First, some thoughts on the US Open.
I felt that Brandel Chamblee made some great insight into what the US Open should be. It should be an intimidating golf course and unfortunately while Erin Hills was a great layout it failed to intimidate players. However, at the other end of the spectrum Chambers Bay and often times Pebble Beach which are great layout in their own right (yes, Chambers Bay is a great layout) where so tricked up that they look visually unappealing and do not represent the best of what US golf has to offer.
I feel the USGA needs to forget so much about even par being the winning score and instead create an intimidating course. If you hit a good shot, you’re rewarded. If you hit a bad shot you are severely punished. And if you hit an average shot you’re at least risking a severe penalty, but not guaranteeing a severe penalty.
I grew up a fan of baseball before I got into golf. And in the 90’s when baseball badly needed a surge in popularity, they allowed an era of steroids, juiced baseballs, shorter fences, stadiums designed where the airflow would help propel the ball further and smaller strike zones to allow more home runs and offense…using the old adage ‘offense sells tickets.’
This led to Sammy Sosa bettering Roger Maris’ home run record in a season and Mark McGwire destroying Maris’ home run record by 15%. And over the course of the next 3 seasons, McGwire, Sosa and then Barry Bonds made Maris’ home run record look like a mere pittance. Maris also set the record at the age of 26 years old compared to McGwire and Bonds setting their records at 34 and 36 years old respectively. Furthermore, prior to the ‘steroid era’, the closest anybody ever came to Maris’ record since the year he established it (1961) was 52 home runs by Willie Mays and George Foster.
The steroid era created a jump in the popularity of baseball, but that was short lived and not only was Maris’ record deemed meaningless…but the records set by McGwire, Sosa and Bonds were cheapened by the fact that Major League Baseball essentially found ways to lower the bar enough to make it possible to break Maris’ record. For roughly 35 years, nobody could sniff Maris’ record and in roughly a 3 year span there were players easily beating the record.
Don’t get me wrong, records are meant to be broken. But, they are also meant to be cherished. Protect the integrity of your records and that record will protect you. Had any player in baseball broken Maris’ record ‘legitimately’ the game would have gotten a lot more mileage from it.
And that’s the problem with making a low scoring US Open where records are almost easily destroyed. It cheapens the legacy of the tournament and it doesn’t do the participants any justice.
For instance, Justin Thomas did shoot a brilliant 63. But the below chart shows that when you base in on relation to the average score that day, Johnny Miller’s 63 at Oakmont was indeed better.
(Click to Enlarge)
Statistics are not always convenient. However, it's okay to compare and contrast performances in different situations. Statistics can provide a much clearer picture to accurately depict the situational and to help better formulate your thoughts.
While Thomas’ round wasn’t as impressive as Miller’s play at Oakmont, it was still an incredible round. However, that was tarnished by the fact that anybody could see the 60 yard wide fairways on display and start to see that the course was made far easier than just about any US Open venue in history. But again, Thomas still played an INCREDIBLE round of golf.
IMO, the problem lies with the USGA’s inability to understand what makes golf holes difficult and easy. How to make particularly holes more difficult than normal or easier than normal. If they do have knowledge, it’s essentially a guessing game based on old golf adages instead of using hard, detailed data.
This isn’t exactly rocket science. All it takes is good ole fashioned research, data collection and testing. Trying to determine with greater accuracy to project how difficult each hole will play and if a hole projects to play easy, how to reasonable create factors to counter the ease of the hole and vice versa. Instead of guessing, it’s a strive for excellence in both difficulty and visual appeal.
That striving for excellence is something that would be the very best possible representation of the US Open.
The Travelers Championship was originally the Insurance City Open as the state of Connecticut has more insurance companies headquartered in Connecticut than any state in the US. Manhattan is the banking and financial headquarters of the US and insurance companies wanted to be near Manhattan, so they chose Connecticut.
Eventually it was changed to the Greater Hartford Open. TPC River Highlands was originally known as Middletown Golf Club and then Edgewood Country Club. The PGA Tour bought out Edgewood Country Club and had Pete Dye re-design the course and name it TPC Connecticut. In 1989 the course went further re-design under architect Bobby Weed (excellent designer) with the help of pros Roger Maltbie and Howard Twitty.
Last year, Jim Furyk shot the course and PGA Tour record of a 58 at TPC River Highlands:
Generally, TPC River Highlands is a well liked course by Tour players. It’s private and has bentgrass greens, so they can usually keep it in excellent shape. It’s not too taxing mentally and it provides some advantages to the long hitters, but also allows shorter hitters to compete. The reason for it not being played by more players on Tour is due to it usually coming the week after the US Open and the purse size ($6,800,000) is on the lower end.
The long hitters have an advantage because the course allows them to hit a lot of drivers. The shorter hitters can compete because iron play is quite critical here and one cannot recklessly bomb it off the tee and be rewarded if they are hitting inaccurate tee shots.
So, I would be on the lookout for either superior iron players or long hitters having a good week driving the ball and leaving themselves with shorter and easier approach shots into the green. Also the final critical hole on the course will be the par-4 17th hole.
PROJECTED WINNING SCORE: -15
Jordan Spieth +1,000
Justin Thomas +1,200
Paul Casey +2,000
Bubba Watson +3,000
Brendan Steele +3,300
Charley Hoffman +3,300
3JACK’S DARK HORSE PICKS
Kyle Stanley +4,000
Ryan Palmer +10,000
Lucas Glover +10,000
Boo Weekley +40,000