fence about whether he'll continue using the long putter or go back to the short putter. He went to the long putter at the Wells Fargo and gained 3.9 strokes putting over the next two events. However, that magic has since been lost, losing 11.3 strokes putting over his last three events. A lot of question marks but I still like him for top-heavy upside. His ball-striking remains in the elite tier.
Dave already talked about him in his Euro-Based Preview but I had to mention him again. The Swede arrives with sneaky-good form. He's been T21 or better thru 54 holes in 8 of his last 9 nine starts on the PGA TOUR. As for the U.S. Open, it's been rough for the Swede recently (MC, WD the last two years). Before that, he was T11 or better thru 54 holes four straight years in a row. I like the Iceman to contend this week on a course that will reward his elite precision with the irons.
Stirring up some Twitter controversy with his recent comments on backstopping. I'm not going to let that deter me from his stellar recent form. Something seemed to click at the Masters. In fact, he's gained strokes over the field in 18-of-20 rounds since the start of the Masters. That includes eight rounds where he gained 3+ strokes over the field. His go-low potential makes him a fun GPP option on DFS sites. He's already proven he can win a major on a tough, traditional track in the Northeast (Baltusrol in New Jersey, 2016 PGA Championship).
Trending nicely with 47 strokes gained tee-to-green over his last 10 starts. That has helped him secure four top 10s over that stretch. Back at the 2017 Honda he also said this, "I like tournaments when you are going to be close with single digits. That shows the golf course plays a bit harder than the other ones." That should certainly be the case this week at Shinnecock Hills.
Ranking the Field
1. Dustin Johnson
2. Henrik Stenson
3. Jordan Spieth
4. Justin Rose
5. Jason Day
6. Matt Kuchar
7. Brooks Koepka
8. Rory Mcilroy
9. Rickie Fowler
10. Branden Grace
11. Justin Thomas
12. Tiger Woods
13. Adam Scott
14. Hideki Matsuyama
15. Steve Stricker
16. Paul Casey
17. Jon Rahm
18. Patrick Reed
19. Emiliano Grillo
20. Marc Leishman
21. Sergio Garcia
22. Brandt Snedeker
23. Bubba Watson
24. Phil Mickelson
25. Ian Poulter
26. Francesco Molinari
27. Bryson DeChambeau
28. Jimmy Walker
29. Patrick Cantlay
30. Rafa Cabrera Bello
31. Webb Simpson
32. Louis Oosthuizen
33. Tony Finau
34. Charl Schwartzel
35. Tommy Fleetwood
36. Alex Noren
37. Zach Johnson
38. Keegan Bradley
39. Shane Lowry
40. Charles Howell III
Head over to Dave Tindall's Euro-Based U.S. Open Preview. Check back on Tuesday afternoon for our Expert Picks and Wednesday for the DFS Dish.