New course could lead to unexpected results at U.S. Open

Looking pretty ominous at the US Open practice roundThe 2017 U.S. Open is being held on a course too young to buy a drink. Erin Hills opened in 2006, and will host the U.S. Open in its 11th year of existence, breaking with the tradition of using old, well-established courses for the major tournament, such as last year’s iteration at Oakmont. Breaking with tradition has led to controversy, like in 2015 at Chambers Bay, and Erin Hills could confound golfers with its unique layout and style.

World No. 1 golfer Dustin Johnson won last year’s U.S. Open, and he will be ready to go Thursday when this year’s tournament begins. Johnson missed the Masters after suffering a last-minute injury, and he has yet to win a tournament since returning. He missed the cut at the Memorial Tournament two weeks ago, and he will need to adjust his game to suit the long holes and unforgiving rough of Erin Hills.

Unlike in 2015, when many golfers publicly criticized the condition of the greens at Chambers Bay, the concern with Erin Hills is in everything that comes before the green. The course itself is massive, sitting in an area that could accommodate up to four average-sized American golf courses. That means lengthy fairways that reward long, straight drives careful to avoid the tall weeds in the rough, which could result in a few lost balls over the weekend.

Groundskeepers trimmed the rough on four of the holes this week, but plenty of it remains to get lost in should someone’s shot veer off the intended path. The fairways are wide enough to provide many different angles for approaching the greens, and four par-5s offer plenty of opportunities to score points the rough might steal away. All in all, the biggest challenge posed by Erin Hills is simply how different it is expected to play from a traditional U.S. Open course.

Rory McIlroy, who recently recovered from aggravating a back injury in May, lamented the trimming of the rough, but shouldn’t have much trouble with the course considering his powerful swing. The long fairways should also play into the hands of Sergio Garcia, who won his first major in April at the Masters thanks in part to his tremendous drives throughout the weekend. Johnson and Bubba Watson are also strong drivers.

One familiar face likely to miss the tournament is Phil Mickelson, who is attending his daughter’s graduation in California on Thursday, the same day as the opening round. The U.S. Open is the one major tournament Mickelson has never won, and he might need to wait until next year to have another chance.