Post by Richard Kaplan
US Open Preview
I’m afraid to be the bearer of bad news for South African TV viewers for this most-eagerly awaited (in my humble opinion) of US Opens in recent memory.
As I feared, and wrote about a few weeks ago, the time difference to the West Coast is really gonna screw us SA fans. The 1st group out on today goes at 7am PDT (Pacific Daylight Time), which is 4pm our time, and the last group off goes at 3:12pm PDT, which equates to 12:12am Friday morning our time! Supersport is scheduled to cross from 10pm on Thursday and Friday nights to 5 the next morning, and then a fraction earlier from 9pm to 4am on the weekend. Damn!
Anyway, here’s my 5 cents worth on how this Major is going to play out, and just who the main contenders are.
- Phil Mickelson – aka ‘Phil The Thrill’ – can he hold things together and go down in history with his maiden national title (after 6 runner-up finishes), claiming his 6th Major, as well as a completed Grand Slam. The Chambers Bay course – brand new on the US Open rota – is by all accounts well-suited to someone who hits it long (with a bit more space that might give some wild hitters a bit more breathing room than normal) and also has lots of creativity and imagination. Amongst the game’s current contenders, that sounds ominously like Phil! His 65 to close the Memphis tournament on Sunday shows he’s peaking at just the right time, so will it be history, or heartbreak again?
- Young phenom, Jordan Speith, whose caddy Michael Greller is a local boy and knows the course like the back of his hand. One of the best short games around, Speith’s going to need it on the greens at Chambers Bay, which will offer lots of uneven and awkward bounces.
- Current world #1 Rory McIlroy must be the favourite, but a slight drop in form recently after a wonderful run is slightly worrying. Was it a slump, or was he just distracted and tired, and will bounce back after 2 weeks off? If his driver’s on song again, then everyone else will be playing for 2nd!
- Mickelson’s playing partner for the 1st two rounds is Bubba Watson, another long-hitting and creative lefty, but will he have enough width of fairway (like Augusta) for him to shine? Not really, I’m inclined to think.
- Dustin Johnson must be regarded in the same category (long and wild) as Phil and Bubba.
- Players Champion, Ricky Fowler, after a great 2014 in the Majors, is ready to claim one for himself.
- And if accuracy off the tee box is not too much of an issue, can Tiger play well? I didn’t think he’d make the cut at the much narrower Muirfield track for Jack’s Memorial, but he managed with some short game heroics. But then when his fragile short game abandoned him … well nobody could ever have seen that 85 coming. Makes the cut again, then fades on the weekend again.
- I heard a wonderful expression the other day about golfers who play within themselves and always seem to contend on tough Major courses. “Plodders and plotters” are exactly what Jim Furyk is all about – a lone US Open his only Major – and the testament to his type of game. Matt Kuchar is not far behind Furyk in this category.
- And a couple others? Defending champion Martin Kaymer, and in-formJustin Rose, who won this Open at Merion 2 years ago.
- Anyone else?
Of course there are always some golfers who seemingly appear out of nowhere, so try these 2 names…
- Byeong-Hun An.
Have I lost my marbles?
Ben An, as he prefers to be called, is the big 23 year old South Korean, Americanised through the US college system, and who won the recent flagship event on the European Tour, the BMW PGA Championships at Wentworth, in record style. That’s who! And what’s more, he’s played a Major Championship at Chambers Bay before. The USGA scouted out Chambers Bay before it awarded the 2010 US Amateur to the course, and An entered the event as the reigning US Amateur champions after winning it in 2009 at Southern Hills. He progressed to the semi-finals that year in defence of his title, so he does have some pedigree, and he is in some kind of form, and he has been recognised as a star of the future by some ‘people in the know’.
By the way, if both An and Kevin Na are in contention, even playing together, then dyslexics around the world won’t know which way to look whilst watching it on VT!!
- Colin Montgomerie!
Now, you’re thinking, Kaplan’s definitely smoking some weird stuff. But the seemingly grumpier-than-grumpy Monty is also in form, having won 3 of the last 6 Senior Majors, and even more importantly, seems to have shrugged off his unease with US galleries and their previous animosities (read Ryder Cup defeats) towards him. He’s still a ball-striker par excellence, and will work his way around this devilish layout with the consummate ease of one of the game’s greatest players never to have won a Major. Just saying!
Things to Look Out For
The Golf Course.
The 8 year old Robert Trent Jones-designed Chambers Bay is totally different from any other US Open test ever before. It’s a links-style course – with only 1 tree – that will possibly offer cooler weather (the current forecast looks decent, with possible rain on Saturday) and more wind than most other USGA venues prior.
There are many different teeing grounds on all the holes, which will allow USGA Director Mike Davis lots of latitude to set up the holes almost completely differently from one day to the next, and it is this kind of course set-up that really intrigues me. To be able to change the way a hole plays so that it doesn’t offer golfers (and members) the same boring challenge every single time they play the course, is one of the joys of both playing and setting up courses, and tests the architect’s ability to design things which can be re-arranged and adapted, and also tests the golfer’s ability to vary his game plan accordingly. As the saying goes, variety is the spice of life!
It has quite a few big wide fairways where crooked drives will still find some short grass, as well as some dog-legs where the big hitters might be tempted to fly everything.
The greens are undulating in the extreme, where some bounces from good shots will move away from the hole, but also where some off-line shots will gather back towards the pin (reminds me of some course called Houghton). And the pin won’t always be attacked, as on regular target-golf layouts.
And trains running alongside the course, and ‘ancient’ ruins around the course, will be reminiscent of the proper links courses of Scotland, as will the par-3 9th hole, which is similar to the famous Redan 15th hole at North Berwick in Scotland.
There’s no doubt from the pics and videos we’ve been seeing of the layout and its surrounds that the course will look spectacular on TV, especially with the great contrast between drier and browner rough to the greener fairways, plus the idyllic waters of Puget Sound in the background.
And lastly on the course, it looks as though Davis, the man behind getting this Major to this course, intends to change the par of the 1st and 18th holes around on different days; one being a par 4 and the other being a par 5 on one day, and then switching the pars (and the tees) around on another day. Wind forecasts will likely determine this change.
The TV Coverage
Ok, so the timing’s not going to be ideal for us in SA, but a long nap on the couch after a large Father’s Day lunch at Houghton will set you up well to ‘pull an all-nighter’ for the final round. But what I’m really looking forward to is seeing what Fox Sports offer up during this Major. New to big time TV golf, their crew includes Greg Norman as lead analyst, and I for one can’t wait to see and hear him. “The Shark” is still one of the legends of the game, and his insight is most anticipated.
Of course, there’s the drop-dead gorgeous Holly Sonders in their team as well, so that should be worth keeping an eye out for as well. And just what special and different stuff Fox are going to come up with is anybody’s guess. With their football background, I imagine lots of interesting stats, plus camera angles and shots from drones (the Fox Flyover) that will highlight the breath-taking scenery of the course and the waters of Puget Sound and Fox Island in the background, as well as the rest of the Pacific North-West region. Look out also for microphones in the cups and long-distance mikes which will zoom in and capture the players and their caddies discussions over club selections. Can’t wait to hera the legendary debates between Phil and Bones!
The South Africans
There’s quite a few SA golfers teeing it up this week, in fact we’re the 3rd most represented country in the event. Former winners Ernie and Retief both start (in fact they’re playing together in the 1st 2 rounds), and there’s also Charl, Louis, Branden Grace, Tjaart VD Walt, Garth Mulroy, George Coetzee and Thomas Aitken. Here’s hoping!