Erin Hills stirs up a mountain of debate

By Randall MellJune 19, 2017, 10:00 pm

ERIN, Wis. – Erin Hills won the hearts of a lot of major championship winners this week, but they didn’t all love it as a U.S. Open test.

“It was fair,” said Webb Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open champion. “I love Erin Hills, and it was a fun week to be a part of, but it is definitely not a U.S. Open in any way.”

Simpson said Erin Hills reminded him more of a soft British Open course.

“When I think of U.S. Opens, I think of tight fairways, tree-lined fairways with rough and firm greens,” Simpson said. “This week, we had wide fairways, no trees and soft greens.”

Simpson understands exactly why Erin Hills played soft as an inland links-like design and why it was set up the way it was. He understands why there were record low scores, especially in the first three rounds, when rain softened the course and the winds laid down. He understands the USGA knew toughening the course too much could have led to disaster if the winds kicked up quickly like they did in Sunday’s final round.

“I think they did a great job with what they had,” Simpson said. “It’s just a different style golf course than what we are used to having.”

Keegan Bradley, the 2011 PGA Championship winner, wasn’t able to break par in any round and tied for 60th, but he loved the test Erin Hills offered.

It just didn’t remind him of a U.S. Open.

“It’s more like a PGA Championship style course, but I think it’s fantastic,” Bradley said.

“I think, sometimes, U.S. Opens border on unfair. The biggest misconception this week is that this course is so easy. I looked at the stroke averages of the last five U.S. Opens, and it is right there.”

But what about all the scoring records broken at Erin Hills?

Brooks Koepka (-16) equaled Rory McIlroy’s 72-hole U.S. Open scoring record in relation to par.

Justin Thomas broke the U.S. Open single-round scoring record in relation to par with his 9-under-par 63 on Saturday.

Rickie Fowler, Hideki Matsuyama and Chez Reavie equaled records shooting 7-under 65s in the first and second rounds.

Adam Hadwin equaled a U.S. Open record with six consecutive birdies in the first round.

By Sunday’s end, more players (31) finished under par for 72 holes than any U.S. Open in history.

While rain and lighter winds were factors in scoring, Bradley says there was something else, too.

“There are four par 5s here, and it’s a par 72,” Bradley said.

It was the first U.S. Open played to a par 72 in 25 years.

So many USGA setups in the past changed the nature of a golf course, turning natural par 5s into long par 4s. Not at Erin Hills. So, there were more birdie chances there.

“If you had weather like this the first three days, which I’m sure they wish they had, everyone would be closer to par,” Bradley said.

Bradley thought the scoring onslaught made for a more compelling championship.

“I don’t see the problem with it,” Bradley said. “I watched [Saturday] when I was done, and it was way more fun to watch than other ones in the past. I think it’s great. I don’t think it matters what the scores are, I really don’t. ... It’s about the players and the pressure.”

Ernie Els, the two-time U.S. Open winner who may have played this championship for the final time on Sunday, likes the way it is evolving from the “toughest test” in golf to the “ultimate test.”

Els didn’t mind seeing scoring records fall, either.

“If it would have been like this all week, 2-under par would have won,” Els said of Sunday’s heavy winds. “This is like a links. When there’s no wind on a links course, we kill a links course.”

Els said he likes the way USGA executive director Mike Davis’ setup philosophy more thoroughly tests shot making, including chipping around the greens, instead of asking players to chop out of rough after every missed shot.

“I hope we come back here. They deserve another U.S. Open," Els said.

“All the scoring records that fell this week, maybe that’s a sign of the times. Come on, how much can you try to protect a golf course? So you get weather that’s good, greens in perfect condition and wide fairways, so what?

“For so long, they’ve been protecting par, and they have made it ridiculous.

“This was a playable golf course. We got lucky with the weather for three days, but today was a good test. Could you imagine if it was really firm today? We wouldn’t be playing golf. It’s a fair setup, and it got a little bit easy because there was no wind.”

Of course, not everybody liked the low scoring. While more than one player questioned some hole locations in Sunday’s winds, none of the more than dozen players interviewed for this story thought the USGA got overly severe with its setup.

“Nothing was ridiculous,” Kevin Na said.

That’s notable because Na got so much attention early in the week, when he demonstrated on Instagram just how penal the fescue was, which may or may not have led the USGA to carve it back just 48 hours before the competition began.

“There’s a lot of pressure on the USGA, I get that,” Na said. “Overall, they did OK.”

That ranks as high praise compared to player evaluations of the recent past, especially at Chambers Bay two years ago.

“I don’t want to take anything away from Chambers Bay, but this was better than Chambers Bay was as a new venue,” Els said.

Count Jim Furyk among players who didn’t think Erin Hills felt like a traditional U.S. Open test.

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Furyk prefers traditional setups on the game’s more traditional venues.

“If you came here thinking U.S. Open, you had to adjust your style and game,” Furyk said.

This year marked the second time in three years that the USGA has chosen to play on a first-time venue. Chambers Bay and Erin Hills are both public-access courses with more wide-open, modern designs.

Furyk believes criticism the USGA has faced over setups has much to do with the challenges modern design offers modern players.


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“Erin Hills is so severe by design, had this course played firm and fast, it would have put extreme stress on the USGA for their setup,” Furyk said. “I think you see that in a lot of modern courses today. The severity of the layout really makes it difficult on the setup team. You want to make it difficult, you want to make it tough, but because of the severity, it’s so easy to go overboard.”

So erring on the side of caution can make a course seem too easy in benign conditions.

Count Martin Kaymer among the major champions who didn’t think Erin Hills was set up tough enough as a U.S. Open test. Kaymer won this championship three years ago.

Kaymer believes part of the USGA’s challenge is finding setups that will test the best players in the world no matter the weather conditions.

“It would have been great this week with a sub-air system making these greens firmer,” Kaymer said.

Kaymer believes scoring does matter in a major championship test.

“If you shoot 9 under like Justin Thomas did, you ask, `Are the players that good? Or is the golf course too easy?’” Kaymer said. “I guess it’s a combination.”

Kaymer won at Pinehurst with a nontraditional setup, with no rough but sandy, wispy natural areas waiting for players who missed fairways.

“It doesn’t matter if a course is fast and firm or if it is soft with thick rough, it should be very, very tough,” Kaymer said. “I’m a big fan of having the best tournaments in the world being very, very tough, not unplayable, but where level par should give you a chance in the end.”

Kaymer said any style golf course should be set up “in the toughest way for us” in a major championship.

“I feel like you need to shoot under par every single week in tournaments these days,” Kaymer said. “Yes, I get it. It’s fun for spectators, but it’s now all about hitting it long and making putts. I don’t think you get penalized too much for missing fairways.”

Kaymer understands why the fairways were wider at Erin Hills, but he believes they were too wide.

“If the fairways were a little tighter, it would have been an amazing championship,” Kaymer said.

Stewart Cink loved Erin Hills, and he conceded he got away with some errant drives this week that probably should have been punished more, but he gave a thumbs up to the thinking behind the overall setup.

“The contours are so severe in the fairways here,” said Cink, who won The Open in 2009. “They had no choice but to make the fairways really wide.

“So if it gets wet like it did this week, and it gets soft, the fairways are going to play too generously for a U.S. Open, too wide, a little too forgiving.”

Cink believes a severe setup plan at Erin Hills could have caused serious problems, with a huge downside if the course was too firm and fast when the usual heavy winds arrived.

“It would have been a bloodbath,” Cink said.

Cink believed Erin Hills was a major test even with the setup erring on the side of caution.

“This is a fantastic course,” Cink said. “It definitely tests your approach shot planning more than your tee ball planning.

“The green complexes were all very unique and interesting. I think it’s a major championship test, a major championship venue. I think they should probably keep this in the major championship rotation.

“It was really fun to play here. I don’t care what the scores are. The USGA probably doesn’t like that many red numbers, but it doesn’t matter. The course here was a really fine test.”

Hadwin would have loved to have claimed his first major at Erin Hills. Watching all the scoring records fall didn’t bother the man who shot 59 earlier this year, because Hadwin is proving he can play tough tests as well as he can play birdie fests.

Hadwin took note of all the low scores this week, but he took note of the high ones, too. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson opened the championship with a 75, No. 2 Rory McIlroy with a 78 and No. 3 Jason Day with a 79. They all missed the cut.

Hadwin believes the wide range in scores spoke well for the kind of test Erin Hills offered.

“I absolutely loved the course,” said Hadwin, who won the Valspar Championship on the tough Innisbrook Copperhead course in March. “To me, what makes a great golf course is you can shoot 66 and you can shoot 78 just as easily. I love that about Muirfield Village as well. If you are on, you can make birdies. If you are off, it’s going to be extremely difficult.

“I think what people saw the first three days at Erin Hills is not indicative of what this golf course can be like. I think today is more what Erin Hills is like.”

The scoring average in Sunday’s heavier winds was 73.92, almost two strokes higher than on Saturday, when Thomas shot his record-setting 9-under 63.

“I think some people want to see flat-out carnage at U.S. Opens,” Hadwin said. “I saw some tweets saying it didn’t feel like a U.S. Open because of the names on the leaderboard. That does a huge disservice to the guys here and how they are playing. Just because some of the big names aren’t here on the weekend doesn’t mean it’s not a great championship. I think the players at the top of the leaderboard are there for a reason.”

It might surprise folks who saw Na’s Instagram depiction of Erin Hills’ penal fescue early in the week, but Na agrees with Kaymer. He believes the fairways should have been narrowed more this week, maybe by just 10 more yards. Notably, he doesn’t believe the fescue should have been brought in closer to the fairways. He believes the traditional rough serving as buffer should have been brought in closer.

Mostly, Na believes the USGA’s real challenges can be blamed on how players and equipment have changed.

“The thing is, players are getting so much better,” Na said. “Guys are hitting it 340 yards. Everyone is so much stronger. And technologically, the ball’s so much better. The ball is going too far, and guys are only going to hit it farther.”

Jordan Spieth, who won the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, called Erin Hills “an awesome golf course” and would like to see the championship return here. He summed up the debate the week’s low scoring created this way:

“I think anytime you've seen U.S. Open golf venues work back towards even par, there are complaints. Now, all of a sudden, they make it tough and fair, and people are 12 under, and people are complaining they're 12 under, so like let's pick one side or the other here. I think it's exciting.”

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.



It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.



Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.



Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.



Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.



After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.



Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.


Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters


Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.