Why the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills Really Needs to Get it Right This Year

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy at Erin Hills, Hartford, Wisconsin, June 12. McIlroy walks along the fescue that is expected to be a challenging part of the 2017 U.S. Open. Ross Kinnaird/Getty

Some may say Erin Hills is a gamble from the United States Golf Association (USGA). On a mammoth 7,693-yard course, an incredibly heavy rough—sorry, fescue—lines a wide open fairway without any trees in sight, and known for its unpredictable gusts of wind. For some, the Wisconsin course looks more like the venue of a British Open rather than the 117th U.S. Open major championship.

In fact, Jon Rahm, the Spaniard who is ranked 10th in the golfing world, described it as playing “like a links course on steroids.” He added, as quoted by the BBC, “I think it’s [the] U.S. Open, they expect our best.”

And that’s exactly what the USGA will hope to see: the world’s best golfers, playing at their maximum on a course that is challenging but beatable. (Workers at Erin Hills cut the fescue back on holes four, 12, 14 and 18 this week after wet weather made it unplayable, organizers said.) The U.S. Open needs to be entertaining this year, remembered for the entertainment on the course rather than the debacle off it.

Last year, in Oakmont, Pennsylvania, the world no.1 and favorite for this year Dustin Johnson held the shimmering trophy aloft on the 18th green as the new champion. Sure, the weekend had been good, Johnson shooting an impressive 69 to finish five under par, but it was the image of blazered officials approaching Johnson on the 12th tee that made the 2016 U.S. Open memorable.

Seven holes earlier, on the 5th green, Johnson’s ball moved slightly as he was about to make a putt. He was told there would be no penalty, but then, on the 12th, he was now told this could change.

Related: Everything you need to know about the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills

Officials at Oakmont were criticized for the uncertainty hanging over Johnson. Rory McIlroy wrote on Twitter: “No penalty whatsoever for DJ. Let the guy play without this crap in his head. Amateur hour by the USGA.” Regardless of how well Johnson played, the 2016 U.S. Open will forever be remembered for the controversy.

The year before that, in 2015, the Sunday at Chambers Bay in Washington saw Jordan Spieth crowned champion. Spieth had shot five under par, winning the tournament at the age of 21, but his win was down to Johnson’s collapse. He three-putted on the final hole to lose by one shot, an anti-climatic end to the weekend that saw players complaining about the quality of the course.

You would have to go back to 2008, almost a decade ago, for the last classic at the U.S. Open. The 19-hole play-off between Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines will remain in the highlights packages for years to come, especially being Woods’ last major win.

So this year is big. Big for Erin Hills as it looks to make a mark on the golfing world, and even bigger for the U.S. Open. It can’t afford another year of mediocrity.