ERIN, Wis. — For the second straight year, Aussies Nick Flanagan and Aron Price will walk the U.S. Open fairways together.
This year's different, though. Flanagan, who caddied for Price at Oakmont last year, will be playing at Erin Hills, while Price will take his turn carrying Flanagan's bag.
"I definitely owed him one," Price said.
This most unique of U.S. Open flip-flops has its roots in and around Sydney during the early 2000s, where Price, 35, and Flanagan, who turned 33 on Tuesday, became friendly as they came and went from the junior circuits in Australia.
They both moved to the U.S. and lived in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, for a time. Early this decade, they played regularly on the Web.com tour. They roomed and hung out together on occasion, and Flanagan even caddied for Price at U.S. Open qualifying in 2014.
But the real seeds for this pairing were set in 2003 at Oakmont, where Flanagan became the first foreign winner of the U.S. Amateur in 32 years. His name, along with those of Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead are among those etched on a list that hangs at the club, honoring all of Oakmont's champions. The course has hosted more than a dozen major championships over the years.
Price qualified for the U.S. Open last year. Given his knowledge of the course — to say nothing of his fondness for it — Flanagan approached Price about caddying.
Flanagan's biggest worry: Making sure he could carry the bag around for seven straight days. (Turns out, he only needed to go five. Price didn't make the cut.)
This year, Flanagan went through qualifying and earned his spot in the U.S. Open, but Price didn't make it.
"Plenty of our friends who caddie on tour, their players weren't in this week, so I didn't expect it," Price said. "But I put my hand up and said, 'If you want me to return the favor, I can do it.'"
Flanagan said yes, and now, a year later, both players can see the U.S. Open from the other side.
"You learn a lot seeing things from the outside, not having any emotion attached to how you're swinging it or how you're hitting the golf ball," Flanagan said when asked what he's learned as a caddie. "It just seems a lot easier from the outside than it does from the inside. If you can put yourself in that mindset when you're playing, it helps a ton."
Price and Flanagan know how the other man thinks, and Price says his main goal is to get Flanagan to turn on "autopilot."
They're on the same page there.
"That's what I've been trying to do all year, trying to be automatic," Flanagan said. "I've played a lot of ... fun golf, having a few drinks on the course, playing really well after two of them and realizing I don't have to do anything different technically. I just have to go out there and be free with it."
First, there is the matter of trying to figure out Erin Hills.
Unlike Oakmont, neither player had stepped foot on the supersized course until they arrived this week.
Then again, says Price, most players haven't. Erin Hills is only 11 years old, and is hosting its first U.S. Open.
"You can't get bogged down in the, 'Holy (expletive), I've never played this one.' Everyone's in the same situation."
Well, not exactly.
More than most, these guys will know exactly how the other one feels when the shots start flying for real Thursday.
"The motor inside knows what to do," Price said. "He just needs to turn the ignition on. It's trying to get him to think less and just take his mind off golf. It's, think about everything else, anything else, and just try to put it where you want it to go."
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