Randall's Rant: Ultimate risk/reward for Davis


This U.S. Open feels like it will be Mike Davis’ defining moment in his reign over this championship.

The Erin Hills setup could brilliantly showcase the sometimes controversial changes in philosophy Davis has used in practically redefining the U.S. Open.

By week’s end, Erin Hills could stand as a testament to why this USGA executive director is right, why the championship is better breaking out of the strict and uncompromising mold it was shaped into in the ’50s under USGA executive director Joe Dey and USGA president Richard Tufts. Those were the guys who made this championship all about narrow fairways, chop-out rough and concrete greens.

Erin Hills could prove the ultimate examination Davis wants, an all-around test of a player’s shot-making abilities but also a test of a player’s creativity, smarts, adaptability and emotional stability, in ways more profound than the Dey/Tufts mold ever was.

U.S. Open: Tee times | Full coverage

Erin Hills could spectacularly embody why it is important setup complements golf course architecture and why Davis believes setup should vary depending on a course’s unique design. Erin Hills could also embody why his philosophy better showcases not only the all-around ability of the game’s greatest players but the diverse nature of this country’s greatest golf courses.

Or, then again, by week’s end, it is possible this U.S. Open will stand as the final piece of evidence proving the departure from the Dey/Tufts mold has been some sort of failed experiment.

Anything seems possible on this unproven venue hosting its first U.S. Open.

There’s both excitement and angst in the mystery that awaits.

There was a huge risk for Davis in taking the championship to Erin Hills, but there’s potentially a huge reward, too.

Either way, Davis’ fingerprints will be on this venue more than any since he took over course setup in 2006 and took over executive director duties in 2011.

Davis was instrumental in the USGA deciding to take a chance on this upstart course, this relative newborn at just 11 years old. Davis walked the land in ’04, two years before it opened. He had input into the course’s design and redesign.

In some ways, this is his baby, too.

Davis hates that thinking. He doesn’t want the U.S. Open to be about him, but there’s no avoiding it, not with the dramatic changes he has made to setup philosophy.

I would love to see Davis and his team pull this off.

Of course, we’ve learned how one mistake can overshadow everything.

Dustin Johnson’s tour-de-force performance at Oakmont last year was viewed through a fog of confusion created by that controversial rules decision in the final round.

Jordan Spieth’s victory two years ago at Chambers Bay was viewed through a cloud of criticism over the burned-out moonscape that made it play so unlike any other U.S. Open in history.

Davis helped deliver two great winners, but the finishes were somehow diminished by the debate that led to them.

At its best, this U.S. Open can deliver the promise of Chambers Bay without the controversy. It can be a refinished, varnished version of Chambers Bay, with all of its mysterious appeal and none of its downside.

Or this U.S. Open can end up being about a record number of lost balls in the jungle-like fescue, about the slowest of slow play, with wind wreaking havoc and that fescue devouring shots. It can be about the exasperation of balls that won’t stop rolling, adding to a snail’s pace of play.

Here’s hoping it’s the former, because Erin Hills is so malleable, maybe more so than any course in U.S. Open history.

Davis loves malleable.

Erin Hills, with its prodigious length – it could be stretched more than 8,000 yards but won’t this week – with its multiple tee boxes and generous landing areas, allows so many potentially creative tweaks to daily setups. Davis can dramatically change multiple holes overnight if he wishes.

Erin Hills’ malleability allows deeper dives in testing a player’s creativity, smarts, adaptability and emotional stability.

If you’re not a fan of malleability in U.S. Open setups, you might call these daily tweaks curveballs.

If you like narrow fairways and chop-out rough as your U.S. Open mold, you might interpret malleable as sinful departure, maybe even sacrilege.

I love the idea that Davis has found a new course that allows a more thorough test of what players are made of, with so many options potentially frustrating more one-dimensional players.

Of course, there will be howling and even whining at this U.S. Open. That’s part of the soundtrack at the best championships the USGA has ever staged. Let’s just hope it’s sweet music this time, with the most reasonable players singing Erin Hills’ praises by week’s end. Either way, the soundtrack is going to define Davis, for better or worse.