Though the preview for the US Open will be forthcoming, one of the great aspects about this page is chartering the success of the Irish that compete at any level. Whether it’s Harrington, McIlroy, Maguire (who features heavily this week) or our collegiate and amateur players, they represent the game as it stands in this country. For a small population, even though we are home to some of the greatest tracks in the world, like other sports, we punch above our weight. The best analogy to use is if you could imagine a succession of great golf talent coming from an area as localized as Chicago or Wisconsin. With a population of six or so million for the whole island of Ireland, and ESRI figures estimating that 12% play the game at some level, we don’t have the luxury of year round golf, like California or such sunnier climates.
Not everyone is lucky enough to be a member of a links course and our winters and springs can be harsh enough to deter even the most ardent of golfers from playing. We are home to the world number one female amateur, Leona Maguire. The Cavan native is part of Duke University Women’s team, and recently picked up the prestigious Annika award for best player in the States, and if you check out her bio on Dukes student athletes page, you see a slew of records and achievements. It is fantastic to see a compatriot with such potential, though she is waiting until her education has finished to turn pro.
She showed well in the recent Olympics (I did tip her to medal but maybe it was too soon) but shes hasn’t fully matured into her frame, but once that comes, she will match the bigger hitters on the tour. Listowel native JD Guiney won the Long Island Open at Westhampton Country Club by two shots to continue the theme of Irish doing well abroad. JD is not only a product of Rollins College, he grew up trying to tame the dunes of Ballybunion and from an early age, it was pretty easy to identify that he had talent. Yes, he is a great friend of mine, but game recognize game after all, and he has put a lot of hours into his craft. For the last few years, he has been on mini tours, competing with various results, and to see this win after some of the difficulties he’s faced makes a lot of people pretty happy to see. He was a late entrant into the competition, which makes the victory even more savoury. He faced stiff competition from fellow pro Mark Brown, breathing down his neck for the final nine,, but showed nerves of steel and and an artists imagination to emerge the winner, and earn the praise of his rivals. And now on to other matters. It is US Open week in Wisconsin, as the relatively new, and built specifically to hold it, Erin Hills, hosts the second major of the year.
So here is the preview to end all previews. Much like Chambers Bay, we again have a link style public course to host the hardest major. Much of the talk as usual around a US Open, and how the USGA will set up the course. The hierarchy at Erin Hills did claim that they didn’t want the USGA making a mockery of their course, but as Kevin Na showed in his latest video, the rough has grown up so much you could lose a child in it. As for the course itself, we do know that it is extremely long, at 7800 yards. Located in close proximity to Milwalkee, it was carved out by glaciers thousands of years ago, and though it doesn’t undulate like a Ballybunion or Lahinch, it still has swales and exposed green areas that resemble upside-down saucers. The only vegetation is the fescue that frames each hole, and so is very open to the elements. Also very open are the fairways, with many thirty or forty yards wide. The wind, like The Open, will play a crucial part in determining who finishes where after the two or four rounds. So who does this favour?
The longer hitters should reap the benefits. Even if the rough becomes drastic mere inches from the fairway, they are given enough leeway with the width of the fairways anyway, that they really shouldn’t be worried by a bit of long grass. A good wind game is also necessary, with the ability to shotmake to hold very tricky greens. If you don’t hold the greens (are we really sure how fast and hard the greens will be?), there are large run off areas and if someone has a good pitch game, they will do well at Erin Hills. So who are the picks? First up is bomber Brooks Koepka. He is currently 35/1, and so is a good each way bet I feel. He is in the upper echelon of big hitters, averaging 307 off the tee to see him in the top five on tour. He is also a good man to score, with some of the best eagle and birdie stats out there. One mark against him is the lack of proficiency at times on approach, and that conversely to scoring, he can rack up bogeys too. To end on a positive, he does have good putting stats, so if he gets the irons in shape, he can be a serious contender here. If you want distance, it’s hard to look past Dustin Johnson. Though at 11/2, he doesn’t represent great value. Though struck down by gravity at Augusta, he is still the defending champion, and has eased his way back into action. Though he missed the cut this weekend at the Memorial, you imagine that he had one eye on this event, and has had top twenty finishes on his comeback, all under par too.
He leads the tour in a lot of discernable stats as we know, but now we know he can grind out a major win. Even with the shenanigans of last year, he was first past the post, and has shown glimpses of links play, finishing runner up to Darren Clarke in the 2011 Open. Yes, he did hand it to him with the shank OB, but let’s take the positives from it. Francesco Molinari is a man in form, registering a few top ten finishes this year, including a sixth place at The Players. The diminutive Italian is down at 70/1 for the win, making him a great bet to place. While not the longest, he still can average 290, but it has been his iron work this year that has been key for him, ranking second in shots gained in approach. He has a very good scoring average to boot, and is able to make birdies on a regular basis Another strong candidate I feel is Rickie Fowler.
He has wins and high finishes this year already, including a decent showing at The Masters. Rickie is no slouch off the tee, able to hit 300 plus on a regular basis, and a fine shot maker, showing time and again a very good wind game. This year though has seen a better showing with the putter, ranking in the top ten with shots gained. He now assumes the mantle of best player without a Major win, and though some view him as flash, I feel that there is substance there and 20/1 isn’t a bad call. My last main pick is the Esker Hill native Shane Lowry. But what about last year? And the slump he has shown since then? Very moot points, but with the return of his putting ability, 50/1 seems decent value. He is long off the tee, he is a good shot maker and as I said at the top, he does have soft hands around the greens.
I hadn’t planned on picking him on account of last year, but there are positive signs of progress in the last few weeks. He does need to cut down on some errors, as shown at Wentworth, but he has shown that he has a game to win a major. Other notable outside picks include World Top Ten Alex Noren, fresh off his win at Wentworth and available at 50/1, and Brandt Snedeker at 90/1 Of course I’m reeling from my Augusta prophecies but here’s hoping for a better week. I’m just excited to see the course, as it looks stunning from what I’ve seen so far.
And as you all are aware, I’m a big links-ophile. Enjoy the second Major of the year and let’s check back next Monday with the big money earnings, or post mortems!