U.S. Open Championship Fantasy Preview

As the second major championship of the season rolls around, the TOUR preps for a new venue, Erin Hills in Wisconsin.

The new kid on the block was designed to be a beast when it was built in the early 2000s, and that is what draws the headlines leading up to the event. Playing at the tips, this course plays over 8,000 yards but the USGA has provided 45 tee boxes on the scorecard this year and if the shortest boxes were used it would play as short as 7,305 yards. We should expect a happy medium as the official yardage will be cited around 7,741 yards.

FIRM and FAST conditions with WIDE fairways should reduce the true yardage, as long as you’re not spraying the ball into the fescue. If the course gets hammered with rain before Thursday like it might (About 1.6 inches forecasted from Monday thru Wednesday), the fairway rollout may lessen a bit but the fairways should still have some bounce in ’em.

With all that length, a big topic of discussion will be distance this week. Kelly Kraft had this to say en route to his victory here at the 2011 U.S. Amateur, “not every day you play one that is so firm like that and the ball can roll forever.” Of course that was played in late August so perhaps the conditions were a little firmer then. Still, to me this screams strokes gained off-the-tee as the top stat this week because distance will be a nice advantage but if you can gain strokes just by keeping it between the pipes then the shorter hitters are going to be using the fairways like a bowling alley, just letting the firm fairways carry their ball past some of the bombers who sprayed their ball into the high grass.

With seven par 4s over 450 yards and all four par 5s stretching out past 575 yards, we should see plenty of big numbers as golfers try to recover from errant tee shots. However, the generous fairways should also allow golfers to take it real low (by USGA standards) if they have a good driving day. The wind is going to be the biggest defense for Erin Hills since there are less than 10 trees in play over the entire course. It is very links-like in that regard and will ultimately decide whether the winner is 1-under or 11-under by week’s end. Keep a close eye on the wind forecasts.

Course comparisons will be tossed around all week, and I am often guilty of getting caught up in this game of connect the dots. I will provide some course/event comps but I do want to preface that by saying you shouldn’t rely heavily on course comparisons, just as an added element of handicapping.

After the gaudy length, the first thing I notice about Erin Hills is the rolling fairways which lead to uneven lies left and right (similar to Augusta National or Kapalua). The grass types (bentgrass/fescue) in combination with tricky bunkers and the lack of trees/water lead us to looking at the Open Championship. The number of blind shots and elevated greens could lead it to play like a Pete Dye design. Lastly, the difficulty of setup means we should look at prior success in PGA Championships and U.S. Opens. Basically, we are looking for solid performance in major championships.

After Chucky 3 Sticks played the course back in 2006 he called it Whistling Straits on steroids which I think may be the best 1-to-1 comp we have given the look and length of the course as well as the location. Do you really need to inject steroids into a 7,500 yard course though?

Looking for trends of the past winners at this event?

==> Each of the last nine winners had at least one top-6 finish in their five most recent PGA TOUR prep starts (a sign of form is important).

==> Also, prior success on a USGA setup has been crucial. Nine of the last 10 winners have already had a top 20 on their U.S. Open resume prior to winning. While I think this basic idea is important, don’t let it be a strict guideline and rule out someone like Jon Rahm just because he’s played the U.S. Open once and finished T23 instead of finding the top 20.

Enough of the babbling, check out the Fantasy Golfanac if you want to read more quotes or angles on this week’s setup.

Players to Watch

Jordan Spieth
Jordan Spieth… With a new course on hand, guys like Jordan Spieth and Jason Day immediately pop to the forefront since they are elite when it comes to scouting and gameplanning a new track. Day’s approach game is in shambles at the moment which drops him down my board but Spieth is right on the cusp of putting it all together. He’s gained strokes off the tee in three of his last seven lasered events and gained strokes putting in 3-of-7 as well. However, he hasn’t gained strokes off-the-tee AND putting in the same week since the AT&T Pro-Am, which happens to be the last time he won. Arrives with a runner-up just two starts ago and we know he can handle what the USGA throws at him , posting three top 25s in five U.S. Open starts including his win at Chambers Bay.

Brooks Koepka… Looking at his recent form, Koepka is locked in again tee-to-green, with the only thing holding him back recently is too many trips to the water hazards. With a linksy-style course on deck, Koepka should be able to bomb-and-gouge Erin Hills without the fear of finding water. He’s always been a self-proclaimed Hard Course Specialist so it’s no surprise he already owns eight top 20s on his major championship resume including a T5 at Whistling Straits. My heart tells me Brooks is ready to win a major.

Steve Stricker … Will be the media darling this week as he tees it up in his home state. He keeps it between the pipes and he’s one of the best putters in the world. No stranger to U.S. Open success either, posting up inside the top 10 after R3 in 6 of his 19 U.S. Open starts.

Matt Kuchar… Sticking to the same mold, Kuchar will keep it between the fescue and has every shot in the bag, except for the 320-yard drive. Now that Sergio’s knocked off a major, Kuchar is right up there with Hideki, Rahm, and Fowler, as the most elite golfers currently without a major. With more than 10 blind shots on the course this week, I’m thinking success on Pete Dye tracks could come in handy, and Kuchar is the man when it comes to Pete Dye performance.

Thomas Pieters… If we’re looking for a boom-bust option that will either be 4-under or 4-over come Thursday afternoon, Pieters is the man. Definitely has the talent to win a major but I’m not going to bank on that in his first look at a U.S. Open setup. Love him as a GPP option on DraftKings and FanDuel.

Rickie Fowler… The American in that same mold as Pieters would be Fowler. He has all the tools to win a major, but he’s not afraid of a good Thursday blowup (as we saw last week at the St. Jude Classic). In 8 U.S. Open starts he’s been inside the top 10 after R1 on two occasions but he’s also been outside the top 100 three times, all on rounds of 76 or worse. Before last week’s MC he had posted top 20s in seven of his last eight starts, so let’s not completely forget about him.

Rory McIlroy… Returning from injury with the ever-so-popular Spyder putter in his bag now. Would be the man to beat here if he arrived without any injury concerns and a normal workload of events played. That is far from the case, though, which forces you to put a RISKY label next to his name. Kind of hard to imagine him piecing together four solid rounds after such a long layoff.

Billy Horschel… Nearly backdoored a win last week after looking like he may miss the cut after R1. We know Billy is a self-proclaimed momentum player, so he could be one to watch this week.

Maverick McNealy… Should be an interesting summer for McNealy. The top amateur in the field (and possibly the world) has a few starts locked up and if they go well then we can expect him to turn pro. If he suffers, then we may see him pivot and head his way up the corporate ladder. He’s 3-for-4 on the PGA TOUR but nothing inside the top 45, so I am keeping a close eye on him but not rushing out to own him just yet.

Dustin Johnson… Gets to enjoy the birth of his second child early in the week before heading to Erin Hills to play the role of defending champ. Looking at our top comp course (Whistling Straits), DJ posted finishes of T5 and T7 the last two times the TOUR played there. Other golfers with top 10s in both trips: Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, and Matt Kuchar.

Branden Grace… Erin Hills is an Irish-inspired links-style course, although they like to call it a “heartland” course. You can’t deny the links attributes (wide fairways, exposed to the wind, bentgrass & fescue grasses, tricky bunkers). The golfer in the field who outperforms his baseline most on links courses is Branden Grace. Also has four top 5s in major championships, so he’s not scared of the spotlight.

Shane Lowry… Early reports say golfers will be pulling driver A LOT this week. Looking at performance on driver-heavy courses, Lowry sees the biggest leap in performance over his baseline. He’s not too shabby on a links-style track, either. Just missed out on my top 25 but it wouldn’t be too shocking to see him pop this week.

My Top 25 for the 2017 U.S. Open

1. Jordan Spieth
2. Dustin Johnson
3. Sergio Garcia
4. Adam Scott
5. Matt Kuchar
6. Justin Rose
7. Jon Rahm
8. Brooks Koepka
9. Rickie Fowler
10. Charl Schwartzel
11. Jason Day
12. Rory McIlroy
13. Steve Stricker
14. Louis Oosthuizen
15. Branden Grace
16. Paul Casey
17. Brandt Snedeker
18. Martin Kaymer
19. Thomas Pieters
20. Lee Westwood
21. Henrik Stenson
22. Francesco Molinari
23. Jason Dufner
24. Byeong Hun An
25. Billy Horschel

This article has 64 comments

  1. As far as the course length is concerned, I am surprised that Justin Thomas isn’t listed here. He’s had some great rounds in US Open play in his career. Is it his boom or bust factor too much of a risk for you?

    Reply
    • OTT is the only metric that doesn’t rely on the previous shot, so if you’re positive SG OTT then you’re hitting it well. I also like SG APP so I would like a OTT + APP look but I don’t want to include ARG into the mix if im trying to really focus in on a key stat.

      Reply
  2. Great read!

    Not sure I like the stat “Each of the last nine winners had at least one top-6 finish in their five most recent PGA TOUR prep starts.” If this is including worldwide starts (not sure if you meant only PGA Tour) it includes 25 of the top 30 in the world and 35 of the top 50. When you combine it with the Top 20 in US Open or better you knock it down to 15 of the top 30 OWGR.

    My pick is Day who excels on US Open courses with top 10s in 5 of last 6. Rahm is also a great pick but a little discouraged with his extremely poor outing at the Memorial.

    Also a quick note, I believe you meant heathland instead of heartland when talking about the type of course under Branden Grace.

    Thanks for the read as always!

    Reply
    • Thanks Jon. I was looking at only 5 most recent PGA TOUR starts for the first trend.

      As for Day, he graded out as #1 in my raw model but he’s lost strokes approach in his last 6 starts. I looked at the top 5 finishers over the last 5 US Opens (38 total golfers) and found none of them arrived with Negative SG Approach in all of their last five starts.

      For the heartland/heathland. I was saying Heartland as in heartland of America (Midwest) which is what the course designers like to call this course. That’s probably because they don’t want the Links truist calling them out for elevated greens and any other non-link features.

      Reply
      • I have heard about Day’s “high and soft” iron shots and “raised greens” at Erin Hills… do you think this could negate the SG:App significance? Or have we gotten burned in the past by hyper-focusing on ball flight numbers? Thanks

        Reply
    • Not so much his overall form but his putting form and lack of course fit.

      He grades out much worse on hard courses and links courses. He’s lost strokes putting in every start since winning in Phoenix. None of the 38 top-5 finishers at this event since 2012 have arrived with negative SGP in all 5 of their recent prep starts.

      Reply
    • Will be largely based on wind and USGAs desire to punish. Right now I would guess -8 but if it rains a lot and USGA doesn’t wanna budge we could see a brutally long course with even par being a great score.

      Reply
    • I’ve got him ranked #29 in terms of making the cut but a little farther down in top-20 probability (#36)… That put him just outside the top 25 with guys like J Thomas, Chappell, Berger, Grillo, Lowry, Kisner, etc

      Reply
    • He’s on my current list of top 45. If you’re looking for a high ball flight to hold these firm, elevated greens, Fisher could be good in that regard. He hits moonshots.

      Reply
  3. He doesn’t show up much as a golfanac specialist for this course, but you like Leishman this week, Josh? I dig his SGT2G, P4 scoring and 3 putt avoidance.

    Reply
    • Depends on your position in the league and strategy you want to take. If you can view others picks it night be worth seeing how many haven’t used DJ yet. I imagine many will be saving Rory for PGA but if you waited to use DJ there, it could be a nice pivot.

      All up to what kind of strategy you want to use. DJ a good pick for any big purse event though.

      Reply
      • Sitting in 4th right now and two guys in front of me still have DJ they can play…Saw you liked Schwartzel as your OAD on Rotoworld.. really considered him a lot…Was thinking DJ is a for sure (I hope) top 8 finisher…

        Reply
        • Definitely like DJ. I think anyone from that initial list I posted on the OAD section would be great. I’ve already used all of them so im dropping down to Charl.

          Best of luck!

          Reply
    • Yup, he got a big bump with form. He is an Anti-Specialist but the negatives are all pretty low in each angle, so it’s not a 100% must-fade like it often is with Anti-Specialists. That being said, he dropped off my target list as I started to narrow down my core player list.

      The Monday rankings are usually before I start making slashes to player exposure, if that makes sense.

      Reply
  4. No Kisner?? Any thoughts on Steele? I applaud Stricker for what he had to do to get in the field…but 13th in your rankings???

    Reply
    • Kisner hasn’t done much on tough tracks. Given his recent form I’d expect a cut made but not much upside this week IMO. Something in the 30-50th range is where I’d expect him to finish.

      Stricker is a top-30 machine even in majors. Playing on home soil should only help.

      Don’t hate Steele but he’s lost birdies to the field on four of his last five after gaining birdies in seven straight. Just trending in the wrong direction.

      Reply
  5. Not including the top guys I really like Lowry, Seems to play well on Driver Driven Courses
    Also I play a lot of Euro and I have not heard/read Levy or Coetzee anywhere? Thoughts and who do you like more?
    Thanks in advance

    Reply
  6. I’d heard rain in the forecast for both Thursday and Friday. Any early idea on if a morning or afternoon tee time on Thursday will face easier weather conditions?

    Reply
    • That a good question. Chappell is playing really loose (in a good way) after finally breaking through. Oosthy has a longer track record on contending in majors.

      I would give a lean to Oosthuizen.

      Reply
  7. Where do you find all of these stats that you have mentioned in the comments? (Steele losing birdies to the field 4 of last 5, after 7 straight gaining… etc) and great work, i’ve followed your articles for a while now, always informative and interesting angles.

    Reply
    • Haha some I track myself and some I get from a new site/tool that is in beta.

      I will definitely share the info on that website once it gets launched! It’s a game changer in terms of easily diving into deep stats.

      Reply
  8. I’m in a OAD where majors are doubled $… Currently in 158th out of 448 so in OK shape but could really use a W or a T3… Have remaining Day, Rory (prefer to save for quail hollow), Koepka, Kuch, Serg, Charl…thinking J Day will be one of the top picks in the pool… Any suggestions?

    Reply
    • Probably a smart move to save Rory for PGA although he’ll be VERY highly picked there.

      Days approach form is concerning but his US Open track record is money.

      Serge is steady. Kuch is steady but not the distance if that’s needed this week.

      I would play Koepka if it were me. He’s finding form and he’s been great on tough courses and majors.

      I’m playing Charl because I don’t have all those options so I clearly like him as well.you have plenty of good options!

      Reply
  9. Josh – if you had to choose from the following four in DK format which do you prefer: McDowell, Leishman, Fisher, Perez? Thx for your articles, simply great color.

    Reply
    • Would be Leishman and Fisher for me.

      Perez is trending the wrong way off the tee and GMac doesn’t seem like a great course fit with guys hitting loads of drivers.

      Reply
  10. Hey Josh, Thanks for all the work you do. I’d like some quick thoughts on Glover, Kaymer, Lingmerth, Wood, Hatton, Noren if you have the time.

    Reply
    • Glover has terrible record on bentgrass.

      Kaymer plays well on correlated courses.

      Wood is finding some form again. Good upside.

      Hatton has struggled around the greens.

      Noren has den shaky on approach.

      Lingmerth not the steadiest on courses that demand you to hit a lot of drivers.

      Reply
    • I was looking for an all-around game. Hatton has lost strokes around the green in all five measured starts this year. Over the last five years no one has entered with that stat and gone on to finish top 5.

      Reply
      • Those starts were all on Bermuda. He struggles with chipping from thick Bermuda rough around the greens. It looks like this course gives players plenty of options around the green (can putt from off the green etc) and it’s not Bermuda. Hatton is a great links player also, so whilst he doesn’t have the length off the tee I think he will post a solid finish here.

        Reply
  11. This Oliver Bekker from the Sunshine Tour has been on an absolute tear as of late. I was considering as maybe a low owned shot in the dark (winning can be contagious). Know anything about his game?

    Reply
  12. Hi Josh. In the future, It would be great if you could look through the handicapping match-ups for tournament and/or daily. I appreciate your research, and I’m guessing there is more head to head value in the guys outside the top 25. Asking for fellow handicappers(degenerates). Thanks!

    Reply
  13. I believe the Tournament and 1st round match-ups come out early in the week. And 2nd round and so forth are out soon after the line-up is set for the next day. Futures for the tournament(odds to win) come out early. I know betonline likes to have there lines out early. There are many sites and some have different wagers such as make first cut, finish top 25 etc., but most books only have the match-ups and odds to win. If you have more questions you can shoot me an email or I can continue on this thread. FYI the match-ups are not the pairings. e.g. Lowry(even$) v. Chappell (-120)

    Reply
    • Haha yup. And so much for DJ, RoRy, Day, Rahm,etc. Being a great fit.

      Hideki found his putter Friday which was his biggest problem. If he loses it again, he may fade to 30th by week’s end anyway. Or he’s found something and hell cruise to victory. Golf is a funny game.

      Reply
      • he finished second in the end. not bad for someone who didn’t fit the course.

        think he’s trending towards a major soon.

        Reply

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