While The Masters is played at the same golf course every year, we still have seen some changes to the layout and the set up to accommodate the modern golfer's game. The U.S. Open is no different. While the venue changes every year, we have seen the USGA try to find the balance of the older, traditional style U.S. Open set up with pencil-thin fairways and six inch rough, coupling it with a longer, wider, more modern set up. Twice recently, the USGA has been bitten by weather not cooperating. At Chambers Bay in 2015, the Seattle area didn't get any rain and the greens became a real nightmare for the championship. Last year at Erin Hills in Wisconsin, the wind did not blow and the players ate up the wide fairways and the course, resulting in a 16-under par finish and victory for Brooks Koepka. This year, the 118th version of The United States Open Championship finds itself at storied, Shinnecock Hills on Long Island in Southampton, New York and it seems heading in, that the USGA may have the exact balance it is shooting for to stage their championship, one they try to make the toughest test in golf.
Shinnecock is viewed as one of the Top 5 U.S. Open courses in history. This will be the fifth time it has hosted the event with the last being in 2004. This version was another hiccup for the USGA when on Sunday, a few of the greens were so baked out, that balls would not hold and were running off into green-side bunkers. Fast forward to 2018. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw were brought in to do their magic at Shinnecock and correct some of the issues that troubled the championship in 2004. Nearly 500-yards of length was added to the course. Trees were removed in an effort to allow more wind to come off of the coast and effect play. The fairways were widened - and then narrowed again by the USGA - but in the end, the landing areas off of the tee will be half again as wide as they were in 2004, on average. Some of the run-off areas around the greens were enlarged and reshaped to avoid what the players experienced in 2004. The end product looks to be a beast of a Par 70 course at 7,445 yards with a coastal, links feel. Both accuracy and length off of the tee will be crucial. Finding the wispy, British Open looking fescue off of the fairways will likely cost a player at least a stroke. Hitting the smaller, Poa Annua grass greens will be of the utmost importance, and when missing the putting surface, a creative short game will come in handy.
Aside from the statistical handicap of this U.S. Open, we can also look to some other golf courses that might be indicators for crossover success. With the links element, seaside location, and Poa Annua greens, we can take a look at how players have done at Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines, both former U.S. Open venues. Pinehurst #2, the host course of this championship in 2014 is a sandy-based course, like Shinnecock, with similar run-off areas around the greens and was also tweaked by Coore & Crenshaw. Trinity Forest, the brand new host of this year's AT&T Byron Nelson was designed by Coore & Crenshaw and is also what would be described as an "American" links style course.
The wind does not appear to be a major factor this week but it will be a steady, thick, coastal breeze in the neighborhood of 10-12 MPH, which is just enough to play a role in shot making.
Dustin Johnson (+9.64 Pinnacle) Back atop the world rankings after his victory last week at The FedEx St. Jude Classic, DJ comes in with a head of steam. No player has ever won the week prior and gone on to win The U.S. Open but Johnson has finished Top 5 in three of the last four U.S. Opens with a win in 2016.
Justin Rose (+14.70 Pinnacle) Rosey won this championship in 2013 at Merion, a classic U.S. Open track. He won last month at another classic course, Colonial, that requires many U.S. Open type skill sets. He has also fared very well in the past at Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines. Ranked number 3 in the world, he's been playing the best golf of his career for the last nine months.
Rickie Fowler (+21.95 Pinnacle) Just engaged last weekend, this could give Rickie the peace of mind and joyfulness it takes to win a Major, with some of the pressure escaping and a comfort level taking over. He was 2nd at Pinehurst in 2014 and also took 2nd this year at The Masters.
Henrik Stenson (+3850 Bookmaker) Stenson was 4th at Pinehurst in 2014 and knows how to play links golf as well as anyone. He leads The Tour in Driving Accuracy, Greens in Regulation, Strokes Gained: Approach, and Par 4 Scoring.
Marc Leishman (+66.81 Pinnacle) Leishman nearly went wire to wire at The Byron Nelson and has always been a great British Open player. After looking like he might win The Masters back in April, only to fall back to 9th place, he may be ready to rebound this week in New York.
Adam Scott (+7000 5Dimes) Scott shot was then a course record 63 during a casual round at Shinnecock back in 2013 and will use the same caddie this week that helped him around the course that day. His mind seems to be set on contending here as he went as far as playing in a qualifier to get into this field. Scott was 9th at Pinehurst in 2014.
The Long Shots
Shane Lowry (+15000 5Dimes) A great links player, Lowry has had very good success on the West Coast Poa Annua at Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach. He was 2nd to Dustin Johnson at Oakmont in 2016.
Steve Stricker (+20000 5Dimes) The 51-year old has won twice this year on The Champions Tour, finished 2nd twice and 5th once. He hasn't missed a cut at The U.S. Open in his last ten trips and hasn't finished worse than 21st in his last five.
Aaron Wise (+20000 5Dimes) The young gun from University of Oregon grabbed his first PGA Tour victory earlier this year at The Byron Nelson. He was 2nd at The Wells Fargo and 15th at Pebble Beach. He ranks 18th on Tour in Total Driving, 33rd in Ball Striking, and 16th in Putting Average.
Branden Grace (37.59 Pinnacle) Grace hasn't missed a cut world-wide since last August and has finished Top 5 in two of the last three U.S. Opens. He is a links specialist and shot a Major Championship record, 62 at Royal Birkdale at last summer's British Open. Grace took 4th at The PGA Championship in 2016, finished 20th at Pebble Beach earlier this year and 3rd at The Byron Nelson less than a month ago. He's 29th on Tour in Greens in Regulation, 32nd in Total Driving, and 15th in Strokes Gained: Putting. It was fellow countryman, Retief Goosen, who won here at Shinnecock in 2004. I believe 2018 will give us another South African in the form of Grace under pressure.
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