Did you know, if there isn’t a playoff this year at Erin Hills, it will mark the longest streak without a playoff in the history of the U.S. Open? Eight is the record, broken by Fuzzy Zoeller versus Greg Norman in 1984, and if we don’t go extras at Erin Hills, it will be nine straight since Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate went at it at Torrey Pines.
If you booked flights home on Sunday night, you might want to change that. Plus, with the 18th being a par-5, players will know what they have to do late to tie or take the lead. Unlike a lot of U.S. Opens that end with “par for the win,” this one should be finished off with a birdie, or if we’re lucky, eagle.
Stephan Jaeger is this year's Andrew Landry
Stephan Jaeger is this year’s Andrew Landry — Two wins in his last three Web.com Tour starts and medalist at his sectional qualifying venue, Jaeger comes in with as much confidence as anyone, and he’s my sleeper pick to give this thing a run just like Landry did a year ago at Oakmont.
Kyle TeradaUSA TODAY Sports
It's Dustin Johnson's major to lose
We’ve exhausted so much time discussing the Big Four and the Next Great Thing and the whole time it was that guy that was simply winning year after year and slowly growing the best golf beard we’ve seen since Old Tom Morris. Do you realize how close we are to Dustin having three U.S. Opens and a PGA Championship (and I’m not even counting the 4-iron he hit out of bounds as he was making a run at Darren Clarke at the 2011 Open Championship)?
It’s easy to point out majors that players should have won (I mean, Jack Nicklaus had 19 seconds in majors, as you probably know), but a lot of players have majors that slipped away, not ones that were literally up to them to win or lose them.
Dustin is so ridiculously good and he’s only gotten better this year. Not since Tiger Woods at the 2003 U.S. Open have we had this good of a shot at a repeat championship at the ultimate test in golf, and the USGA was nice enough to host his repeat chances at a 7,700-yard golf course with friendly fairways and four par-5s.
And let us not forget the fact that DJ has worked tirelessly on his short game the last year or so, turning a weakness into a strength. Basically Dustin Johnson is the Golden State Warriors, and his wedge game is Kevin Durant; he was really good and he simply upgraded the only part of his game that really needed it. That’s a scary thought.
Michael MadridUSA TODAY Sports
Kevin Kisner is about to become a major player
The prototypical golfer in 2017 is the guy we just mentioned, Dustin Johnson, but if you’re looking for the type of guy you’d draft high in terms of mental strength under the gun, you’d be looking at Kisner.
The 33-year-old has come into his own this year, holing a ridiculous chip shot on the 72nd hole of the Zurich Classic to get his team into a playoff, and despite losing that week, came right back and won at the Dean & Deluca thanks to a very difficult up-and-in on the final hole to edge a couple of superstars in Jordan Spieth and Jon Rahm. Kisner has some Curtis Strange in him, a guy that isn’t afraid of the moment and definitely isn’t afraid of a five-footer with everything on the line. I think this is the major championship we see Kisner contend in, and possible sneak away with, come Sunday.
Aaron DosterUSA TODAY Sports
If they’re already complaining, scratch them off
Did you know Kevin Na has two top-12 finishes in the last two U.S. Opens, including a seventh place finish alone at Oakmont last year? Those results tell me that Na keeps his emotions in check on tough golf courses, but the video he posted this week that has gone viral where he rips the fescue and brings up the idea of past champions putting a major championship on tells me he’s already beaten before the first round begins.
Erin Hills has friendly fairways, some of the widest you’ll ever see in this championship, but if you miss them, you will be penalized. That’s a fact. For the guys that start complaining early, it’ll be a long two days before that late Friday night flight. U.S. Opens are a tough test not just of your game, but of your mental approach. Early-week complaining is not the way to do it.
Sergio Garcia has a real shot to go back-to-back
For decades, nobody has consistently driven the ball like Sergio Garcia, and a player confident with his driver is at a huge advantage at Erin Hills.
With greens that feel very Augusta-like in terms of condition, putting might be a bit neutralized (when everyone is making that five-footer, it changes the thought process and lessens that skill for a great roller of the golf ball), and that plays right into the hands of Garcia, who only needs a few to drop to really get a round going.
Garcia will hit a ton of fairways at Erin Hills and will be swinging that driver on pretty much every non-par-3 hole, so as long as the putter awakes a bit, he will have a chance to go back-to-back in majors.
Rob SchumacherUSA TODAY Sports
Avoid the short and errant
When making your selections this week for your office pool or fantasy team, avoid the guys that struggle with distance and accuracy. A player like Patrick Reed who struggles to find fairways but isn’t doing so because of distance could really struggle with this golf course, and might be the type to avoid in terms of picks for Erin Hills. Listen, half the field has to miss the cut, and for preliminary purposes, the ones that struggle off the tee are the ones to avoid.
Andrew WeberUSA TODAY Sports
If Bubba Watson is ever going to win a U.S. Open, it'll be on this golf course
Throw out the way Bubba has played the last year. Throw out the fact that Bubba can’t seem to make a four-footer when it matters. Throw out the fact that this golf course could turn Bubba into the ranting, raving guy we see a couple of times a year. Throw all that out and simply look at Bubba the player; he bombs it for days, loves playing the left-to-right ball flight, which will basically be the shot on every hole here at Erin Hills, and is the most creative on-course thinker out on the PGA Tour.
With as many blind shots as players will face this week, especially off the tee, the artistry seems to play right in the hands of someone like Bubba, who prefers cursive with his golf game over block font.
We’ve seen Bubba play well in this championship just once, back in 2007, but there has never really been a rhyme or reason to Watson’s golf game (he finished T-50 in between his two Masters victories at Augusta National). If this is one of those weeks things are clicking, I could see him really embrace Erin Hills and what it does for his creative juices.
Phil Mickelson will not be making his Thursday afternoon tee time
Too many factors have to land for Phil to make it, including what he mentioned has to be a four-hour delay of play. I just don’t see that happening, I don’t see him arriving via police escort as Stewart Cink and Steve Stricker patiently wait on the first tee, and I don’t see Phil, the best thinker in the game, going cold turkey on a U.S. Open golf course and having any confidence in that.
The story is a romantic one, and would make for some intense drama, but I just don’t see it playing out come Thursday afternoon.
Expect a lot of European flags on the weekend leaderboard
This U.S. Open will play and feel a lot like an Open Championship, with the wind-swept fairways and brutal fescue rough that will swallow up any errant tee shot. If you ask players this week how they like the course, it’s worth taking a second to check where they come from before initiating the conversation.
A lot of the Europeans look excited to get a chance to take this golf course on, knowing that in the right conditions (read: windy and nasty) they will be at a huge advantage. Sergio, Alex Noren, Henrik Stenson; take your pick, but I see a big week for the European contingent who know this will be as close to home as they’ll ever get at a U.S. Open.