Arguably the most demanding test in pro golf, the U.S. Open, begins Thursday at Erin Hills in Erin, Wis.
The initial word that comes to mind when thinking about Erin Hills is “long.” The course is officially listed at 7,693 yards for the championship and has the ability to play up to 7,800 yards. This will also be the first par-72 U.S. Open venue since 1992. The length certainly favors the power player.
However, while the fairways are fairly wide compared to other U.S. Open hosts, the penalty is pretty severe should a player miss a fairway. The rough is nasty and the fescue tall and thick.
The greens are surfaced with A-4 bentgrass and word is that they are really pure.
The U.S. Open always aims to crown a champion who does everything well, and Erin Hills should certainly provide that desired complete test. Therefore, look for guys who lead the strokes-gained categories but who can also hit their spots off the tee to set up their approach shots and aren’t struggling with the flatstick.
With that said, here are my top 25 fantasy-golf options for this year’s U.S. Open at Erin Hills, plus 10 possibly under-the-radar players who I also really like:
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1. Dustin Johnson: The world’s best player right now and defending U.S. Open champion. He’s also the PGA Tour’s leader in driving distance and strokes gained-tee to green. He’s the top option at Erin Hills, even with his recent MC at Memorial.
2. Jordan Spieth: Ranks 11th in strokes gained-tee to green and 40th in strokes gained-putting, though I expect his putter to really come alive at Erin Hills. He did miss three of four cuts recently but has shown enough in last two starts – T-2 at Colonial, T-13 at Memorial – for one to believe he can win another one of these U.S. Opens.
3. Jason Day: He’s really starting to find his groove, finishing runner-up at the Byron Nelson and T-15 at the Memorial. His combination of length and short game is unmatched by most players. If he can find fairways, which he’s struggled with this season, he’ll be very dangerous.
4. Rory McIlroy: He hasn’t played since The Players and his health has to be somewhat of a concern, but the 2011 U.S. Open champion still should be one of the favorites. He’s long and great tee to green, and the putter has been better for him than it was at the past few U.S. Opens.
5. Sergio Garcia: Proved you don’t need to be the world’s best putter to win a major earlier this season at Augusta. His tee-to-green game, though, is top notch. Garcia is third in strokes gained-tee to green and in the top 40 in both driving distance and accuracy. Has finished worse than T-30 just once since last fall’s BMW Championship.
6. Rickie Fowler: One of the best drivers of the golf ball in the world is 31st in driving distance and 19th in driving accuracy. He’s sixth in both strokes gained-tee to green and strokes gained-putting. Seven top-16 finishes since missed cut at the Farmers. Everything points to Fowler potentially winning his first major. The only concern: a poor showing in Memphis.
7. Jon Rahm: Young but ready to win a major, Rahm has the length and overall game to contend in a U.S. Open. He didn’t look sharp in MC at Memorial but he does have 10 finishes of T-16 or better already this season. He’s second in strokes gained-tee to green.
8. Hideki Matsuyama: His ballstriking can keep him near the top of the leaderboard, but he isn’t the straightest off the tee and his putter (187th in strokes gained-putting) will likely keep him from winning. Hasn’t had a top 10 since he won in Phoenix.
9. Paul Casey: Ranks 12th in strokes gained-tee to green and putter has been solid (60th in strokes gained-putting). Recent results are very promising, too – four top 12s and nothing worse than T-22 in last five starts.
10. Justin Rose: Has played just twice since the Masters. Great tee to green, but will need to make some putts. He’ll be in the hunt, but will need to hit more fairways than he has so far this season to win.
11. Kevin Kisner: Very high on Kisner this week. He’s 10th in strokes gained-tee to green and 23rd in strokes gained-putting. He’s super straight and long enough. He’s playing well, too, with a win and T-6 in his last two starts. Would be great option in fantasy drafts once top names are off the board.
12. Alex Noren: Solid all-around game and playing his best golf of the year right now – 10th, first an T-15 in last three starts.
13. Adam Scott: Not in top 30 in strokes gained-tee to green or strokes gained-putting, but is close. Missed just one cut in last 13 starts, though hasn’t contended as much as many would expect. Needs to be more accurate off the tee and hope the putter really gets going to win at Erin Hills.
14. Justin Thomas: T-4 at Memorial shows he’s close and he certainly has the length to contend and he hits greens in bunches. He just needs to hit fairways and get his birdie mojo going at Erin Hills.
15. Louis Oosthuizen: Always seems to show up at the U.S. Open, including his T-2 finish at Chambers Bay two years ago. Ranked in the top 30 in both strokes gained-tee to green (17) and strokes gained-putting (27). Has gone T-2, T-18 in last two Tour starts.
16. Brooks Koepka: Can handle the length of Erin Hills easily and is playing his best golf right now. Seven straight made cuts and playing well in Memphis. He can putt, too (33rd in strokes gained-putting).
17. Francesco Molinari: Was great to close 2016 and is starting to play like that again with a T-6 and runner-up in his last two worldwide starts. Super accurate off the tee (second on Tour in driving accuracy) and just outside the top 100 in driving distance. Ranks fourth in strokes gained-tee to green.
18. Matt Kuchar: Trending up with finishes of T-9, T-12 and T-4 in his last three starts. He isn’t the longest but he makes up for it in other areas, including experience and mental fortitude.
19. Tyrell Hatton: I’m slightly scared after his Masters performance and the fact that he hasn’t finished better than T-29 in three starts since. But Hatton is statistically the Tour’s best putter and will get tee to green without finding much trouble, which will be key this week.
20. Jason Dufner: Everyone knows he’ll be near the top in ballstriking categories at Erin Hills; the key will be the putting, and Dufner has been pretty good this season, ranking T-48 in strokes gained-putting. Coming off a win at the Memorial.
21. Henrik Stenson: Seems to be turning a corner after three straight MCs in March and April. T-16, T-3 and T-26 in last three starts. His 3-wood will be a real asset at Erin Hills. Withdrew last year at U.S. Open.
22. Branden Grace: Has the game for this championship – T-4 and T-5 in last two U.S. Opens. He does enter this year’s U.S. Open not having his best season, statistically, but he is playing his bets golf of the year with three top-11 finishes in his last four starts worldwide.
23. Daniel Berger: Will be hard to go back-to-back after his win in Memphis, but Berger has the tools to win at Erin Hills. He’s in the top 40 in strokes gained-off the tee and strokes gained-putting. He also hits a good amount of greens.
24. Bernd Wiesberger: Don’t overlook him because he mostly plays in Europe. He won’t blow it by people but he’ll keep it in play and hole some putts. T-12 at The Players among six top-30 finishes in last seven starts. That streak also includes his win at the Volvo China Open.
25. Marc Leishman: T-15 at Memorial was promising and Leishman has always shown the all-around game to contend at majors. If he keeps it in the fairway, he’ll be dangerous.
(Note: Berger was added in place of previous No. 25 Matt Fitzpatrick after Berger’s win at the FedEx St. Jude Classic.)
Players outside the top 50 who I like
Ben An: Four straight top 25s on Tour, including two top 10s. Has power and skilled tee-to-green game. Just needs to hit more fairways and hole more putts and he could finish well at Erin Hills.
Russell Henley: Great putter who is plenty long and does a good job of keeping the ball in the fairway and hitting greens. The results haven’t been great recently, but he’s got the game to do well at Erin Hills.
Shane Lowry: He’s struggled at times this year, but he’s riding some momentum after a T-6 at the BMW PGA and T-15 at the Memorial. He contended last year at Oakmont and I really like his game for U.S. Open tests. He ranks in the top 35 on Tour in strokes gained-tee to green and driving accuracy, and he’s in the top 70 in strokes gained-putting and driving distance.
Lee Westwood: Veteran can still contend in these majors. T-18 or better in three of his last four starts. Why not?
Brendan Steele: Nice blend of power and accuracy off the tee. Can make putts when he’s on. Doesn’t miss cuts.
Steve Stricker: Wisconsin’s native son ranks first on Tour in driving accuracy. He could surprise.
Peter Uihlein: Made quarterfinals at U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills in 2011. His game is really coming alive right now, too. No MCs in 2017 and he’s been T-33 or better in 10 of last 11 starts.
Alexander Levy: Has a win and two other top-8 finishes in last six worldwide starts.
Graeme McDowell: It’s been seven years since his U.S. Open victory but I like McDowell this week. Ranks eighth in strokes gained-putting and seventh in driving accuracy. The length of Erin Hills doesn’t favor him, but McDowell has been solid in 2017 with nine top-30 finishes.
Joaquin Niemann: World’s top-ranked amateur is the real deal. He rarely misses fairways. If he can handle his nerves and make putts, he’ll make the cut at the very least.