Fans, players get first impressions (and uncover new hazards) at Erin Hills

June 12, 2017

ERIN, Wis. – Open week has arrived, and at a venue overflowing with unknowns, a few things are beginning to crystallize. We know the bunkers are quirky. We are aware the rough is diabolical. We have noted that it will play 7,700 yards, and perhaps longer.

Also, we can safely report that it’s sweltering out here.

Temperatures officially hovered in the mid-80s, and with high humidity and no shade (there are five trees on the golf course), this 117th U.S. Open week kicked off with a sweaty start.

“The heat is astronomical, but it’s a good day,” said Eric Williams, 47, of Schaumburg, Ill., while chomping a cigar and grabbing water at a concession area. “It’s the kind of day where if you don’t stay hydrated, your fingers and toes will swell up.”

“We wait all winter for heat,” added Vickie Major, of Greendale, Wis. “They should just sell more lemonade. In the end, we’re happy to have it in our own backyard, and all the people spending money in our state.”

Major boasted one of the slicker contraptions for beating the heat: A small fan that attached to the port of her iPhone. She scooped it up at one of the hospitality booths. Check it out:

While the sun was tough on spectators (and media who arrived straight from the airport) the pros are more concerned with acclimating to an unfamiliar golf course, and particularly it’s long, lush rough.

“I didn’t step in it. I’m like, there’s no need to injure my wrist this week before I tee off,” said Jon Rahm, who has a win and seven top-10s this season and enters as one of the favorites. “It really looks very penalizing. Unless you get extremely lucky where you might be able to move it 120 yards, it looks like a 30-yard chip out to the fairway.”

That dense fescue grass has become a talking point with fans and players alike, and for good reason. It’s nasty and sure to wreak havoc. Kevin Na posted a video to social media Sunday that made its way around at least part of the locker room. As pros consider how to avoid the tall grass, fans stood along the ropes to marvel at it.

“That fescue is going to be something if you hit into that on the weekend,” said Bob Dubiel of Algonquin, Ill., while standing near the 18th green and a particularly perilous patch of grass. “You get a sense of how good these guys really are.”

With a golf course that offers flexibility in its setup, one wonders just how tight of angles the USGA might create for drives this week. The fairways are receptive, by U.S. Open standards, but there is room for officials to create odd angles off the tee and send more balls into the deep stuff. How exactly the USGA will tweak the setup as the week progresses remains on the list of unknowns.

“When you actually look at the fairways, they’re quite wide and quite generous,” said Henrik Stenson at his Monday press conference. “But as always, the USGA likes to trick it up a little bit at times, and if you go off track, then you’re going to notice that that’s not the place to be in a lot of areas.”

As the reigning British Open champion, Stenson knows a thing or two about wispy fescue grass. But he’s also found another way it could cause the world’s best players to struggle, and it has nothing to do with aching wrists.

“This is hay fever heaven, and I expect any local pharmacy to sell out of antihistamines,” he said. “If you haven’t gotten yours, make sure you get them quickly. I will. I forgot to take my pills this morning, and I’ve been sneezing about 50 times already.”

And so U.S. Open week is underway. Is it too late for Allegra to sponsor this thing?