Monday, June 19, 2017

Not Big Enough

In the lead up to the 117th US Open at Erin Hills the key word was "big".  It's a big course with big fairways, big greens, big bunkers, big crowds, big wind, big fescue areas, etc, etc.  Only the big hitters would have a chance there.  The scores would be big and it would be a big hit in the end.  But as it turned out, Erin Hills wasn't big enough.

Outside of the ropes, the US Open at Erin Hills was good.  The blimp crash wasn't the fault of anyone associated with the tournament.  The E Coli contaminated water was replaced quickly and there were no reports of any outbreak of stomach ailments.  The death of a spectator actually turned out to be quite a heartwarming story.  Transporting fans from parking lots 20-minutes away went well and the sheer size of the property kept crowding on most holes to a minimum.  The few complaints I heard were about concession stands running out of popular food items and fans being kept farther away from the action due to the width of the fairways and hazards.

But ultimately, the "success" of a tournament lies in what happens inside the ropes--and unfortunately this weekend was more Greater Milwaukee Open than US Open.  In the space of four days, we saw new tournament records for lowest first round score, lowest score in any round, lowest winning score relative to par, the most players double digits under par and the most players overall under par for a US Open.  The players proved that you could have the longest course in the history of the event--but if you give them a country mile in which to land their drives, they are still going to eat the place up.

There were factors in play that the USGA could not control.  The winds didn't blow nearly hard enough to affect play until Sunday--and even then, winner Brooks Keopka shot five-under.  Rain throughout the week made the greens soft--allowing players to shoot right at the pins and get their balls to stick--instead of bouncing and rolling through like they do in most US Opens.  And we realized an unfortunate reality, there is no such thing as a course long enough to challenge today's players anymore.  The second longest hole in US Open history--the 672-yard par 5 18th--was the easiest hole in terms of scoring average on Sunday. 

Many of the biggest names in golf--including the great Jack Nicklaus--had expressed their displeasure with the USGA bringing the Open to a new, wide-open course like Erin Hills.  They predicted scores that would be too low and just not enough of a challenge for modern Tour players.  And in the end, those critics were proven right.  Hopefully the fans enjoyed seeing this Open, because I doubt it will be coming back.

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