The U.S. Open is golf’s ultimate exam. And with play about to begin, we’ve got lots of questions. Here are the six that weigh most heavily on our minds.
1. WILL WE GET OUR FILL OF PHIL?
With all due respect to Punxsutawney Phil, the famous shadow-watching Pennsylvania groundhog, this is the biggest Phil-related weather question of the year: Will the skies open Thursday and delay play long enough for Phil Mickelson to make his first-round tee time? Unless you’ve been living in a hole yourself, you’ve surely heard that Lefty, a six-time U.S. Open runner-up, plans to attend his daughter Amanda’s high school graduation Thursday morning in California. By his own calculations, Mickelson, who is scheduled to tee off Thursday at 3:20 p.m. EST, needs a four-hour weather delay to have any chance winging in before his start. The current forecast calls for partly cloudy skies on Thursday afternoon, with a 20% chance of precipitation. So it’s not looking good for Phil or his fans. But meteorologists, like groundhogs, have been wrong before.
2. CAN WE HAVE A CONTROVERSY-FREE EVENT?
Controversies at the U.S. Open should be the exception and not the rule. But last year, the rules themselves became an issue when the so-called “DJ incident” marred the final round at Oakmont. And let’s not forget two years ago at Chambers Bay, where gripes about the bumpy greens became as big a story as the play itself. “We need a good U.S. Open,” USGA executive director Mike Davis acknowledged this week. We’re all eager to see if the next four days oblige.
3. ANOTHER SERGIO SURGE?
One of the purest ball-strikers of his generation, Garcia was once seen as a serious threat to win a U.S. Open. But after years of shortfalls, even Sergio himself appeared to quit on that idea. Then came his breakthrough at Augusta this past April. Now that Sergio is back in the major conversation, the golf world wonders: Will winning the green jacket lull him into complacency, or free him up to make a serious run at the second leg of the Grand Slam?
4. HOW WILL THE COURSE HOLD UP?
Most U.S. Open rookies enter the event with modest expectations. But not when the rookie is the course itself. As Wisconsin welcomes its first U.S. Open, Erin Hills will be subjected to the keen-eyed scrutiny of players and armchair pundits alike. Will the scores be too low? The fescue too high? Someone’s going to walk away with the trophy. But will the layout emerge as a winner, too?
5. THE RETURN OF RORY?
After reeling off four majors in a three-year span, Rory has been something of a forgotten man of late. But with a new putter in his bag, and his recent back troubles reportedly behind him, McIlroy looks like much more than a fashionable pick. He also seems to be a sensible one, all the more so because long, soft courses appear to suit him. So goes the conventional wisdom, anyway. Will conventional wisdom be right this time?
6. CAN DUSTIN JOHNSON DEFEND?
Heading into Augusta, it seemed like no one could stop DJ. And no one did. What halted his momentum was a flight of steps. Though he’s recovered physically from that painful stumble, he hasn’t yet regained full momentum. Can he do it in time to repeat as U.S. Open champion? Las Vegas thinks he can. He’s the odds-on favorite to win again.