The second major of the 2018 golf season is upon us, as the U.S. Open gets underway this week at historic Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, New York.
The Long Island links-style golf course, with its iconic clubhouse, will be hosting its fifth U.S. Open championship.
Trying to tame this venerable monster will be a field comprised of the game’s top superstars, including world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who enters off a victory last weekend in Memphis.
DJ will be joined in Long Island by four young American stars – who also happen to be the reigning major champions – in Brooks Koepka (2017 U.S. Open), Jordan Spieth (2017 Open Championship), Justin Thomas (2017 PGA Championship), and Patrick Reed (2018 Masters).
The field also includes top-10 superstars Justin Rose, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, and Hideki Matsuyama.
A pair of 40-something legends in Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods will also tee it up this week – both, of course, offering delicious storylines.
Top-25 ranked European stars – many of whom will be Ryder Cup teammates this fall in Paris – include Paul Casey, Tommy Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia, Alex Noren, Henrik Stenson, Francesco Molinari, Tyrrell Hatton, and Rafael Cabrera-Bello.
Tournament: U.S. Open Championship
Dates: June 14-17, 2018
Where: Southampton, N.Y.
Course: Shinnecock Hills Golf Club
Distance: Par 70, 7,440 yards
Architect: William Flynn (1937), C.B. MacDonald (1901), Willie Dunn (1894), Willie Davis (1891)
Format: 72-holes, stroke play, 36-hole cut
Winning Share: $2,160,000
Defending Champion: Brooks Koepka
Marquee Players: Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Patrick Reed, Webb Simpson, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Bryson DeChambeau
TV AND ONLINE
Round 1: Thu 9:30 am-4:30 pm (FS1), 4:30-7:30 pm (FOX)
Round 2: Thu 10:00 am-4:30 pm (FS1), 4:30-7:30 pm (FOX)
Round 3: Sat 11 am-7:30 pm (FOX)
Round 4: Sun 10 am-7:30 pm (FOX)
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It is now one of, if not the, grandest show in golf, but at its beginning, the U.S. Open was just an ancillary tournament to the highly regarded U.S. Amateur.
That inaugural event occurred in 1895, making the U.S. Open the second oldest of the four majors, and was held at the opulent Newport Golf Club in Newport, R.I., the “in” summer hideaway of America’s wealthy and social elite at the time.
Played on Newport’s nine-hole course, the first U.S. Open was held in one day, with each of the 11 golfers in the field playing the course four times. Horace Rawlins, a 21-year-old from England, posted 91-82 to win the tournament by two strokes. He was awarded a $150 share of the $335 purse.
It was another destination popular with the social elite that hosted the second open — Shinnecock Hills, where the championship returns for the fourth time this year. While it may be the same property and name, the course is almost entirely different.
Originally designed as a 12-hole routing by Willie Davis in 1891 with six more holes added by head pro Willie Dunn in 1894, Shinnecock first had to change due to construction of a rail line through the course in 1916, with Charles Blair McDonald crafting six new holes as a result. Later, from 1929-31, architect William Flynn created 12 new holes and largely reworked McDonald’s six-hole contribution, resulting in the layout that the world’s best will face this week.
Over time, the tournament developed a reputation for being the most challenging event in golf, allowing it to draw in the best of the best.
The U.S. Open boasts perhaps the most prestigious list of winners of any tournament. That list includes Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Bobby Jones, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Cary Middlecoff, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth.
Hogan, Jones, Nicklaus, and Willie Anderson all share the tournament record for most wins, with four apiece. Tiger and Hale Irwin are next with three victories, followed by two apiece for Alex Smith, John McDermott, Hagen, Sarazen, Ralph Guldahl, Middlecoff, Julius Boros, Billy Casper, Trevino, Andy North, Curtis Strange, Ernie Els, Lee Janzen, Payne Stewart and Retief Goosen.
A testament to just how difficult the U.S. Open has played historically: In 116 editions of the tournament just three players have finished double-digits under par, Tiger Woods (-12) at Pebble Beach in 2000, Rory McIlroy (-16) at Congressional Country Club in 2011 and Brooks Koepka (-16) at Erin Hills in 2017.
Even that 2000 event was brutal, as the two runner-ups, Ernie Els and Miguel Angel Jimenez, finished at 3-over, 15 strokes behind Tiger’s unforgettable one-man show.
HISTORY: RECENT WINNERS
2017: Brooks Koepka (-16)
2016: Dustin Johnson (-4)
2015: Jordan Spieth (-5)
2014: Martin Kaymer (-9)
2013: Justin Rose (+1)
2012: Webb Simpson (+1)
2011: Rory McIlroy (-16)
(268) – Rory McIlroy (2011)
(-16) – Rory McIlroy (2011), Brooks Koepka (2017)
(4) – Ben Hogan (1948, 1950, 1951, 1953)
(4) – Bobby Jones (1923, 1926, 1929-30)
(4) – Jack Nicklaus (1962, 1967, 1972, 1980)
(4) – Willie Anderson (1901, 1903-05)
(3) – Tiger Woods (2000, 2002, 2008)
(3) – Hale Irwin (1974, 1979, 1990)
If golfers on the PGA Tour were to be compared to champion Thoroughbred racehorses, one name near the top of the list, without a doubt, would be Brooks Koepka.
Koepka is big, he is muscular, he is fast and he is powerful. Just like Seabiscuit, one of the greatest racehorses of all time, at his most famous race, the 1940 Santa Anita handicap, Koepka at the 2017 U.S. Open stayed near the lead for three turns (rounds), and when Kayak II (Brian Harman) left him a small window on the home stretch (back nine of the final round), Koepka absolutely exploded to the finish line, leaving his fiercest competitors in the dust.
On Father’s Day Sunday in the final round at Erin Hills in Erin, Wisc., last year, Koepka completed his greatest event: an assertive four-stroke record-breaking victory over Harman and Hideki Matsuyama by four lengths (strokes).
With a final-round 5-under 67, Koepka reached -16 at a surprisingly facile U.S. Open that looked nothing like any of the 116 versions before it.
And by the way, Koepka was awarded $2,160,000 for his first major victory, one of many records set during this U.S. Open.
For his 1940 Santa Anita triumph, Seabiscuit won $125,000, which in 2017 dollars is $2,115,192.
FINAL TOP 10
1 Brooks Koepka -16
2 Hideki Matsuyama -12
2 Brian Harman -12
4 Tommy Fleetwood -11
5 Xander Schauffele -10
5 Bill Haas -10
5 Rickie Fowler -10
8 Charley Hoffman -9
9 Trey Mullinax -8
9 Brandt Snedeker -8
9 Justin Thomas -8
Who plans to seize the moment this week?
From the second Dustin Johnson slam-dunked his approach shot for eagle on the final hole of the FedEx St. Jude’s Classic Sunday, it felt like the first shot had been fired in what sets up to be a potentially historic Battle Royale at this week’s 118th U.S. Open Championship at Shinnecock Hills.
DJ moved back into the slot as the world’s No. 1 player with his latest victory, which was also his 18th career win on Tour. The victory moves him ahead of Jim Furyk and into solo fourth-place on the all-time win list of active players. While Tiger Woods (79) and Phil Mickelson (43) are out of the picture, DJ needs only two more wins to reach 20 and pass Ernie Els (19) for solo third. Amazingly, half of these victories – nine in total – have occurred in the last 24 months alone.
Still, when it’s a major on the line, you pause before labeling Johnson as your favorite. You remember 2010, when the Open was at one of his favorite courses, Pebble Beach, and he took a three-shot lead into the final round, then imploded with a finishing round of 82.
You also remember the 2015 Open at Chambers Bay, when he three-putted from 12 feet on the 18th green, handing a one-shot victory to Jordan Spieth. Even 2016, when he finally broke through and won the Open title at Oakmont, the final day included DJ drama, with the uncertainty if the USGA would penalize him a shot when his ball moved on the fifth green. (It mattered not, as by round’s end, he was four shots clear of his closest pursuers.)
You remember these things, and the question you wonder about is, “Does he?”
It’s not an exaggeration to suggest this is a potentially pivotal week in the 33-year-old star’s career. If he delivers a second Open title in three years this week at Shinnecock, it could be the catalyst which turns him loose into the true alpha-star territory in the sport that his physical gifts have always suggested.
But if he fails to contend, the questions become just a bit more nagging. He missed the cut last year, but that was in the aftermath of the back injury he suffered at The Masters. Anything short of serious weekend contention this year, given the form he enters with, will be a question-invoking disappointment.
Of course, the Open sets up as being far from a one-man show. You have the player DJ just displaced at No. 1 in Justin Thomas, who while not torrid at the moment, has been remarkably steady all year, with no showing outside of the top 25 in 11 starts.
He was also the hottest golfer on Tour in March with a three-start stretch of a win, a second and a fourth, plus he can draw on the memory of his third round in last year’s Open, when he shot 63 to tie the record for lowest score in a single round in U.S. Open history.
Then there’s Justin Rose, who many think has the game best suited for Shinnecock’s smallish greens, thanks to his outstanding iron play. He would surely covet a second U.S. Open title to go with his win in 2013 and his Olympic gold medal.
Brooks Koepka looks healthy again and is playing well coming into his opportunity to try and win back-to-back Opens, while Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day are all past major winners in the prime of their careers.
Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama might be even hungrier, as the three members of the current world’s top 10 who have yet to hoist a major trophy (and Matsuyama having additional confidence from his tie for second at last year’s Open.)
And, yet again, so many eyes will be focused on the 40-somethings: Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. Could Shinnecock be the U.S. Open course that finally rewards Phil with the missing piece to his career grand slam? Most fans are familiar with the fact that he’s finished in second place an excruciating six times in previous national Opens, but the last Open at Shinnecock in 2004 has to be a top contender for most painful on that list.
Lefty rode three second-nine birdies to a one-shot lead over Retief Goosen walking to the 17th tee, but Mickelson posted a three-putt double-bogey on the hole, allowing Goosen to win by just making par over the final two holes.
As for Tiger, he managed only one round under par in that 2004 Open – a 69 on Friday, before settling for a T17. This year is also the 10th anniversary of his thrilling 2008 Open title, won in a playoff over Rocco Mediate. Tiger’s been in contention five times in 2018, but has come up short at times when he needed to produce birdies to keep his hopes alive.
Birdies will likely be at a premium at Shinnecock, with only two players breaking par back in 2004, but if he’s going to produce the biggest headline yet of his storied career, he’s going to have to find fairways with his driver and return to being the great clutch putter from 10 feet and in that has always been a hallmark of his game.
If that sounds like a lot to take in, it is. Pro golf feels like it is close to a historic peak in the depth of talent in the game, with dozens of players heading to Shinnecock rightfully believing they have a chance to win. (There are 27 players with at least one major championship on their resume among the 156 who make up this week’s field.)
Brooks Koepka posted a total of 16-under in winning at Erin Hills last year. Don’t expect anything close to that zip code in terms of Shinnecock scoring. In fact, the trend generally will have Koepka fighting against the current — since 1991, only one U.S. Open champion has managed to finish inside the top 15 the following year. It can be done, but it will be exceedingly difficult.
That’s likely to be similar to the statement made by whoever ends up as the 2018 U.S. Open champion.
Beyond the extended discussion at the top of this primer relative to how the top players stack up coming into Shinnecock Hills, there are a number of other excellent players who come into this week with factors that need to be taken into account.
There are also a number of other excellent players who come into this week with factors that need to be taken into account.
A total of 20 players are in this week’s field who also played in the 2004 Open at Shinnecock. Besides Mickelson’s second-place finish, Ernie Els was only two off the lead heading into the final round, but faded to finish in a tie for ninth.
Tiger’s tie for 17th was followed by Sergio Garcia’s tie for 20th. Two players who missed the cut that year but are back and could be noteworthy are Paul Casey and Bubba Watson. Casey is currently ranked No. 11 in the world, and has shown at times to possess the kind of game that gets him into contention on difficult tracks with majors on the line.
The enigmatic Watson is up to No. 19 in the world (compared to No. 534 in the world in 2004), and has already won twice this year. Of all the majors, though, the U.S. Open is the one that seems to be most vexing to him.
Retief Goosen, the 2004 champion at Shinnecock, did not advance through qualifying into this year’s field.
World No. 28 Brian Harman has been solid all year, with four top 10s, and does much of his damage with his putter, a very valuable asset to have in your bag on a U.S. Open set up. Harman should also have a boost of confidence from a T2 finish at last year’s Open at Erin Hills.
How much momentum did Bryson DeChambeau pick up from winning the Memorial title two weeks ago? It moved him up to No. 22 in the world, but it also had to help his confidence, knowing he could hold off a top-quality field on a demanding golf course.
DeChambeau has the talent, but will he have enough seasoning? Last year’s Open was the tail end of a horrible string of seven-straight missed cuts, while his best showing in a major to date was a T15 in the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont.
Finally, a pair of European players could become factors. World No. 17 Henrik Stenson has been playing very solid golf all spring, and his vaunted 3-wood could be just the weapon needed to tame Shinnecock’s length.
Right behind him is No. 18 Francesco Molinari who is playing the best golf of his career. Two starts ago, he won the BMW PGA Championship, and he followed that up with a second-place showing in the Italian Open. Both have the games and experience to get into the mix.
FULL FIELD: RANKINGS & ODDS
SIX STORIES TO WATCH
Excerpted from Joel Cook’s 6 Storylines: U.S. Open
1. KOEPKA RETURNS TO DEFEND
Last year’s U.S. Open was atypical, with 31 players finishing in red numbers; more than double the previous three editions combined (15).
But even with tournament records being smashed, Brooks Koepka was still a worthy champion, storming ahead down the stretch to win by four strokes over Brian Harman and Hideki Matsuyama.
It was his maiden PGA Tour major victory, and even with the truncated red numbers Shinnecock Hills is certain to yield, Koepka’s chances of a successful defense should in no way be discounted.
2. IS IT FINALLY PHIL’S TIME?
The love/hate relationship between Phil Mickelson and the U.S. Open has been well-established. Phil, who will be teeing up in the year’s second major for the 27th this week, has often professed a love of the event, but with an agonizing six runner-up finishes to zero victories, the tournament has become his proverbial white whale.
Making all the close calls even more frustrating is the fact that he has won the other three majors, meaning he needs just the U.S. Open to become just the sixth player in PGA Tour history to win the Career Grand Slam.
The other five are Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods. That would be some incredible company to keep.
They say that Father Time waits for no one, and despite the Tom Bradyesque longevity that Mickelson has displayed, fact is that he turns 48 on U.S. Open Saturday, and he cannot say for certain how many more chances he will have. Between Shinnecock Hills this year and Pebble Beach next year, these could be Phil’s last good chances.
3. TIGER’S 10 MAJORLESS YEARS… AND COUNTING
In 117 previous U.S. Opens, there have been countless moments that rated among sports’ all-time most thrilling and unforgettable.
In recent years, few are recalled and retold more frequently than the story of the 2008 edition at Torrey Pines, where then-World No. 1 Tiger Woods, on a bum knee that would take the rest of his season, outdueled Rocco Mediate, a man who epitomized “scrappy” in an exciting 19-hole Monday playoff.
It was Tiger’s 14th career major championship, and was another chapter in the story of perhaps golf’s all-time most dominant figure.
This year’s U.S. Open marks 10 years since the Tiger v Rocco showdown, and shockingly, is still Tiger’s most recent victory in a major.
4. BEST POTENTIAL FIRST-TIME MAJOR WINNERS
In recent years, the U.S. Open has been very good to players who had not previously won a major.
In fact, 10 of the last 13 U.S. Open Champions were first-time major winners, with only Jordan Spieth (2015), Martin Kaymer (2014), and Tiger Woods (2008) deviating from the trend. With an excellent crop of majorless stars set to tee off at Shinnecock Hills this week, it would not be surprising if it were to happen again.
5. CAN SPIETH SALVAGE HIS SEASON?
Jordan Spieth has set a ridiculously high standard for himself, with 10 career victories, including three majors, despite being just 24 years old.
The 2015 U.S. Open winner at Whistling Straits is typically among the first few names mentioned as favorites in every tournament he plays, especially when the stakes are highest, but coming into Shinnecock Hills the question is “What has happened to Jordan?”.
That is not to say that Spieth’s career trajectory has suddenly fallen off a cliff. Read More.
6. DJ AND JT: THE BATTLE FOR NO. 1
2016 U.S. Open Champion Dustin Johnson elevated his game to No. 1 in the World status in 2017, a position he held for 64 consecutive weeks.
In the midst of what had been a mildly underwhelming 2018 season by star standards, Johnson lost his spot atop the OWGR in mid-May to Justin Thomas, who held the spot for the next four weeks.
After an unbelievable showing at last week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic, a six-shot victory capped with a 169-yard hole-out for eagle on the final hole, Johnson is back on top of the world rankings, and is now coming into the U.S. Open scorching hot…Johnson’s biggest competition this week could very well be Thomas, the man who passed him on the OWGR for four weeks, and the only man currently ahead of him in the FedExCup Standings.