Experience pays? Not at this rookie U.S. Open venue

June 13, 2017

ERIN, Wis. — Experience pays? At most U.S. Opens, yes, but not at this one.

Even those who played Erin Hills years ago aren’t buying the fact that a few previous rounds here will improve their chances come Thursday. That includes Jordan Spieth, who first saw Erin at the 2011 U.S. Amateur.

“I couldn’t tell you where that yardage book is,” Spieth said Tuesday. “So I haven’t watched any of it. We just started over and went with the information that we were presented early on and then do our work from there.”

Peter Uihlein, Bryson DeChambeau and Justin Thomas, among others, were also at Erin Hills for the 2011 Amateur.

“Totally different,” Uihlein said. “In 2011 it was firm and hot, and it’s hot this week, but the rough is thicker and the fairways are wetter. It’s just a different course.”

Spieth lost in the quarterfinals in 2011 when he went bunker to bunker to bunker on the 18th hole. (That hole now has more than 20 traps.) But the 23-year-old couldn’t make the case for those rounds giving him a substantial advantage this week.

“I don’t remember much from 2011,” Spieth said. “I remember the closing four holes, and then each hole starts to kind of reappear when I go out and play it. I remember No. 1 and I remember the last four prior to getting here on Saturday. So I needed to do some extra work. That was six years ago and didn’t do the same kind of homework that I do these days with golf courses … it still feels like a pretty new golf course to me.”

Spieth, of course, is a favorite this week. He hasn’t won a major since Dustin Johnson collapsed on the final hole at Chambers Bay in 2015, and Spieth won while sitting in the scorer’s trailer. Chambers Bay was an unknown for that 115th U.S. Open and the same goes for Erin Hills.

Spieth’s lone win this year came at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. After a T-11 at the Masters and fourth-place finish at the Zurich, he missed back-to-back cuts. He tied for second at the Dean and Deluca — an event he won last year — before tying for 13th at the Memorial. Spieth took off last week, resting up after playing four consecutive events.

He got to Erin Hills on Saturday and played a quick nine. His coach, Cameron McCormick, arrived the next day, and Spieth said Sunday and Monday were the “heaviest days.” He’ll take it easy the rest of the week with afternoon nines Tuesday and Wednesday.

“[A U.S. Open] is always a physical test,” Spieth said. “It’s a big golf course. It’s a tough one to walk; the rough is always thick. You’re just putting more effort into each round. But then most of all it certainly tests the mental game more than any other place in golf. And I’ve witnessed that on both sides of things. If you came for a stress-free tournament you didn’t come to the right place. And we know that going in. And I think everybody does. So you just prepare accordingly, and you just try to have a level of patience.”

Patience at a U.S. Open? Easier said than done. However, with a weather forecast riddled with thunderstorms and rain, Erin Hills could be susceptible to low scores, despite it’s ability to stretch to what would be the longest Open course in history.

“I don’t see par winning the tournament,” Spieth said. “I see closer to five- to 10-under. Someone who has very good control of the ball off the tee will have plenty of opportunities to make birdies, given the [soft] conditions that we’re expecting.”

Only three times in the past 20 years has a winning score eclipsed five under, which is what Spieth is predicting. But if the handful of players from 2011’s U.S. Am field don’t have the edge, who does?

“Have you seen it out there?” Uihlein asked. “It’s safe to say the bombers will enjoy things this week—especially if there is rain in the forecast.”