Josh Culp

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118th U.S. Open Preview

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The season's second major is upon us as we head to New York for the U.S. Open Championship.

It's the 118th running of this event and the fifth time that Shinnecock Hills Golf Club has hosted. It's the only course that has hosted the U.S. Open in three different centuries.

The first time hosting came way back in 1896 when the event was just 36 holes and the course played at 4,423 yards. The game has come a long way since then so let's have a look at the current course.

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The Course

Located on Long Island, this links-style layout is set to play as a par 70 that stretches out to 7,440 yards. That is a beast of a track but we should expect the USGA to mix and match tee boxes to play a bit shorter most days.

The last time Shinnecock Hills hosted this event was 2004 and it was listed 444 yards shorter on the scorecard. Retief Goosen won that year with Phil Mickelson coming in second. Goosen gets somewhat buried as a past champ since the USGA steals the show, having lost control of some of the greens which led to some wacky conditions, especially in the final round. The field average in Round 4 was 78.727! Whoops. Improved agronomy methods should prevent that from happening again this year but this course still won't be a walk in the park.

Since 2004, the fairways were expanded but recently narrowed. Overall, they will still play wider than the 2004 edition which is probably good since there was so much length added to the course. Last year the field averaged a whopping 74.61 percent of fairways hit at Erin Hills. During the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock the field averaged 50.95 percent. I would expect that number to be somewhere in between this week.

Despite all the added length, many of the long par 4s reportedly play downwind with the prevailing breeze which means drivers may not be AS crucial as you'd expect on this long of a layout. That will largely be influenced by the weather, though, which we can say about the entire event. If we get a soft course or calm conditions then the winning score could reach double digits. However, if the wind is howling or the course plays firm and fast, I'd expect a low number under-par to win the event.

Judging off early-week photos, the rough is nasty and after a recent prep trip, Phil Mickelson called the rough a true hazard. That wasn't the case last year at Erin Hills where we saw whispy fescue allow many golfers to get lucky and have no troubles from the deep stuff.

There is a pond on Hole No. 6 but it doesn't come into play, so there are no true water hazards for golfers to worry about this week. Nearly all of the trees have also been removed, adding to the attributes you'd expect from a links-style layout.

On approach shots, the field will see plenty of false fronts and run-off areas around the greens. That puts an emphasis on precision into the greens but elite scramblers can also survive since the shaved areas around the greens will allow them to reach into their bag of tricks and play different short-game shots as they see fit.

Once golfers reach the greens they will be faced with poa annua greens that will be prepped to run around 12 feet on the stimp. As we usually see with poa, it will likely be a poa/bent hybrid. Looking for golfers with success on anything outside of bermudagrass or paspalum should be useful. UPDATE: Based on pre-tournament pressers, poa annua seems to be at the top of mind for many golfers. Performance on pure poa annua should be given the most weight. 

Course Quotes

Sifting through some past quotes over at the Fantasy Golfanac, let's try to break down the courses to see how they will play...
Phil Mickelson: "I think it’s the greatest setup I’ve seen in a U.S. Open. I think that the fairways are a very fair width, the rough is brutal, it will be as penalizing as a hazard, trying to just get it back to the fairway. But the fairways are so wide that a well-struck shot ends up in the fairway. It’s not like in the past where you could hit a great drive, get a bad bounce, and you have no lie. It rewards great shots and around the greens because of the old school grading, being soft, it’s not like these big bulldozers with huge pitches."
Charles Howell III: "The golf course sure looks like (a British Open course), doesn’t it? It’s not your standard, run-of-the-mill U.S. Open course."
Tiger Woods: "It’s really dependent on weather. Wind blows there, and the winning score’s over par. "

Retief Goosen: "It is very much like Southern Hills, a lot of elevation and sidehill and uphill lies and things like that. I think it does remind me of that. You've just got to try and hit the fairways and keep it below the hole and give yourself uphill putts, which some of the holes are pretty impossible to leave yourself an uphill putt."

Phil Mickelson: "It’s poa annua grass, which I grew up on in southern California. It’s a course that provides anybody a great chance to win or to do well if you’re playing well. I don’t feel like there’s any tricks to it that you need to play here for years to know the course. I feel like if you’re playing well it’s pretty straightforward golf and you can do well."
Overview: The consensus seems to be that Shinnecock Hills will truly reward great shots and lead to a great ball-striking champion. With a lot of uneven lies and run-off areas around the green, golfers with creativity should ping your radar. 

Correlated Courses

Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, etc. here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week: 

TPC Boston
Firestone CC
Riviera CC
Muirfield Village GC
U.S. Open Championship
The Open Championship

Courses like TPC Boston, Firestone CC, and Muirfield Village all have some length, share some similarity with grasses while they are also in the same region of the country and feature a strong field.

Riviera CC has a lot of long par 4s and poa annua grass.

THE NORTHERN TRUST is located in New York/New Jersey which gives us a good sense of who plays well in the area.

Lastly, we can look at performance across all U.S. Opens to see who likes the challenge of a USGA setup or The Open Championship to see who likes a links-style layout.

The Weather

Thursday: Sunny with a high near 77 degrees. Winds 10 to 15 MPH with gusts around 20 MPH. 

Friday: Sunny with a high near 72 degrees. Winds 7-to-15 MPH with afternoon gusts up to 25 MPH. 

Weekend: Temperatures sit in the low 70s with afternoon winds forecasted. 

We take a break from the extreme heat we've seen over the last month.

It's still extremely early to rely on wind forecasts especially since you'll see drastically different wind forecasts already depending on what website you look at. But the very early look would suggest the PM/AM wave would have the better side of the draw as Thursday looks steady while Friday shows a big differential from AM to PM. Again, it's way too early but that's something to keep an eye on as the event draws nearer. 

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Josh Culp joined Rotoworld in 2014. The DFS enthusiast from Iowa State can be found on Twitter @futureoffantasy.
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