ERIN, Wis. – Brandt Snedeker glanced up at the leaderboard late Friday at the U.S. Open and momentarily struggled with the math, which is saying something considering the Vanderbilt graduate is normally one of the game’s best and brightest.
For everything this week’s leaderboard lacked in star power – with eight of the top 12 players in the world, including the top 3, headed for the airport after missing the cut – it more than made up for in sheer numbers.
It’s a quantity over quality deal for the 117th edition, with 14 players within three strokes of lead, and that’s not counting the four tied for the top spot at 7 under par at the Rush Hour Open.
Despite the ridiculous length of Erin Hills – the tab came to 7,839 yards on Day 2 – and a modest breeze for much of the day that, in theory, should have started the process of separating the wheat from the chaff, there’s less clarity after 36 holes than there was before Thursday’s opening tee shot, which doesn’t seem possible.
“I just don't know if we've found the golf course yet. You can see it getting there. Greens-wise in U.S. Opens you get firm, fast conditions and the fire's not quite there yet,” said Snedeker, who joined the pack with a second-round 69 that left him tied for eighth with five others. “Yesterday afternoon I saw it a little on TV. Saw it today a little this afternoon. I expect to see more and more over the weekend. So when that happens, it will really start the separating.”
Perhaps Snedeker is onto something. There’s no denying that the Erin Hills Open is different from your normal fare. There were 44 players under par on Thursday and the 42 players under par after two days are the most in U.S. Open history.
The last two years at the U.S. Open there were nine players within three of the lead at the midway point, 10 in 2013 and no one was within five strokes of Martin Kaymer in ’14, compared to the 14 would-be winners at Erin Hills.
Erin Hills will toughen, on this there is no doubt.
The USGA eased the bite back into the brute on Friday and if history holds the low scoring will subside the closer we get to Sunday afternoon.
“We knew it was coming today. That was no secret,” William McGirt said of Friday’s increasingly difficult conditions.
But it’s just not the ease some in the field have been able to navigate the course that’s to blame for the traffic jam. Despite a singular narrative in the days before this championship that Erin Hills was a bomber’s course – nothing more, nothing less – the leaderboard tells a vastly different tale.
Koepka, Casey, Fleetwood and Harman rank 16th, 78th, 86th and 120th in the field in driving distance, respectively.
“It would be nice if I could play from where Keegan [Bradley] drove for two days,” McGirt said. “It doesn't scare me to have to hit 3- or 4-irons. It's not that big a deal. There's a couple of holes out here that are a little over the top, but that's the way it is.”
Nor does Erin Hills seem to have much interest in the status quo. The world Nos. 1, 2 and 3 – Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day, respectively – missed the cut for the first time in any major with a combined 19 over total, and there’s not a single major champion within three of the lead.
Instead there’s a potpourri of players from perennial contenders Rickie Fowler (T-5), Snedeker and Hideki Matsuyama (T-8) to bona fide dark horses like PGA Tour rookie Xander Schauffele (T-8) and amateur Cameron Champ (T-8).
There’s still plenty of time to restore order. Winds that are forecast to reach 25 mph on the weekend and increasingly crusty greens should thin the crowd and inject some much needed clarity into what after two days has looked more like a fire drill.
Until then it’s best that everyone stays calm and move in an orderly manner toward the 72nd hole.