Wisconsin… it’s a home to so many great things. The shimmering shores of the coastline that borders Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. It’s the home of the Badgers, Packers, Brewers and Bucks. I think it also was the home to televisions sitcom “Laverne and Shirley” and the brewery that they worked for. Wisconsin is also known for its forests and farmlands. After this week it is also known for a golf course that was created on land where dairy cows once grazed so we could eat Wisconsin cheese.
This week the USGA held its national championship in Erin, Wisconsin at Erin Hills. A golf course owned by visionary Andrew Ziegler and designed by the team of Dr. Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and Ron Whitten. A links-style golf course that looked like it would be right at home with the wind-swept links courses of Scotland and Ireland. The venue was actually built with the anticipation of one day hosting the U.S. Open.
Leading up to the U.S. Open at Erin Hills there was quite the build-up about the course itself. While some players in the field like Rory McIlroy were loving the golf course and its set-up others were quick to judge the golf course harshly. I wrote about Adam Scott and Kevin Na who posted “that video” on social media about the rough and after he turned in a solid first round he was quick to say that his remarks were taken out of context. Either way, to summarize the golf course it appeared to be in terrific shape, yes the first cut was long and the fescue was just that. But this golf course also featured fairways that were said to be 50-60 yards wide and greens that were everything that Chambers Bay wasn’t.
Before the end of the first round of the year’s second Major Championship it was already very newsworthy. On Thursday, there was the news that a blimp doing advertising for a financial institution caught on fire and later crashed within proximity of the golf course. Thankfully everyone survived and the pilot who was burned in the fire is said to be okay. Meanwhile at a hydration station on the golf course E.coli bacteria was found. The stations were shutdown and the USGA would supply complimentary bottled water to the spectators at all of the hydration stations for the duration of the tournament. While the rough and the fescue effected some like Rory who said and I am paraphrasing… “You have fairways 50-60 yards wide and the best players in the world. The fescue shouldn’t be an issue”. Ironically enough for him it turned out to be a problem. Yet for Kevin Na (whom admonished the fescue) it wasn’t as he played very well that first day. In fact, many more players played very well but none played better than Rickie Fowler during round one. Rickie that first day was “on fire” and as hard as he fought the rest of the way he would slowly fade out of contention. If Rickie could win a Major… it would be a great thing for golf. A young man who possesses many of the same characteristics as Mr. Palmer.
By the time the tournament had finished its second round there was more off the course news. It was reported that a 94 year-old man passed away at the course. Also making news at the conclusion of the second round was the list of players who did not make the cut. The top three in the world Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson all missed the cut. As did players like Bubba Watson, Justin Rose, Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson to name a few. But the news wasn’t all bleak. The amateurs in the field played real well. Players like Cameron Champ (who was -5 after the first two rounds) had me excited at the prospect of a “what if an amateur won?” . The U.S. Open low amateur Scottie Scheffler gave us some excitement as well. Congratulations go out to the latter.
What blew me away though was the record-setting number of players better than par for the tournament. Never has a U.S. Open seen these kinds of numbers occur. I am the first to admit that I love to watch the U.S. Open because of the carnage that typically happens. Conditions that border on brutal and in a way… stupid. Think about Chambers Bay or the fiasco that occurred at 2018 venue Shinnecock Hills in 2004. For the most part I was sort of “bored” watching the golf because the scores were so low but then the third round happened on Saturday. More and more low scores were getting posted but none were lower than the -9 (63) turned in by Justin Thomas. It was the lowest score that a player has recorded in relation to par in a U.S. Open championship. It was a round that bested the prior record set by Johnny Miller at the 1973 U.S. Open. A record that the “shy’ Johnny Miller has never really mentioned. That round by Thomas could be summed up with one adjective… electric. Speaking of electric.
I know that I mentioned that I love the U.S. Open because of the low scores turned in. I love the U.S. Open because it can make the world’s best look ordinary. As much as I was “bored” by the low scores getting posted it did make for compelling television. Numerous players were in contention after the third round including 54 hole leader Brian Harman, Hideki Matsuyama, Tommy Fleetwood and Brooks Koepka setting up what could make for a fantastic final round. Finally the winds were going to be up a little bit from earlier in the week and alas it would be a chance for Erin Hills to show her teeth. While Harman and Fleetwood would play par golf and Matsuyama would fire an impressive -6 (66) Brooks Koepka would pull away and beat the field by four strokes and post a -5 (67) en route to his Major victory. The first of what could be many in his career.
As I sit back and digest everything that happened it’s tough not think about and remember the side stories from the 117th U.S. Open Championship at Erin Hills. Crash and burning of the literal and figurative kind. Bacteria-laced water and the death of a golf fan. We crowned a newly minted Major champion. I still like scores closer to par in a championship like the U.S. Open but in the end Erin Hills you were fun. The 117th U.S. Open proved to provide plenty of excitement for golf and its collective fanbase.
Until The Next Tee!