18 things you can count on at the U.S. Open
We are hours away from the start of the 115th U.S. Open, and golf couldn’t be in a more exciting place. Not only did we begin the year with a Jordan Spieth Masters victory, but we’ve had some Rory McIlroy success, an absolute volcano round of golf from Rickie Fowler, The One We Hoped Would Take the Next Step (trademarked!) and we’ve sprinkled in a bit of Brooks Koepka, Jimmy Walker, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed and a host of other big names.
Oh, and Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson — one coming in with a ton of question marks and the latter riding the momentum wave of a final-round 65 at the FedEx St. Jude — are both going to be there. Can we continue this dream 2015 season? I think so!
2. So many putters will be pulled from off greens you’ll think you’re watching a British Open. No, Washington is not in Scotland — I checked — but you’ll see the putter and creative clubs (hybrids, even fairway woods) working overtime. The lies aren’t as tight as at, say, St. Andrews or Royal Troon, but pinching the ball off this fescue will be tricky and, dare I say, yippy. Hitting a sand wedge around the greens will be an option, but a lot of guys who don’t feel 100 percent comfortable over a certain lie will definitely pull the putter. That being said ...
3. Martin Kaymer will use this particular weapon to contend for a second straight U.S. Open title. Maybe the best putter from off the green on Tour, Kaymer will be a factor again. The way he played Pinehurst a year ago was mind-boggling, and the combo of his short game from off the green and his steady disposition — doesn’t get too up or down, just goes about his business like an experienced tax man on April 15 — will be a huge help at this particular championship. We haven’t had a pro defend his U.S. Open title since Curtis Strange in 1988-89, but Kaymer has as good a shot as anyone since Tiger Woods in 2003.
4. This will be the most mentally challenging U.S. Open since Oakmont in ’07. Jack Nicklaus famously talked about players complaining about certain golf courses, saying recently, “When they said, 'I don't like the course,' I checked him off. Oh, the fairways are too narrow? Check him off. The fairways are too sloppy? Check him off. The greens are too fast? Check him.” That sentiment holds entirely true at a virgin U.S. Open course, where bounces won’t go the way you want at times and banks will force you to play, and fail, at golf shots you wouldn’t normally attempt. Getting frustrated, throwing clubs, complaining after rounds about an “unfair” setup ... all those things will most likely mean a trunk slam on Friday evening. And on that same note ...
5. You’ll never hear this much complaining from tour pros. You know the old saying, “Everyone has to play the same course”? Yeah, don’t expect to hear many pros thinking that way at Chambers Bay. We’ve had players complain about the golf course before they even played it, which means during championship week — when the rough is deep, the greens are slick and the pins are tucked — guys are going to come off the course after a nasty round ready to vent in front of a microphone. The point of the U.S. Open is to test the best in the world, both physically and mentally, and Chambers will do that. Uncork the bottle come Thursday ... whine will be flowing.
6. The changing of pars will be a fun addition to the U.S. Open. It might seem quirky on paper, but the first and 18th flipping pars on certain days will end up being something fans really like. Both holes are totally different when played as a par-4 or par-5 and are good holes from both tees. The opening hole is a must-birdie if the wind is down when it plays as a par-5, and the par-4 version is one of the toughest drives on the golf course ... and that’s just the start of the round. The 18th will be a brutal green to hold with a long iron or fairway wood if players choose to go after it as a par-5, and as a par-4 it will be a typical U.S. Open close. Birdies will be few and far between, and a par to win this major means you have to hit four impressive, and clutch, golf shots. Some of Mike Davis’ hints have come off a bit unusual, but the changing of pars is fun. Think about it: When is the last time fans at home actually looked online for the daily scorecard? That will be just as shared as the pin positions on social media each day.
7. You’re going to really like the drone shots FOX brings you. Hey, I’m a company man who likes his gig, but I’m also a golf fan who loves new and fun things. The knee-high drone shots FOX will bring you provide an incredible close-up look at the massive greens at Chambers Bay. You’ll be a fan or your money back.
8. The drivable par-4 12th is actually a tougher lay-up, so players will be pulling driver. The fairway on No. 12 is one of the tightest on the golf course, and though the green is another complex with plenty of mounds and bumps to navigate, it is an easier hole to go for it on than to attempt to play up. I anticipate most guys pulling driver and going for it, even if hitting it in the right rough will make for a tough par.
9. There will be a European-heavy leaderboard over the weekend. Maybe it’s the U.S. Open, but the European-style golfer — one who can play the wind, is comfortable with bump-and-runs, doesn’t let conditions get to him — will be at a huge advantage at Chambers Bay. Don’t be surprised if the likes of Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Jamie Donaldson are around the lead on Sunday. It just feels like this type of major.
10. This will be Bubba Watson’s best chance at a U.S. Open. Widest U.S. Open fairways ever, creativity around the greens a must, long irons in the hands of players ... you have to think the most creative ball-striker in the game right now will have a very good chance at adding a different major championship trophy to his mantel. If he doesn’t win at Chambers, expect to see his name at least in the conversation at the “miss it left” all-day St. Andrews.
11. The sixth hole will be a favorite among the players ... the seventh not so much. The par-4 sixth is just a beauty of a golf hole, one that would make the highlight reel of best U.S. Open golf holes. It’s a lengthy par-4 that doesn’t play forever, that forces golfers to find a tight fairway and play a precise and uphill second shot to one of the least-tricky greens on the property. The seventh, well, that’s another story. Bombers will be at a huge advantage, being able to carry their tee shots to an area — mind you, it’s a 289-yard carry in the air — that could leave them with a short-iron to an uphill and brutal second shot. Short hitters will be coming into the massive green with a long iron they will have to skip up the mounds, and coming up short is simply not an option. The green itself is tricky, and certain hole locations could see one or two birdies a day, max. Miss it short, and you could see the ball trickle back some 80 yards. Players will go from happy to sad as they make the short walk there between tees.
12. Get used to seeing guys hit 400-yard drives. Considering how firm the fairways are at Chambers Bay — balls can hit the right spot and roll, and roll, and roll, and roll — a downwind day on the 18th could see plenty of 400-yarders, with one former PGA Tour player tell me he thinks we could see 25 or more drives in the 400-yard range this week. That’s one way to shorten up a course that can play at nearly 7,900 yards!
13. This won’t be Rory’s week. McIlroy can win on any golf course, sure, but the conditions this week don’t match up with the way he usually wins. I don’t foresee an Irish Open 2.0 for the No. 1 ranked player in the world who missed the cut there, but I just have a feeling he won’t be the one walking away with the trophy.
14. If Phil is going to win a U.S. Open, this will be his week to do it. Mickelson turned 45 on Tuesday, and nobody older than 45 has won the U.S. Open. Even if you consider his age, his health and the fact that he’s been so close in the past, this golf course was made for a Mickelson victory. Walking with him during a practice round on Tuesday, he hit one pitch shot on the par-5 eighth that made me tap the two people I was with and exclaim, “That is the shot I’ve been talking about!” It was a simple pitch — just a hands-in-front wedge shot that hit 5 feet short, checked, and rolled to about 18 inches or so, but it was the fact that he simply attempted that shot that made it so amazing. Rickie Fowler, playing alongside Phil, hit a bump-and-run from the same position. Jimmy Walker did the same thing. But Phil pulled his trusty wedge and nailed a golf shot that some of the best golfers in the world wouldn’t even attempt. He has a great, great shot this week, and if he wins, it will be a dream storyline for the unveiling of Chambers Bay to the world.
15. It won’t be a great week for Tiger Woods. There are just too many things going on between the ears for Woods to have a chance at the toughest mental test in all of golf. People who think the media hate on Tiger need to understand something; Tiger is always a great story for us. He brings more eyeballs to the sport, to the championship and to what we are promoting. This isn’t about hating on Tiger, it’s about being realistic about the game of golf. Chambers Bay can eat you alive if you aren’t sharp, and, as we saw with Tiger at the Memorial, his golf game isn’t where he wants it. When you’re struggling with your game, the last thing you want to see is “USGA” tee markers, but that’s where we’re at, and unfortunately for Woods, we will all watch if things go south again. That said ...
16. Chambers Bay is very Hoylake-like. The conditions this week bring back memories of the 2006 British Open, a firm, fast venue with penalizing rough. Who won Royal Liverpool in ’06? Oh yeah, Tiger Woods. If Tiger could just keep the driver in the bag, focus on that stinger 2-iron that won him the ’06 Claret Jug and play smart and simple golf, maybe he could put together a round or two around par. Tiger isn’t going to win by pulling driver, but that stinger will run for 30 to 40 yards at Chambers Bay. This golf course is a perfect place to, if nothing else, play from the fairways.
17. Being in great shape will be helpful. Chambers Bay is a hike. Even Woods mentioned how exhausting it can be to get around this property. “Every hole seems like it’s uphill,” he said, mentioning after just nine holes it “feels like we played 18.” The guys in amazing shape will be at an advantage after having walked three practice rounds and four full rounds of golf. Chambers will test the players mentally, but it will be just as challenging physically.
18. This will be one of the most unique championship courses ever played. The great Tom Weiskopf told me that Chambers Bay is “the most complex golf course I’ve seen in 50 years.” I think that pretty much says it all. It’s new, it’s different, it’s unique and it will allow us to see a new championship venue host the U.S. Open. I’m excited. Are you?