#AskAlan U.S. Open edition: How will pros react to Erin Hills, how tough will it be and more

June 13, 2017

Today’s players obsess over the Masters but it’s instructive to know that for previous generations the U.S. Open was by far the most coveted trophy. It doesn’t have the glamour of Augusta but the National Open remains the gnarliest tournament in the world. Bring the pain–I can’t wait.

What would you do if your child was graduating on Thursday and you were a U.S. Open shy of a career slam? [email protected]

Last week my daughter gave a speech at her *elementary* school graduation and it would have killed me to miss it, so I fully understand Phil’s decision. Fact is, he’s had a quarter-century to win an Open and has failed spectacularly–what makes anyone think this would be the year Phil’s luck changes?

Who do you take to win, a Spider putter user or the field? #askalan -Douglas, @dleanderkirk

Since DJ, Rory, JDay and JRahm are among those wielding that wand (not to mention yours truly), I’m going with the Spider.

How many pros, architects or caddies will complain about U.S. Open course conditions? [email protected]

Hopefully a few of them! The soundtrack to a good U.S. Open is always whining. The tournament is supposed to push people to the breaking point–physically, emotionally, spiritually. If no one is complaining that means a PGA Championship has broken out and the setup is too benign.

The U.S. Open is my least favorite major to watch. What’s your least fav major and why? #AskAlan [email protected]

Honestly, it depends who wins, and how. All I really care about is my story. The Masters is by far the hardest week of the year for reporters, owing to Augusta’s Kremlin-like vibe. It’s very difficult to get interviews done; with the absence of armbands and huge crowds it’s tough to watch golf; the bizarre phobia of phones leaves us cut off from our readers and editors. But it’s always an exciting tournament and, because of the overall sports calendar, the best chance to get golf on the cover of SI. And all of us scribes stay in the same rental house so it’s a fun, collegial week in that regard. The U.S. Open is just a grind, with golf from sunrise to sunset. Everyone is grumpy all week long, beginning with the players. There are traditionally random leaders for the first round or two, muddying the waters. But it’s our national championship and, as noted above, I love the brutality of the tournament. The British Open is great fun, with a loosey-goosey vibe and there is always great links golf to be played by marauding reporters, sometimes even after dinner. The time zone change makes deadlines more mellow. It’s insanely fun to watch the best players in the world battle the weather and heaving earth. But other aspects are a challenge: jet-lag, obviously; crappy food, usually; Internet so slow it makes me pine for dial-up; moldy hotels; tragic water pressure in the shower; etc. I actually like the PGA Championship. The kinder setup allows for more fireworks and there have been some stellar leaderboards in recent years. After some epic screwups the PGA of America seems to be the best about convenient press parking, which is an underrated part of the experience. Of course, it’s August and I often have swamp-ass. So, in summary, my answer is quite idiosyncratic, and changes every year based on the venues, host cities, the quality of my hotel and, oh yeah, the actual golf.

To what do you attribute your fantastic head of hair? #AskAlan -Dave, @CountDownDave

Like U.S. Open rough, it must be cut, fertilized, and fluffed on a rigorous schedule, to be sure it peaks at just the right time. Hot, humid weather with strong crosswinds presents the toughest conditions but with an army of helpers standing by I’m hoping my hair has a good week.

Rank Phil’s six 2nds at the Open from most painful to least painful to watch. -Geoffrey, @Grindstone9

6. Bethpage ‘09 (least painful)
5. Bethpage ‘02
4. Shinnecock
3. Pinehurst
2. Merion
1. Winged Foot

What’s the over-under on fans carried off by swooping, Pterodactyl-sized mosquitos this week at Errant Hills? #AskAlan -Steve, @EllingYelling

I’ve only played Erin Hills once, while playing hooky from the 2011 PGA Championship. Bamberger, Garrity and I rolled up around supper time for a brisk round. We were on the third or fourth hole when the mosquitos pounced. I have a vivid memory of Bamby’s yellow shirt suddenly growing polka dots, as dozens of giant mosquitos landed on his back. I whipped out my cell phone and called the pro shop, beseeching them to deliver us bug spray, which none of us had. A few minutes later a kid screeched up in a cart, offering salvation. No matter what else I do in this lifetime, Bamberger will always consider that my greatest moment.

What do you think was the toughest Open setup in the last 25 years? Shinnecock in 1995? [email protected]

That was a tough Open, for sure, especially for me: In ’94 I had done an 8-month internship at SI, culminating in writing a cover story about Ken Griffey, Jr. I went back to UCLA that fall to finish my degree but carried the title of “special contributor” for SI and used to cut classes and fly off to do stories. In June ’95 I took my last final on a Wednesday, caught a redeye into New York and drove straight to Shinny for the morning tee times of the first round. You gotta want it. I think of that Open as the perfect setup–tough but fair, and even par won, which is the USGA’s dream. Winged Foot in 2006 was the hardest setup I’ve seen. The rough was incredibly long and thick and the fairways cartoonishly narrow. Everyone bled to death on Sunday afternoon; it took a few miracle pars for Geoff Ogilvy to be the only one left standing.

How big a factor will a par-72 be for golf’s toughest test? [email protected]

I think it’s a huge benefit emotionally for the players to feel like they’re making some birdies on the four par-5s. On the other hand, that gives the USGA license to make the other 14 holes really, really tough. I think overall the extra par-5s will lead to a winning score in the red. And given that rain is supposed to fall throughout the week and thus soften the greens, I’m taking four under as the magic number.

Are you a fan of the 18-hole playoff or nah? -Ryan, @therealsneek1

Oh, I love it. The whole world has gone soft but at least we still have a macho playoff to decide our national championship.

What’s your favorite Wisconsin-centric food? Brats, Frozen Custard, Cheese or Kringle? [email protected]

All of the above! But if I have to pick I’ll take the Kringle, which, for the uninitiated, is like a giant flattish cinnamon roll, though better. For nearly two decades at SI my beloved editor was Jim Herre, a Wisconsin native. Every year for the holidays a big box would arrive, with a Kringle shipped overnight from his favorite bakery. I would tear the box open with a ravenous glee.