Erin Hills and Low Scores

erin hillsI’m watching the Livestream of the 2017 U.S. Open Golf Championship at Erin Hills and Tommy Fleetwood is leading the way at twelve under par. The USGA is not going to be happy. The bigger problem, what I think is going to cause a lot of consternation, is that nearing the end of the third round, forty-two players are under par. The U.S. Open is traditionally considered one of the most difficult tournaments of the year and usually only a handful of players finish better than even.

The United States Golf Association generally tries create a very difficult golf course. There seems to be a sense of pride in making the best players in the world struggle. Two years ago, the course at Chambers Bay was set up by the USGA to be all but comically difficult. Well, frankly, it was comical.

This year’s course is at Erin Hills which has wide fairways, large greens, and it is a par 72 as opposed to 71 or 70. There hasn’t been much wind and the best players in the world are having their way with the course. It’s beginning to look like this year’s winner will get close to the record, sixteen under, set by Rory McIlroy in 2011. The difference is that McIlroy won by eight strokes. That’s not the case this year. A fairly large number of players are in the hunt at ten to twelve under.

What I fear is the USGA will be embarrassed by this showing and set up Shinnecock Hills, the site of the event in 2018, to be extremely difficult.

There is something almost sadistic about the USGA and the way they try to make the courses difficult. The problem is that players are extremely good. I’m not saying anyone is better than Jack Nicklaus, but I think it can be said without fear of error, the average player on the PGA Tour is better now than at any time in history. There are a huge number of amazingly good golfers who can shoot fantastic scores. With this many good players, the chances multiple golfers will have fantastic weeks goes up dramatically.

This means the USGA must trick the course up in order to keep scores low. They tried this at Erin Hills by having very penal rough, but it didn’t work because the fairways are so wide. They also have rolled the greens to make them fast but damp weather and lack of wind is in the favor of the golfers this year. I don’t think there is anything wrong with good golfers having great rounds. I enjoy fantastic shots far more than circus greens like we had at Chambers Bay.

I don’t enjoy greens so fast that a player nails a shot a foot past the hole and then watches in horror as it runs all the way to a collection area. I don’t like viewing the best players in the world strike their shots with abject fear. I’m not saying make the course easy, I’m just saying don’t be offended if the best players in the world, in perfect conditions, light it up a little bit.

I guess we’ll find out next year, but I suspect my fears will be realized.

Anyway, I’m enjoying this year’s tournament immensely and love the beauty of Erin Hills. Great course meets fantastic players, sometimes the players win. No shame in that.

Tom Liberman

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