ERIN, Wis. – The 117th U.S. Open began in earnest Monday at Erin Hills as many players took to the course for the first of three practice days. The general response from golfers has been similar following their rounds:
It’s a great course so long as you stay out of the long, thick fescue that lines the fairways, often only a few yards removed. Find your way in there and you’re in deep trouble.
“Probably the best conditioned major that I’ve seen; it’s phenomenal,” Steve Stricker said. “The feel isn’t really a U.S. Open until you go in the rough and then you realize you better stay out of there. It’s different. Very wide fairways. … But if you miss the fairways you’re going to have a tough time. It’s literally a one-shot penalty if you hit it in there.”
The ubiquitous fescue that occupies much of the 652-acre property has become an early hot topic of conversation, thanks in part to some videos posted on social media. On May 30, Wesley Bryan posted a video on Twitter where he took two steps off the fairway and was in thick fescue.
On Monday, though, Bryan spoke highly of the fescue and the challenge it poses.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “It’s basically a penalty, so the objective is to keep it out of it.”
Kevin Na doesn’t feel the same way. He posted an Instagram video on Sunday bemoaning the proximity of the fescue to the fairway. In it, he tossed a ball three yards from the fairway into the thicket, hacked at it twice and lost the ball entirely.
Jon Rahm, currently ranked 10th in the world, agreed with Na in the sense that the fescue poses a stiff challenge to golfers. Instead of practicing playing out of it on Monday, though, Rahm opted to steer clear.
“I didn’t step in it,” he said. “I’m like there’s no need to injure my wrist this week before I tee off. It really looks very penalizing. Unless you get extremely lucky where you might be able to move it 120 yards, it looks like a 30-yard chip out to the fairway. … It doesn’t look easy to move out of there. It wouldn’t surprise me if someone loses a ball, has to take an unplayable.”
Executive director Mike Davis and the USGA recognize the challenge the fescue poses, which is why they have already taken steps to level the playing field. The chief concession was that the USGA widened the fairways — and will continue to consider widening them more in certain spots over the next few days.
By U.S. Open standards, the fairways at Erin Hills are about 50% wider, according to Davis. At Winged Foot, which has hosted the U.S. Open five times, the fairways had an average width of 26 yards. On some holes at Erin Hills, the fairway and the primary cut of rough are upwards of 70 yards wide.
Davis noted that the fairway on the 10th hole could fit “three fairways at Winged Foot.”
“We’re going to see the highest percentage of fairways hit this week at an (U.S.) Open,” Stricker said. “I don’t know what that percentage would be, but for the field. They’re generous.”