Erin Hills plays host to 117th U.S. Open

Jordan Spieth claims Erin Hills in Hartford, Wis., site of the 117th U.S. Open this week, is a bit like Chambers Bay, and that’s just fine with him because he won the national championship there two years ago.

Spieth also sees some differences between the two layouts.

“Chambers Bay, you had big mounds to play off onto the greens,” said Spieth, who is at Chambers Bay two months after capturing his first major title at the Masters.

“(Erin Hills) is kind of rolling hills, although neither one has a tree that I remember on the golf course. It was kind of a new-style American links type. They both are. But I think they’ll play tremendously different.”

The United States Golf Association needs a U.S. Open without controversy after the greens at Chambers Bay were sub-standard, something officials did not admit to until the tournament was over, and last year champion Dustin Johnson overcame a questionable penalty when his golf ball moved slightly on the fifth green.

And Adam Scott has some more advice for tournament officials.

“Let’s just have something that’s a challenge and interesting, not just playing brutal,” said Scott, indicating that the perceived goal of the USGA to have a winner at even par is flawed. “The ball is in their court. Hopefully they get it right this time, just from a playability standpoint.

“If their major pinnacle event requires courses to be the way they are, it doesn’t set a good example. … (The USGA has) taken criticism for the last two years; I’m sure they’re not liking it. … Let’s just have something that’s a challenge and interesting, not just playing brutal.”

Erin Hills is built on farmland in central Wisconsin and opened in 2006, even though it appears to have been there forever. It is an American course with a bit of a Scottish feel and if the wind blows, as it often does, the USGA will have all the difficulty it seeks with the U.S. Open.

So far, the players who have been there seem to like the course, but of course none of them have yet to hit a shot in competition.

“Had a good couple of practice rounds at Erin Hills and really like the course,” Johnson wrote in a Twitter post after taking a reconnaissance trip to Wisconsin last week. “Looking forward to defending next week.”

Erin Hills, located about 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee, has no water hazards and only a few trees, its defense coming from intricate bunker complexes, tricky plateau greens and the traditionally thick U.S. Open rough — this time in the form of fescue grass.

Wind should make the course play firm and fast, not to mention that the USGA has set the yardage at 7,693 yards.

“If there’s no wind for four days, that would be highly unusual, but they’ll definitely shoot lower scores,” said Executive Director Mike Davis of the USGA, who set up the U.S. Open course.

“These greens are so good. They’re going to make putts, and then you’ve got a par 72. But listen, at the end of it, contrary to what so many think, we’re not after a certain winning score. What we really are after is to see if we can set the golf course up in such a way that tests every aspect of the game.”

Erin Hills hosted the 2008 Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship, won by Tiffany Joh, who now plays on the LPGA Tour. In 2011, the USGA returned to the course for the U.S. Amateur, won by Kelly Kraft, who plays on the PGA Tour.

Kraft, who failed to make it into the field through Sectional Qualifying last week in Columbus, Ohio, said the course doesn’t play as long as the listed yardage because, “The ball can really run and get moving out there.”

The course is located at southern end of the Kettle Moraine, a dramatic landscape that was shaped by glacier activity millions of years ago. The terrain at Erin Hills, which will be the first par-72 course to host the U.S. Open since Pebble Beach in 1992, features difficult side-hill lies, and the players will face some unusual stances because of the slopes.

The USGA’s Davis had called it, “Shinnecock Hills on steroids.”

For what it’s worth, the USGA got exactly what it wanted at Shinnecock Hills in 1996, when Corey Pavin won at even par.

Of course, that’s not necessarily what the players and fans want.

–Story courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

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