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Erin Hills needs to shine as U.S. Open makes rare Midwest stop

Dustin Johnson hits a drive on the 12th hole during a practice round for the U.S. Open golf tournament Wednesday, June 14, 2017, at Erin Hills in Erin, Wis. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) ORG XMIT: USO126

ERIN, Wis. — Just a guess here, but there’s one name that USGA officials would like to see listed as the winner at the end of the U.S. Open at Erin Hills.

Never mind that, barring an epic weather delay, the two biggest names in golf won’t be here. Tiger Woods, 41, and Phil Mickelson, who will be 47 on Friday, are pretty much past tense anyway.

If either wins a major again, it will be a feel-good-old-guy story. Tiger’s body has broken down. And God bless Phil for putting his daughter’s graduation ahead of the U.S. Open — although he’s keeping the Lear jet warmed up in case thunderstorms push back his 2:20 p.m. Thursday tee time.

The current generation packs plenty of oomph. A second straight Open win by Dustin Johnson would be a major achievement. Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy all have shown superstar skills and style. Jon Rahm and other young bloods seem poised for great achievements.

The winner that USGA executive director Mike Davis would cherish the most, though, is none of the names mentioned above.

If you guessed Erin Hills, come on up.

The progressive side of the aisle is rooting for that Cinderella story. A public golf course that opened in 2006 is taking its place on a list that includes iconic Pebble Beach and Shinnecock Hills. It’s a big, rolling course that conjures comparisons with Irish seaside links, even though it’s not a true links course.

It has ample room for spectators, hospitality tents, merchandise tents and cash registers. This U.S. Open will be played in the Central time zone for the first time in 14 years. The last was the 2003 U.S. Open at Olympia Fields. The next available date is 2027.

Davis sounds as though he’d like nothing better than to come back in 2027.

“This is really a welcoming party [for Erin Hills],’’ he said recently. “I suspect this will be the first of many.’’

That will be easier to do, though, if Erin Hills delivers on its promise this week.

The tradition-bound side of the aisle, which includes commentators Johnny Miller and Andy North, remains skeptical. Both are Open champions.

Miller is on record as saying he doesn’t expect Erin Hills to host another Open.

North also has reservations.

“The one thing that is awkward coming here for the first time is that no one really has any idea what to expect,’’ Miller said Monday. “Will the winning score be 4-over … [or] 20-under? No one has any idea. That’s not just the players, but the staff trying to set up the golf course.’’

What they really seem to be saying is: “What’s so terrible about the classic Midwestern country clubs that have hosted so many majors in Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, etc.?”

Erin Hills? Fine. But why not throw in an Oakland Hills or a Medinah now and then?

For all its mystery, Erin Hills seems to have all the ingredients to produce a memorable Open. Where it really needs to shine is in the no-controversy department.

The Open last year was marred by the delayed-call penalty on Dustin Johnson. The 2015 Open became embroiled in the half-baked greens debacle.

If Erin Hills can avoid messiness — and it should be able to — this could be the U.S. Open we would all like to see.

Exactly why there is going to be just one U.S. Open in the Midwest in 14 years is a controversy that should not go away. That’s not Erin Hills’ fault. But it does put the pressure on.

Follow me on Twitter @HerbGould and at TMGcollegesports.com.


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.

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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