The US Open
For the 5th time in its storied history, the US Open is to be staged at Shinnecock Hills, South Hampton, NY. The original 12-hole layout was designed by Willie Davis who took inspiration from Willie Dunn and modelled his design on many of the great links courses in the UK and Scotland. Shinnecock Hills opened for play in 1891 and the original 44 members signed up for $100. The clubhouse was opened a year later and is said to be the oldest in the US. Dunn arrived in 1894 and added the final 6 holes and the 18-hole layout was completed in the Spring of 1895. That same year, Shinnecock Hills was one of the 5 founding clubs of the USGA.
In 1896 Shinnecock Hills hosted the 2nd US Open, then a 36-hole stroke play event won by Scot, James Foulis. The 5000-yard track was considered too easy though, even by 1800’s standards, as many players broke 80! The next 30 years saw the course remodelled 4 times but then in 1937 William Flynn made Shinnecock into a 6,740-yard masterpiece. The course is a par-70 and this week will play 7,445-yards off the tips with a slope of 140. Going low has been a difficult proposition at Shinnecock under US Open conditions with Retief Goosen’s 2004 total of 276 (4-under) the best.
This year the players can expect another harsh but fair examination of their games. On the final day 14-years ago, the course became hideously difficult. The combination of foot-path wide fairways and extremely dry conditions pushed the scoring average to 78.73, the highest mark for a 4th round since data was first taken in 1983. Enter Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. In 2012 Coore and Crenshaw recreated William Flynn’s redesign giving the course back its original charm. This year the fairways are 15-yards wider than 2004 but miss at your peril, the fescue is thick and 4-inches long. The greens have grown in size too and don’t be surprised to see a few “Texas wedges” used either. It’s the wind that will present the greatest challenges, it’s unpredictable and can change direction without warning, often. Cleverly designed so you never play consecutive holes in the same direction, you get a different wind on 18 tees.
This year’s US Open has classic written all over it with many of the planet’s best in great form. World No.1 Dustin Johnson dominated the St Jude last week, but he has history working against him – no one has won the Open after winning the week prior. The 2016 winner shapes up beautifully to add another trophy to the cabinet though – Johnson leads the TOUR in par-3, -4 and -5 scoring, respectively. His length off the tee is formidable and he’s often shooting at greens with wedge in hand getting closer looks at birdie.
Justin Rose has been outstanding. The 2013 US Open winner, won the Fort Worth Invitational and backed up with T6 at Memorial. Rose has finished top-10 in 15 of his last 20 starts worldwide, he’s 2nd on TOUR in adjusted scoring and 3rd in the FedEx Cup – compelling statistics. Jon Rahm won his national open in April and had a T5 at Fort Worth. Rahm has continually demonstrated playing “new” courses doesn’t faze him. Rahm has moved to No.5 in the world and ranks 5th in the FedEx Cup, surely a Major is natural progression. It seems the only category where Justin Thomas struggles is driving accuracy (58.28%), so he will definitely appreciate the wider fairways. Thomas leads the TOUR in the all-round ranking, has won twice this season and is No.1 in the FedEx Cup. Last year Thomas finished T9 at Erin Hills.
No one man has successfully defended his US Open crown since Curtis Strange in 1989. World No.9 Brooks Koepka probably has the form but will find Shinnecock Hills a much harder test than Erin Hills was. Tommy Fleetwood was 1-shot off the lead after 54-holes last year but faded to 4th after firing 72 (even) on Sunday. The 27-year-old from England can score anywhere it seems and would be seeking redemption. The list goes on; Rory McIllroy last won a Major nearly 4 years ago, overdue? Will it be this week Rickie Fowler sheds the “best player not to win a major” tag? Can Jordan Spieth make peace with his putter? Sergio Garcia’s form has been ordinary; you feel the Spaniard will rise to the occasion. Jimmy Walker’s results indicate he’s fully recovered from Lyme Disease.
And what of the 2 legends in the field, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson? Statistically Woods has been solid since his return and has threatened more than once, but consistency remains his greatest enemy. If Woods can put it all together this week, it could be an result for the ages. Mickelson would dearly love to join the elite group of “career slammers” and his form this season has been good enough. Accuracy off the tee remains Phil’s weakness, as a result he’s low in GIR so posting consistent low numbers has been difficult. His short game remains flawless and his imagination around Shinnecock may prove the difference.
There are 9 Australians are teeing it up this week; Jason Scrivener, Aaron Baddeley, Jason Day, Marc Leishman, Matt Jones, David Bransdon, Cameron Smith, Adam Scott and Lucas Herbert. No one in the world is putting better than Jason Day and his accuracy off the tee is improving. A T44 at Memorial was preceded by T5 at THE PLAYERS and a win at Wells Fargo, the 2018 US Open would look fine on his resume. Leishman has been hot and cold but 6 top-10’s including a couple of 2nd’s has been a decent return. Shinnecock is exposed to the elements so if the wind gets up, expect Leishman to shine. Adam Scott had to qualify through the sectionals to keep his Major streak alive, Thursday sees him tee it up in his 68th straight. Whilst Scott has made 12 of 14 cuts, he’s yet to contend and only returned 1 top-10 this season. Rumour has it he’s gone back to the short putter this week too. Cameron Smith WAS having a stela season but has missed his last 4 cuts. Smith T5 at the Masters and a TOUR win looked likely, unfortunately his swing has gone AWOL. It’s been 11 years since an Australian won the US Open, Geoff Ogilvy (2006) – it’s been way too long between drinks. Go Aussie!
Expect every aspect of player’s games to be tested at Shinnecock Hills this week; be it driver, iron’s, wedges and putter. Imagination and the ability to execute will be the keys to posting scores.
Last night I read an excerpt from a book that turned out to be very apt. In 1972 when Jack Nicklaus won the US Open at Pebble Beach, his winning score was +2. The wind was whipping off the ocean and the greens became like glass Sunday afternoon, but Jack accepted his fate and ground out a winning score. When interviewed after his win, Nicklaus admitted the course and weather were brutal but they were beyond his control. As usual jack was humble in victory though I got the feeling he knew he had the game and shots to beat everyone and everything that day.
While others complained about the course, the greens, the pin placements and the weather; Brooks Koepka ruled supreme and summed it up perfectly; “Everybody has to play the same course”. Starting the day on 3-over with Daniel Berger, Tony Finau and world No.1 Dustin Johnson, Koepka assumed control early with 3-birdies in his 1st 5-holes. A bogey on 6 momentarily halted momentum but a terrific birdie on 10 got the ball rolling again. It was over the next 6-holes where Koepka won his 2nd Open. A crucial 12-foot putt for bogey on the 11th was huge, a 6-foot par save on 12 then another from 8-feet on the 14th were clutch. Then Koepka struck a mercurial mid-iron to a couple of feet on 16, made birdie and moved 2-shots clear, enough to have a meaningless bogey on the 18th and still emerge victorious.
Tommy Fleetwood shot the round of the tournament to rocket up the leader board and miss a play-off by just 1-shot. Hitting off well before the overnight leaders, Fleetwood took advantage of an earlier tee time and tore it up posting a number that required beating. On the 18th, Fleetwood had a putt for a record breaking 62 but missed and settled for a 63, only the 6th player to shot 63 in the US Open. In light of the previous 3-days scores, Tommy Fleetwood’s 63’s was something very special, a 3rd round 78 proved costly. Fleetwood has finished 4th and now 2nd in his last 2 US Opens.
A 3rd round 77 cost Dustin Johnson a 2nd US Open title. Johnson appeared bullet-proof on Thursday and Friday, the only player under par (-4) and he looked the man to beat. Moving day saw Johnson move in the wrong direction though, a 3rd round 77 and Dustin Johnson went from -4 to 3-over and in a 3-way tie. A final round 70 and Johnson made no ground and finished 3rd. Masters champion Patrick Reed teed off Sunday 6-over and in contention, 5 birdies in the 1st 7-holes gave him a brief share of the lead. Unfortunately for Reed, the birdies dried up and so did his hopes of a 2nd Major and he finished 4th at +4. Tony Finau had a real chance at his 1st Major but bogies on 2,3 and 4 hurt and it was a long way back from +6. Finau got it back to +3 by the 15th but time and holes ran out, he finished with a double which dropped him to 5 and 5-over.
Aaron Baddeley was the best placed Australian. Baddeley shot a final round 69 to finish +12 and T25, a 3rd round 77 doing the most damage. Marc Leishman was our next best T45 on 15-over, Leishman carded a 78 on moving day and fell out of contention. Both Jason Day and Adam Scott missed the cut along with some other big names; Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIllroy, Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm.
Congratulations Brooks Koepka on what could be a career defining win. In the midst of much controversy and sensational events that could have proved a distraction and taken away from his title defence, Koepka held it together with class and professionalism. According to the USGA the events of 2004 were a thing of the past – alas they once again lost control of the course. Brooks Koepka wasn’t complaining though, winners generally don’t.
Highlights of Koepka's last round