IN the lead-up to last year’s US Open at Oakmont Country Club, Jordan Spieth said Oakmont was “the hardest test in all of golf”.
Well, we all know what happened.
The big-hitting Dustin Johnson conquered the mighty Oakmont and will undoubtedly be the overwhelming favourite going into this year’s championship at Erin Hills Golf Course (June 15-18) simply because the layout is 550 yards (503m) longer than Oakmont.
From the tips, Erin Hills, a public venue in Wisconsin, stretches to 7800 yards (7132m) making it the longest course in championship history.
It’s a par-72 (course rating 77.9) and the Slope rating is 145 (par at Oakmont was 70).
All four par-5s at Erin Hills will play in excess of 600 yards (548m) with the 18th 663 yards (606m).
Don’t bet against Johnson, or even some of the other big-hitters, not reaching the 18th in two.
In some ways, Erin Hills resembles Oakmont as it, too, is almost treeless save for half-a-dozen trees inside the perimeter.
That means the players won’t hear their caddies say, “your ball is in the trees”.
What the players already know is the wind is going to be the x-factor because Erin Hills is a sprawling, savannah-style layout.
During construction, the designers (Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and Ron Whitten) didn’t shift tonnes of earth around.
They simply routed fairways through and over the natural topography.
According to USGA executive director Mike Davis, Erin Hills has a good blend of long and short holes.
“It has holes that move left to right and right to left, holes you can get aggressive on, holes where you have options,” he said.
“It should be a great test of golf and the golf course is absolutely going to hold its own.”
Perhaps that’s code for the winning score being around a couple under-par, as is tradition at US Opens.
The USGA’s philosophy has always been to identify the best players with past champions including Bob Jones, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tiger Woods.
A public, walking-only course means the facility has caddies for hire and they are extremely knowledgeable.
No doubt, the players’ caddies will seek out as much information from them including the best line off each tee to reading the wind and the putting surfaces.
“I have always said the wind is the x-factor,” local caddie Eric Fritz said.
“You can have a wind out of the north straight down the property and the next day it could come out of a different direction.”
Justin Kordus, another local caddie, agreed: “In June when you have the volatility of the changing weather conditions it’s what causes it (wind) to swirl around.”
The local caddies say a player could be hitting a seven-iron one day and a five- or even a four-iron the next.
There are no trees to gauge the direction and strength of the wind.
Many tee boxes, especially on the par-4s, are elevated and players are hitting down to the fairways.
The greens, too, are elevated and that means the players are below the putting surfaces and can’t feel the wind.
“It’s deceptive,” said local caddie Brandon LaMarche. “One of the most important things is selecting the right club.
“It can be a two- or three-club wind out here and that’s going to affect the scores.”
Still, competitions and marketing director John Morrissett believes the course’s defences are well balanced.
“It doesn’t depend entirely on the wind – even in unusually calm weather the golf course can hold its own and even if we have fierce wind the golf course is not unplayable.”
The smallest green is the second at 350sq/m and the largest the seventh at 1012sq/m while the average fairway size is 39 acres 15.7 hectares.
And when the players arrive for the 117th edition of the US Open there won’t be a single divot in the fairways or a ball mark on the greens.
That’s because the owners closed the course on October 4 last year and won’t reopen it to the public until July 11 – three weeks after the championship.
SPIKENOTE 1: Erin Hills will be just the sixth public access course to host the championship along with Pebble Beach, Pinehurst, Bethpage, Torrey Pines and Chambers Bay.
SPIKENOTE 2: The course record is 66, jointly held by amateurs Ben Geyer and Mike Ignasiak.
# # #
ERIN HILLS SCORECARD
Hole Yards Par Hole Yards Par
1 608 5 10 504 4
2 358 4 11 403 4
3 476 4 12 464 4
4 439 4 13 215 3
5 505 4 14 613 5
6 237 3 15 370 4
7 607 5 16 200 3
8 492 4 17 481 4
9 165 3 18 663 5
Out 3887 36 In 3913 36
Total 7800 72