Welcome to the first U.S. Open held in the month of September since 1913, which was a seminal year in American golf with Francis Ouimet’s epic upset victory over British heavyweights Harry Vardon and Ted Ray at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.
Not sure there is an amateur in this week’s field of 144 players who could knock off the likes of Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm or Rory McIlroy at storied and sturdy Winged Foot Golf Club, but hey, it’s 2020. Do we need to say more? In other words, expect the unexpected.
Having said that, we’ll bet real money that Winged Foot’s West Course isn’t going to surrender many low scores today or any other day. The USGA is intent on “letting Winged Foot be Winged Foot,” which means, similar to the occasions when the U.S. Open visits Oakmont, there is enough of a challenge without much prep work to make talented grown men cry for mercy.
Oh, this is going to be fun.
Frustration is far from the only storyline for the 120th U.S. Open. Here are three good topics as we get underway for the championship that rightfully is the toughest test in golf.
The last time the U.S. Open was held at Winged Foot, in 2006, Tiger Woods was the undisputed dominant player in the game, but he came to Mamaroneck, N.Y., unprepared in all ways after losing his father the month before. Subsequently, still in mourning, Woods missed his first cut in a major in his pro career. Woods, 44, hasn’t played a lot leading into this edition, either, but he has shown he can still manage his game better than anyone. He is the reigning Masters champion, after all. Does golf’s master craftsman have a fourth U.S. Open title in him? If the putter heats up, he just might.
It's All in the Attitude
No, we’re not going to talk about the rough – not today, anyway – but, instead, how guys are going to handle the inevitable rough patches to their respective rounds. Two of the favorites, Justin Thomas and Collin Morikawa, exceptional ball strikers ranked among the top five in the world, each said that Winged Foot is the hardest golf course he has ever played. And, yet, both have effused excitement about taking on the challenge. “It's hard, so it's a different kind of fun, but it is fun,” Thomas said. Morikawa, McIlroy and others have expressed similar sentiments, outwardly relishing an opportunity to test every facet of their games. It’s these players who are likely to thrive.
Strength vs. Strength
Get a load of this grouping: 1:16 p.m. (Thurs.) / 7:56 a.m. (Fri.) – Bryson DeChambeau, Clovis, Calif.; Dustin Johnson, Jupiter, Fla.; Tony Finau, Salt Lake City, Utah. If this is not a golf microcosm of unstoppable forces against the immovable object, then who knows what is. Or, to put it more in the sport’s lexicon, is this a case study in the bomb-and-gouge style of the modern game against an intrinsically hard classic layout (albeit, one beefed up by Gil Hanse’s renovation)? Whoever got the idea to put these three bashers together, all with the ability to wholly and unapologetically disrespect a golf ball, deserves a gold star. Or maybe his own Jack Nicklaus Gold Medal. You will not find a more fascinating combination to follow the first two days.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to usopen.com and usga.org.