A Viewer’s Notebook: Guide to Round 1 at U.S. Open

US Open-Erin Hills-14th hole Getty Images

A Viewer’s Notebook: Guide to Round 1 at U.S. Open

PGA Tour

A Viewer’s Notebook: Guide to Round 1 at U.S. Open

ERIN, Wis. – They’re off. It’s a beautiful day. The crowds are out. The golf course looks great. For home viewers tracking on mobile devices or watching on their laptops or TV, here’s a quick guide to what’s up and what’s interesting today:

  • 1. Long, but score-able: at 7,845 yards, today’s setup is the longest ever for a U.S. Open, though at par 72 in perfect weather, there are those four par 5s as birdie opportunities and all likelihood of a cluster of very low scores. Prediction: there’s a 64 out there, maybe even a 63.
  • 2. Lucky with weather: rains predicted for Wednesday night, as much as 1-2 inches, never showed up, Erin Hills only got one-tenth of an inch and is starting to dry out after heavy rains Monday added moisture to a course already damp from sustained rains. There’s light wind out of the west, circa 8-10 miles per hour – technically it’s called a “zephyr.” That’s the easiest wind to deal with, especially because it makes the long par-5 18th, 632 yards Thursday, play downwind. Someone will reach it. Actually, a few will.
  • 3. Course setup: Greens are rolling at 12.5-13 on the Stimpmeter and will slow down just a little during the day. It’s normal to lose half a foot in speed during the day. The bentgrass greens will grow a little, but they will also dry out a touch. The real issue is the firmness of the greens. Given the weather lately, they are a little softer and more receptive than U.S. Golf Association officials would like. But there’s nothing they can do except wait and hope for the surfaces to dry out. Until then, as we’ll see Thursday, players will be able to stick their iron shots. So some of the kick has been taken out of the course. Even if they lose a little distance because the fairways aren’t rolling out, they’ll gain ball control through greens that hold. That means low scores.
  • 4. Goofy 14th Hole: The par-5 14th, playing 599 yards Thursday, is effectively playing as a blind, 125-yard par 3. The hole is cut way right – on an elevated green that slopes dramatically from middle to right. Anything hit short to this green kicks down and to the right. Worse yet, the tee shot on this hole is to a very narrow fairway – one divided, actually, by a mid-fairway gash of sand that creates two paths, 15 yards in width to the right and 25 yards width to the left. That discourages bold tee shots. And the green setting – elevated, with a steep fall off all around, discourages going for the green in two. The standard second shot here will be a middle-iron way left to the approach fairway, leaving a blind third shot to a green that falls away.
  • 5. Scary little ninth: The longest course in U.S. Open history and the scariest hole of all is the shortest, only 150 yards. But the green, one of the few sitting downhill from the tee, plays to a crosswind, with the flag cut only five paces on the left from the craziest, most irrational set of bunkers on the course, if not in all of championship golf. Designers Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and Ron Whitten tout the fact that at Erin Hills, the bunkers are real hazards. Well, watch out for what happens here, because someone will tug a wedge or 9-iron and need a hook and ladder company to get rescued. Should be fun to watch. Except for the caddie of the poor guy who makes seven from the bunkers on the left.

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