The Starter: It’s U.S. Open Week

Dustin Johnson takes some momentum (and magic) into the U.S. Open, though there’s an Open jinx he now must stare down. There’s a first time for everything, right?

Happy anniversary, Tiger, for an Open epic from a decade ago. And The Starter thinks plenty of eyes will be focused on Shinnecock Hills’ dicey seventh green.


THREE HEADLINES

Credit: Getty Images/Stan Badz

1. Dustin Johnson returns to No.1 with a walkoff. Already with the FedEx St. Jude Classic well in hand, DJ capped his week with a 9-iron holeout from 170 yards out. Now for his next challenge: No winner of the PGA Tour event preceding the U.S. Open has gone on to capture the Open crown.

2. Shinnecock Hills steps back into the U.S. Open spotlight. The widespread hope is this year’s drama will push the fiasco of 2004’s baked-out Sunday greens well into the background. At the same time, almost nobody wants a repeat of last year’s dart-fest that came out of benign Erin Hills.

3. Just four slow-play penalties issued at Shot Clock Masters debut. And not because of leniency. With digital clocks counting down for all to see, European Tour pros managed to adjust their pre-shot routines accordingly. Winner Mikko Korhonen of Finland still managed to shoot 16-under par.


THIS WEEK’S LINEUP

Credit: Getty Images/Rob Carr
PGA Tour: U.S. Open
<strong>Course: Shinnecock Hills GC
Where: Southampton, N.Y.
Defending: Brooks Koepka

LPGA Tour: Meijer LPGA Classic
Course: Blythefield CC
Where: Grand Rapids, Mich.
Defending: Brooke Henderson


RANKINGS REPORT

Dustin Johnson’s return to the top of the world rankings ended Justin Thomas’ reign at just four weeks, though there’s always a chance they could flip-flop again depending on their U.S. Open performances.

Credit: Getty Images/Stan Badz

No.3 Justin Rose isn’t necessarily out of the picture, either, with the maximum 100 ranking points that go to the winner of a major championship. The English pro made a bid for No.1 at the Memorial Tournament, though he eventually fell short with a share of sixth.

Just below came another position swap between Jordan Spieth and Jon Rahm, with Spieth somehow pushing up to No.4 despite neither man playing last week and Spieth missing the Memorial cut a week earlier.

The difference stems from Spieth’s finish at the 2016 Memorial (T-57th) falling off his rotating two-year performance chart, dropping his count of events played from 49 to 48. The lower divisor was enough to boost him past Rahm.

RANK-PLAYER-LAST WEEK-POINTS
1. Dustin Johnson (2) 9.28
2. Justin Thomas (1) 8.99
3. Justin Rose (3) 8.27
4. Jordan Spieth (5) 7.78
5. Jon Rahm (4) 7.68
6. Rory McIlroy (6) 7.07
7. Rickie Fowler (7) 6.87
8. Jason Day (8) 6.57
9. Brooks Koepka (9) 5.82
10. Hideki Matsuyama (10) 5.57


STAT OF THE WEEK

Not only has nobody captured back-to-back U.S. Open titles since Curtis Strange in 1988-89, just six champions since 1991 have fared better than 30th in their title defense.

Tiger Woods did it three times, with a best defense of sixth at the 2009 Open at Bethpage Black. Retief Goosen was 11th in 2005 after blowing a three-shot lead heading to the final day at Pinehurst No.2, while Graeme McDowell placed 14th in 2011 and Justin Rose was 12th in 2014.

Two of the past three defending champions failed to make the cut – Martin Kaymer in 2015 at Chambers Bay and Dustin Johnson last year at Erin Hills.


STAT OF THE WEEK II

No fewer than 19 amateurs are set to tee it up at Shinnecock Hills this week, the highest count at a U.S. Open since the 1981 edition also had 19.

The lineup could have hit 20, too, but U.S. Amateur titleholder Doc Redman opted to leave his exemption on the table and turn pro ahead of time. The golf gods were not pleased, as Redman missed the cut at the Memorial Tournament and failed to reclaim a berth via sectional qualifying.

U.S. Amateur runner-up Doug Ghim will be at Shinnecock Hills, though, along with former NCAA champion Braden Thornberry, SEC Player of the Year Theo Humphrey and British Amateur champ Harry Ellis.

The group has some serious work ahead to match the career track of the 1981 lineup, which featured future major winners Corey Pavin and Hal Sutton along with PGA Tour mainstays Brad Faxon, Joey Sindelar, Jodie Mudd and Andrew Magee.


HOLE OF THE WEEK

Credit: Getty Images/David Cannon

No.7, Shinnecock Hills Golf Club
Par 3, 189 yards
2004 average: 3.41 (2nd toughest)

Perhaps no hole at Shinnecock Hills will be watched more closely than No.7, where its sloping Redan green wound up as Exhibit A for USGA inaction as overnight winds dried out the putting surfaces ahead of 2004’s final round.

Officials were alerted to the problem when three of the day’s first four golfers made triple bogey. The exception was Billy Mayfair, who putted off the green and celebrated a bogey save with an impromptu dance.

At that point, workers were ordered to spray down the green between groups. That eliminated the triple bogeys, though there were still five doubles and just three birdies. Just 17 percent of the field could hold the green with their tee shots.

“It was a different time, it was different people, and we as an organization – we learned from it,” said Mike Davis, who held a minor role in the 2004 setup and now the USGA’s chief executive. “I think that the difference then versus now … we have a lot more technology, a lot more data in our hands.”

Even under ideal conditions, the green’s slope from front right to back left is difficult to hold. Flag-hunting is discouraged, and an uphill putt is always the preferred play.

2004 U.S. Open: no aces, 20 birdies, 249 pars, 149 bogeys, 20 double bogeys, 4 higher


HISTORY SPOTLIGHT

It’s now reached a full decade since Tiger Woods made the 2008 U.S. Open his most recent major championship, fulfillment of a goal set the day Torrey Pines was announced as host site. Most will call it his greatest major – not for records or numbers but for willpower.

Credit: Getty Images/Icon Sportswire

Woods had not played since knee surgery following the Masters, and everyone could see things weren’t right as he made his way around. Few people, though, knew the full extent of his woes – shredded ligaments in his left knee, a double stress fracture in his lower leg.

Translation: Woods literally was playing the United States Open on one good leg.

Still, rounds of 72-68 left Woods one shot off the lead after 36 holes, and a Saturday 70 left him with a one-shot advantage. But he lost the lead with an opening double bogey, needing a birdie at the par-5 18th to force a playoff with Rocco Mediate.

Faced with 18 more holes on Monday, Woods built a three-shot lead only to see Mediate rally with three consecutive birdies after the turn. Needing another closing birdie to tie, Woods duplicated his feat from a day earlier. The playoff started and ended at No.7, where Mediate found a fairway bunker and couldn’t save par.

“I don’t know how I did it,” Woods has told reporters on several occasions.


DID YOU KNOW

Shinnecock Hills Golf Club holds the distinction as the oldest incorporated golf in the United States, dating back to 1891, and is one of five founding members of the U.S. Golf Association. Nonetheless, this marks just the fifth time the U.S. Open has come to the historic Long Island venue.

Credit: Getty Images/Andrew Redington

The Open’s second edition was contested at Shinnecock Hills in 1896, but a 90-year hiatus ensued before the championship came back. Raymond Floyd captured the 1986 crown, with subsequent editions played in 1995 (Corey Pavin) and 2004 (Retief Goosen).

Shinnecock Hills’ stately clubhouse was built in 1892 and is still considered an architectural classic. It also carries a bit of “true crime” scandal – designer Stanford White was murdered on the roof of Madison Square Garden by millionaire Harry Thaw, husband of the showgirl White was romancing.


OFF THE MARKET

Potentially distressing news for young female fans of Rickie Fowler: He’s officially taken.

Credit: Getty Images/David Cannon

(And guys, remember that hot pole vaulter who soared to unwitting Internet fame about 10 years ago? Yeah, her.)

Fowler and Allison Stokke are now engaged, with the golfer dropping to one knee on a stretch of secluded beach somewhere. (The Starter’s guess: Palm Beaches area.)

Fowler’s Instagram account has photographic documentation, if you’re the curious type.

The twosome has been together a little more than a year, first seen together in public two Aprils ago at a Grand Prix motocross race in Texas. No info yet on a wedding date or locale.


END QUOTE

“It shows that if the players get into the right mindset, then they can play quicker. I think it makes it better viewer experience for those watching on television, a better customer experience at the tournaments – and the golfers love it as well,” said European Tour chief Keith Pelley, offering praise for the Shot Clock Masters.

The event will return next year, though Pelley hesitated on expanding the format elsewhere.

Jeff Shain

Jeff is a contributor to Pro Golf Weekly. He is the managing editor of Prime Sports, and a weekly contributor to PGATour.com. As a member of the Golf Writer's Association of America, Jeff has covered golf for nearly two decades, including stops at the Orlando Sentinel, Miami Herald and The Island Packet in South Carolina.

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