ERIN, Wis. – The hardest part about Erin Hills for this week’s U.S. Open is visualizing the shots. U.S. Golf Association executive director Mike Davis says that he figures “there’s some element of blindness on 14 of the holes here.”
Familiarity might be standard on a century-old links course, or on one that’s a staple of a championship tour. But a relative newcomer to competitions, Erin Hills makes unique demands on players given its adherence to native land forms that, in some cases, form major visual obstacles. The par-4 second hole, measuring at 338 yards, is blind on both the tee shot and the second shot.
One way to overcome this is to have a map in hand that takes into account a player’s perspective. A static yardage map isn’t enough since it doesn’t show what angles look like at certain distances. Into the vacuum steps Scott Fawcett, a 43-year-old former player on the Web.com Tour and mini-tours with a penchant for mathematics and analyzing gambling games, especially poker and blackjack. He’s created a system of course preparation and strategy that he calls DECADE.
Distance. Expectation. Correct Target. Analyze. Discipline. Execute.
It’s the basis of half-day seminars, taught in an indoor classroom setting that Fawcett has offered. Players and instructors have enrolled. A few college teams did, as well, until the NCAAs ruled the workshops constitute an unfair advantage as a banned third coach. But college coaches have been learning the system and applying it, which is allowed.
Fawcett, who also caddied for Will Zalatoris during Zalatoris’ 2014 U.S. Junior Amateur victory, is all about probabilities. He analyzes the geometry of outcomes, percentages and shot dispersion. He generates a map of golf holes from Google Earth, lays out axes of play from select yardages, and depicts the space for likely outcomes.
The system encourages smart, safer play – even if more conservative play. USC head coach Chris Zambri supports DECADE wholeheartedly.
“I love it,” Zambri said. “It’s completely changed the way I coach and how we strategize a golf course, especially how to play into greens. I had it wrong. I was being way overly aggressive.”
DECADE is all about angles, width and likelihood. It emphasizes what hazards are brought into play on the side where the hole is cut. Zambri says its most powerful impact is showing “how nasty fairway bunkers are 75-125 yards from the green.”
At Erin Hills, Fawcett spent a morning walking with Jamie Lovemark, one of 15 players in this year’s U.S. Open field who make use of DECADE. Others include Bryson DeChambeau, who won the NCAA individual title and U.S. Amateur in 2015, and Maverick McNealy, the 2015 Haskins Award winner and former top-ranked amateur.
Fawcett’s map of the semi-blind eighth hole at Erin Hills shows the awkward angle posed by a tee shot traveling 290 yards (down the prevailing wind) to the narrowest landing zone on the course, 55 yards. From that a player can chart an ideal line off the tee, then assess the width – 39 yards – of the second shot in. And that’s just the start of the template. From there, players learn to heed the lessons of chance and probability.
“It also means fewer bogeys and double bogeys,” Zambri said.