Times sure are changing for U.S. Open

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A look at Erin Hills in Wisconsin, a course that will host its first major championship when the U.S. Open begins Thursday. | AP

Going somewhere new for the U.S. Open is starting to get old.

For so many years, everyone knew what to expect. With few exceptions, the identity of the event as the ‘‘toughest test in golf’’ was carved out of traditional, tree-lined courses with tight fairways, thick rough and firm and fast greens. No one ever complained about making par.

Dustin Johnson won last year at Oakmont, which hosted the U.S. Open for the ninth time. He is set to defend his title on a course that opened only 11 years ago.

For the second time in three years, the U.S. Open is headed to a course that never has hosted a major. The stage this year is Erin Hills, the first U.S. Open in Wisconsin. The course looks like a links, with its wispy grass framing rolling fairways and shaved slopes around the greens, except that it’s nowhere near the sea. Erin Hills is about 40 miles northwest of Milwaukee.

‘‘I heard it’s long,’’ Johnson said before going up last weekend to see it for the first time. ‘‘Big course. Long walk. Trees? No trees?’’

He wasn’t sure.

About the only similarities between Erin Hills and Chambers Bay, which hosted the U.S. Open two years ago off Puget Sound in Washington, are that both were built as public golf courses and are mostly devoid of trees. And no one is sure what to expect, even if he already has been there.

Jordan Spieth played the 2011 U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills. He remembered rolling terrain and not many trees. He remembered the first hole and the 18th hole were par-5s. And that was about it.

‘‘Course knowledge is necessary, even more so there than a course like Oakmont that you’ve maybe watched on TV,’’ said Spieth, who won at Chambers Bay by one shot over Johnson. ‘‘Even seeing certain holes, if you just watched

major championships in the past, can help you. And so when you come to a completely new venue, it requires quite a bit of work.’’

Against this backdrop, the 117th U.S. Open begins Thursday with plenty of intrigue that goes beyond the mystery of a new course.

It will be the first U.S. Open in 25 years that doesn’t have the names Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson among its starters. Woods is missing all the majors for the second consecutive year because of a fourth back surgery, which was performed a month before his DUI arrest in Florida. Mickelson, with a record six runner-up finishes in the only major he hasn’t won, plans to skip the event because his oldest daughter’s high school graduation is the same day as the first round.

And there is internal pressure on the U.S. Golf Association to get through a U.S. Open without an overload of complaints.

‘‘If I was being completely honest, there is some of that,” USGA executive director Mike Davis said.

The greens were mostly dead — if they even had grass — when the U.S. Open was at Chambers Bay, though that was largely because of the weather. Still fresh is the fiasco from a year ago, when Johnson’s ball moved on the fifth green and there was a debate about whether he caused it. The USGA told him on the 12th tee it would wait until after the round for him to review it, meaning Johnson played the final seven holes not knowing the score. Neither did anyone else.

‘‘Those things could have happened anywhere,’’ Davis said. ‘‘But they happened to us.’’

Even so, the tournament starts with a course that doesn’t look anything like a typical U.S. Open. It is 7,741 yards long, the longest in U.S. Open history, though it likely will play shorter depending on how the course is set up each day. The fairways are wider than usual and there is no rough around the greens, giving players more options.

It’s a major with which four-time U.S. Open champion Jack Nicklaus is not familiar.

‘‘I think the USGA has gotten away from their identity with what they’re doing,’’ Nicklaus said. ‘‘I haven’t seen the way the courses are set up. I know Chambers Bay was different; I have zero idea what Erin Hills is. I happen to like the U.S. Open the way it is.

‘‘When you start changing around your setup, you’re changing what you’re asking a player to do. I don’t know if that’s good or bad; it’s just different.’’


Dates: Thursday through next Sunday.

Site: Erin Hills Golf Club, Erin, Wisconsin.

Course: Wisconsin developer Robert Lang was behind the building of a public golf course on pure pasture land with hopes of attracting the U.S. Open. The course was designed by Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and Ron Whitten. It opened in 2006 and was awarded the U.S. Open four years later, one year after Lang had to sell the course. It has the appearance of links golf, with rolling terrain and no trees, surrounded by wetlands and a river. It will be the second time in three years the U.S. Open is held on a public golf course.

Length: 7,741 yards.

Par: 36-36—72.

Field: 156 players.

Cut: Top 60 players and ties after 36 holes.

Purse: $12 million.

Defending champion: Dustin Johnson.

Last year: Johnson won his first major championship by closing with a 1-under-par 69 for a three-shot victory at Oakmont. The final round was complicated by Johnson’s ball moving on the fifth green and the USGA telling him on the 12th tee that he might be penalized. He played the last seven holes not knowing the score, making the one-shot penalty he ultimately was assessed a moot point.

Television: Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Fox Sports 1; 5 p.m. to

8 p.m., Fox-32. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Fox-32. Sunday, 10 a.m. to

7:30 p.m., Fox-32.

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