The older guard has spoken, and when they use words like “interesting” or “different” or new age” to describe this year’s U.S. Open venue, the translation is that they don’t like it. But that is not the case for veterans Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker after they got a close look at Erin Hills Monday morning.
Winner of the 2003 U.S. Open at Olympia Fields, Furyk is 46 years old. Stricker, a native cheesehead who got in the field through sectional qualifying, recently turned 50. They revere the more storied U.S. Open courses, such as last year’s site, Oakmont Country Club, near Pittsburgh. Courses like Erin Hills and Chambers Bay, the 2015 layout, are of recent vintage and present challenges that are typical of U.S. Opens but are packaged differently.
“It’s interesting. It’s different. It’s not your typical U.S. Open golf course, obviously,” Furyk said after playing nine holes with Stricker, 2015 champion Jordan Spieth, 2014 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Scott Harvey and qualifier Chris Crawford. “It’s not a course that’s 100 years old. It’s not tight fairways, long rough, not a classic American golf course. It’s a new age brute golf course.”
That’s not to say it isn’t a great brute of a golf course.
“The game is changing, probably because of the athlete and the equipment, but golf is changing,” said Furyk, who tied for second last year at Oakmont, three strokes behind Dustin Johnson. “Golf course design is changing. This place has some really cool holes. It’s in perfect shape. The width of the fairways is very fair. Some aren’t just open, but wide open. And the high rough is a penalty, but it just depends where you are. It can be spotty. I just watched Jordan at No. 8 from the left side hit an iron from the heather from 190 yards out and knocked it to 8 feet. A great shot. I watched Strick [Stricker] hit one from the right side at No. 4 and couldn’t hit it out. He moved it a few yards.
“Here’s what you’re going to see,” Furyk added. “Young guys are going to be positive about the golf course. Guys who hit the ball far – Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day – the golf course is right up their alley. But having said that, pretty much every golf course is right up their alley. They can play any style.
“Take a guy like me. I don’t hit it as far, and my game is more about working it in the fairways and hitting spots, playing a more prototypical U.S. Open, we might not like it as much. But good or bad is irrelevant, because we’re going to play it and someone is going to win.”
Stricker agreed that the young bombers might find Erin Hills more to their liking than a precision player.
“It feels more like a British Open,” he said. “It’s interesting.”
There’s that word again.
“With the fescue in the fairways and so forth, the feel isn’t U.S. Open – until you get in the rough. Then you figure out you better stay out of there,” Stricker said. “Yeah, it’s different. Very wide fairways. We’ll see the highest percentage of fairways hit in a U.S. Open for the field. I don’t know what that is, but guys will find fairways. And if long hitters can keep it out of the hay, they’ll have a big advantage.”
Stricker saw Erin Hills in its younger iteration. Many changes have been made since then by the designers, Dr. Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and Golf Digest architecture editor Ron Whitten.
“You know, I haven’t been here for 7 or 8 years,” Stricker pointed out. “I was here early on a few times and then I hadn’t been back. I played a couple of times this weekend. It’s good. They’ve made some changes since I’ve been here. It’s probably the best-conditioned major I’ve ever seen and the changes they did make are good. It plays pretty fair. I like it.”
Dave Shedloski is a Ohio-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to USGA websites.