The U.S. Open returns to Oakmont Country Club, where Jordan Spieth is defending his 2015 title (Chambers Bay) and Angel Cabrera returns to the site of his 2007 victory. As venues go, Oakmont is right at the top of the list of quintessential U.S. Open layouts. It is already the record holder, hosting eight times before this week. At nine, the brute is just showing off for the faithful.
Oakmont first hosted in 1927, when Tommy Armour hoisted the hardware. Other champions are Sam Parks Jr. (1935), Ben Hogan (1953), Jack Nicklaus (1962), Johnny Miller (1973), Larry Nelson (1983), Ernie Els (1994) and Cabrera in 2007. Oh, and Bobby Jones won a U.S. Amateur there (1925), while Gene Sarazen (1922) and Sam Snead (1951) won PGA Championships on the famed layout.
Simply put, if you don’t think a player is capable of being a multiple-major winner in his career, then don’t pick him to win this week.
While some courses take months, if not years, to groom themselves for a major championship, it has been suggested that Oakmont can be U.S. Open-ready in about a week. After some of the scuttlebutt at Chambers Bay in 2015, it’s probably a good thing that a trusted veteran was waiting in the wings this time around.
Oakmont will play to a par of 70, stretching out to a deceptively long 7,255 yards. It plays as a par of 71 to those in the membership that brave the tips, but the ninth hole traditionally plays as a par 4 for the U.S. Open. Both of the par 5s are over 600 yards, with the 12th hole tipping out at 667 yards. The par-4 third hole features the famed “church pew” bunkers, which you’ll hear plenty about throughout the week. The par-3 eighth hole plays 288 yards, requiring some players to consider driver off the tee.
Early indications are that the rough will be absolutely brutal, and the greens as fast as lightening. This means chopping out from wayward tee shots, tough lies around greens, and the possibility of a three putt at any time. While par is a relative number, don’t be surprised if a positive number wins the U.S. Open.
The Stats Say
Who cares? While I do my best to insulate myself from the noise of other prognosticators and preview writers, Twitter makes that somewhat impossible. I’ve seen chatter about using this stat, or not using that stat.
Toss out most of it.
I say most of it, because I am convinced one thing is especially relevant this week. That is, hitting it very long and very straight off the tee.
Because there is danger on every shot, it’s impossible to navigate Oakmont if one can’t be in play off the tee, and preferably a long way down the fairway. While one can still screw it up from there, you can’t very well be a factor if you are advancing your second shot on a par 4 30 yards four or five times a round.
Find the 20 or 30 or 50 guys that you believe can hit it long and in play (Total Driving, SG: Off-the-tee, Driving Distance are all starting points), and go from there. From that group, who can hit the green or scramble? Who can avoid three putts?
Because the rough and course conditions are so different than almost any other course, finding GIR from other than the fairway and other boutique stats are irrelevant.
Ask yourself this. Who are the best players? Who can win multiple majors in their career?
I believe in stats most weeks, and some more heavily than others. Don’t fall into the stats trap this week. You could do a lot worse than looking at Total Driving and All-Around Ranking and stopping there. Maybe throw in Par 4 Scoring.
That said, get ready for a very vanilla power ranking!
1. Jason Day – Probably the best player in the world right now, he absolutely has the game to contend at Oakmont. He is a long, complete player with a major championship trophy already on his mantle.
2. Rory McIlroy – Since his win at Congressional in the 2011 U.S. Open, I’ve been of the opinion that he may be the only player in the game that can win a major championship off the tee. He did it again at Kiawah Island in the PGA Championship. Oakmont is the kind of course where he can eliminate 95% of the field if he can dominate the tee shot. The putter could become a concern, but I would submit that getting on the dance floor is much more than half the battle this week.
3. Jordan Spieth – Defending champion returned to the winner’s circle at Colonial CC a few weeks back. The kid oozes class, which matters at this venue. He’s not long, but he’s sufficient. It should not be underestimated that he will be one of the most prepared players on the grounds.
4. Rickie Fowler – Similar to those above him, he can really get it done off the tee. As an afterthought, I checked his SG: Off-the-tee and saw he was fifth on TOUR. The eye test told me as much. He’s also a big-stage player. He’s had success across the board in the majors, won a PLAYERS, and done everything short of winning a major championship. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if he dramatically accomplished that breakthrough on a course of Oakmont’s stature.
5. Henrik Stenson – Another “eye test” guy. I can close my eyes and see him pounding that 3-wood 300 yards off every tee box and splitting most fairways. The most dangerous thing for Stenson will be his temper. He is known for having an explosive personality towards his clubs, and the rough at Oakmont will challenge that.
6. Dustin Johnson – What’s there to say, really? Everyone in the world of golf knows he has the game to do this. He also has the current form. This is a mental test for DJ, more than anything.
7. Bubba Watson – He tied for fifth here in ’07, and easily could have won if he kept his wits about him. I vividly recall Watson playing very fast and compounding mistakes early in the final round. He now has two green jackets that may keep him under control should he find himself in a similar situation on Father’s Day.
8. Phil Mickelson – His T2 in Memphis kept him from falling any farther than this. That sounds silly, as he has six runner-up finishes in 25 U.S. Opens, to just two missed cuts. The problem is, one of those two missed cuts came here in 2007, while he could only muster a distant T47 here in 1994.
9. Louis Oosthuizen – It’s possible I’m falling in love with guys who pass the eye test off the green, but who can forget what King Louis did in the 2010 Open Championship at St. Andrews? A performance like that would play very well at Oakmont. While he’s never played Oakmont, he has two top 10s in six U.S. Open appearances including a T2 last year.
10. Hideki Matsuyama – The Japanese stud, ranked 15th in the OWGR, may not have the commercial appeal to some casual golf fans as the others on this list, but he absolutely has the power and precision to burst onto the global golf stage of the elite this week.
11. Branden Grace – Tied for fourth in just his third U.S. Open start last year and has really spent the last 12 months solidifying himself as a global player since. A bit of a dark horse, but one with the chops to chase the title.
12. Adam Scott – I wouldn’t be surprised to find him getting plenty of love this week, but he’s not been great in U.S. Opens over the long run. Sufficient, but not great. That’s probably because the U.S. Open presents one of the most vigorous tests of golf, and his putting can struggle to keep up the standard. It would take an impeccable tournament of ball-striking for Scottie to hoist the hardware, but it could happen.
14. Brooks Koepka – I don’t think he’s ready for this quite yet, but he’s played spectacular of late and has plenty of distance. Like the other 14 names on this list, I do think it possible that he wins multiple majors in his career.
15. Justin Rose – His 2013 U.S. Open win at Merion offers very little value this week. What is valuable is his tie for 10th in the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont. Rose is a great ball-striker, and the kind of player that could walk away with the trophy if he has a decent week putting and scrambling. He would be much higher if not for health concerns that have put him on the bench since THE PLAYERS.
Going a little bit deeper, here are a few categories of players who were also under consideration.
This should be a fantastic week of golf! Check back to see the Rotoworld staff picks on Tuesday evening.
Best of luck to all!