Why Erin Hills was a successful U.S. Open site

By
Teddy Greenstein
Chicago Tribune

Series: PGA Tour

Published: Monday, June 19, 2017 | 9:34 a.m.

The words commonly associated with U.S. Opens didn't apply at Erin Hills.

This was no massacre, no bloodletting. Players didn't suffer.

There were no lost balls a few paces from the fairways, no buried lies steps from the greens.

This was a non-traditional U.S. Open. And despite the drama-free Sunday, it produced a damn good time.

"I think it's an awesome golf course," Jordan Spieth said after finishing at 1 over par. "I think that's been the consensus from everybody."

Among the moments we'll remember: Justin Thomas blistering a 3-wood into No. 18; Steve Stricker getting a standing "O" from his fellow cheeseheads; standing by the first tee Sunday afternoon as the wind hit the golden fescue just right, producing what looked like the wave. And, yes, a blimp crash.

The contrarians are those who hear "U.S. Open" and think it's the USGA's job to torture the best players, not simply to identify them.

Would they have preferred bumpy greens to throw putts off line? How about changing the 18th hole from a reachable par-5 to a 520-yard par-4? That would have been sooooooo USGA. Glad the blue coats restrained.

They set up Erin Hills to allow a player to win; in this case, Brooks Koepka. It was not configured to make all but one lose.

Considering the area got drenched twice and the wind didn't truly howl until Sunday, the course of rolling hills, jagged bunkers and nearly 7,900 yards played just about right.

The winning score of 16 under sounds obscene until you consider the four-round total of 272.

The average score of the last three winners: 274.

Think Erin Hills played too easy? Ask Jason Day. Or Rory McIlroy. Or Dustin Johnson. Or Justin Rose. They spent the weekend watching, not playing.

"Not your typical U.S. Open setup," McIlroy said. "But I'm a big fan."

Said Day: "The golf course is actually really beautiful. Unfortunately I just didn't execute."

So what's next? Will the course within 21/2 hours of most Chicagoans get another U.S. Open?

You can count on it, although it could be a while.

MORE: Koepka wins U.S. Open | Erin Hills honors Arnold Palmer on 18th hole

The USGA is committed through 2026 with a greatest hits collection that includes Shinnecock Hills, Pebble Beach, Winged Foot and Oakmont. USGA executive director Mike Davis said that "in a few months, we're going to name another tried-and-true."

Insiders predict Oakland Hills' South Course, a Donald Ross design near Detroit that has hosted six U.S. Opens, will get the call in 2027. Erin Hills should return soon after as another anchor of the Midwest.

USGA executives love that owner Andy Ziegler was willing to close Erin Hills to public play in October, taking a financial hit with the payoff of perfect conditioning.

Unless Medinah wants to start vying for U.S. Opens again, every Chicago-area club falls short for one reason or another.

On the eve of the Open, Davis said the USGA would judge Erin Hills on a curve, given the moisture on the course.

"We like a firm, fast golf course, where you really have to think about what happens when that ball lands," Davis said. "But we're likely not going to get that this week. ... We will take player feedback as part of it. We'll use our own observations. Outside the ropes, how did the community, the state and the country embrace the event?"

Some days fell a bit shy of a sellout, but each crowd for the tournament days was in excess of 30,000.

The spectators I know wish the concessions line by Nos. 16 and 17 had been shorter and pointed to a long delay in accessing one of the remote parking lots, but overall they raved.

So pinch a few fairways if you have to. Heat up the greens a bit.

But remember this is a public course, where people want to break 90, play in less than five hours and, like the pros, have a damn good time.

This article is written by Teddy Greenstein from Chicago Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.