June 13, 2018

Playing Shinnecock and US Open Predictions

In year 2000, I had the good fortune to play Shinnecock Hills. I arrived early for my 9:00 tee time and had to share the practice tee with one other player, Vijay Singh, who had just won the Masters. I played as a single with an experienced local caddy carrying my bag. I played the championship tees and got the full experience of what kind of test Shinnecock would provide for the 2004 U.S. Open. Shinnecock easily ranks in the top 5 toughest and fairest courses that I have played. As I played I became doubly impressed with Cory Pavin's win on this course in 1995. Not only do you have to hit it long and straight, but your approach shots have to be high enough to hold the firm and overly sloped greens. Cory was a short hitter and not a high ball iron player, so that week he must have expertly maneuvered and managed the ball around the course and wedged it exceptionally for him to win.

On this day, I drove the ball well and at 54 years of age at the time, was still averaging around 275 or better off the tee. So the golf course was not something I couldn't handle. Even with pretty good driving, I still had a lot of long iron shots into well-guarded greens. The greens were fast and true and I putted reasonably, but the real test was when you missed the green. The player that gets it "up and down" this week will be your winner. My experience was that pitching out of the fescue rough and keeping it on the green was the most difficult that I have encountered. I played in ideal conditions with just a gentle breeze. Greens were running around a 12, so very manageable. I believe I shot a 78 with most of the shots wasted around the green.

Shinnecock is basically treeless and can play entirely different from morning to afternoon depending on the wind conditions. The USGA totally messed up the 2004 Open when they let the greens become too hard and on the edge of unplayable. I was there and witnessed good shots get bad results through no fault of the players. Kevin Stadler, in the last round, putted a 20 foot putt off the green in to a bunker after hardly touching his putt. Phil Mickelson lost the Open on 17 when he barely got his ball moving on a five foot putt that missed and went ten feet past, which he also missed. Retief Goosen won with 11 one putts the final round, with many coming from long range. The USGA wants a tough challenge to test the best players in the world, but in 2004 it was an unfair course setup that rewarded the luckiest and not the most skilled.

This year the course conditions at Shinnecock Hills are setup to determine a true US Open champion. Drive it straight, hit precise iron shots, show finesse around the greens, and have steely nerves while putting. The course is tough enough that it doesn't need to be tricked up. The USGA got a black eye at the previous Open at Shinnecock. They have been criticized, rightfully so, for Chambers Bay and last year at Erin Hills along with the rules controversy at Oakmont with Dustin Johnson. They want a no controversy tournament this week. Based on the players' comments, they have the course setup correctly to be tough but fair.

Predictions for the week.

1. Jon Rahm – he will win multiple majors. Good course for him. Might as well be this week.

2. Dustin Johnson – when he's "on" there is no stopping him.

3. Rory McIlroy – ditto for Rory, but will this week be his "on" week.

4. Justin Rose – U.S. Open type of player. Can win again.

5. Jordan Spieth – has game and knows how to win

6. Justin Thomas – will he continue his stellar play in majors?

7. Tiger Woods – game is there, but I don't think he is mentally back yet.

8. Rickie Fowler – got engaged this week. So has already won, but will fall short of this major goal.

Sentimental pick – Phil Mickelson – should have won last time. If consistent, then he easily could win.

Longshot pick – Ollie Schniederjans – under the radar budding great player. Could surprise.


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