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Analysts: USGA should toughen U.S. Open setup

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Count former world No. 1 David Duval among those eager to see if the USGA returns to its more traditional formula for setting up the U.S. Open next week at Shinnecock Hills.

“I think it’s lost its bearings a little bit the last few years,” Duval said.

Duval joined fellow TV analysts Brandel Chamblee and Justin Leonard in a Golf Channel media conference call Thursday.

“I think the challenge for the USGA is to try to reclaim the identity of the U.S. Open,” Duval said.

Brooks Koepka won the U.S. Open at Erin Hills last year, pounding driver just about everywhere on an inland links-like setup with some of the widest fairways in the championship’s history. With the high winds expected at Erin Hills never fully arriving, Koepka took advantage, posting a 16-under total that equaled the championship record set by Rory McIlroy at Congressional in 2011.

Three years ago, Jordan Spieth won the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay on another course that broke from the longstanding USGA setup formula.

“I’m excited to see a proper U.S. Open again,” Duval said. “I’m hoping that the golf course is fair but severe and penal. I hope it puts a premium back on driving the golf ball and putting it in play, making you choose how you want to attack each hole, because of that. Do you want to lay back, make sure you get it in play? Do you want to try to get it farther down? Things of that nature.”

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Chamblee agreed that the U.S. Open test has changed significantly in how players are able to hit more drivers.

“They sort of changed the concept of testing you through the bag,” Chamblee said. “They're letting you get away with inaccurate drives, to some extent off of the tee, owing to the inaccuracy of a lot of today's best players.”

Leonard said he is eager to see how today’s best young power players handle Shinnecock Hills, should the USGA go back to a more traditionally penal setup with high rough.

“There was no strategy off the tee,” Leonard said of the Erin Hills’ setup. “You hit driver, and you hit it as hard as you could, and went on to attack it from there . . . I’m looking forward to that not being the best option available, and it should not be the best option next week.”

Leonard wants to see players think twice about hitting driver.

“I agree with both Brandel and David, that the severity of the rough will, hopefully, be enough to where it will create doubt in players’ minds,” Leonard said. “That, to me, was what the U.S. Open was all about.

“Yes, you had to hit all the shots. The physical tools had to be there, but, maybe more importantly, were the mental tools, to understand when to take on a flag, and when you need to hit a pitching wedge 20 feet right or left of a flag, to have the mental discipline to do the right things, when it’s not always the obvious choice. That kind of strategy also comes on the tee at Shinnecock, especially when you have long rough.”

Chamblee believes Shinnecock Hills is perfectly suited to a traditional U.S. Open test.

“The golf course is a star, universally loved by players,” Chamblee said. “It’s exactly what you think about when you think of a U.S. Open. It’s a very stern test, even a stronger word than stern, it’s brutal.”