The First Tee – US Open

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly June 10, 2018 19:06

The First Tee – US Open

The second major of the year is here with the U.S. Open, and it’s one of the more grueling tests on Tour because the USGA believes that par golf is how the game should be played – with the obvious exception being last year’s jaunt at Erin Hills, that played much easier than expected. This year’s event takes place in Southampton, N.Y. at Shinnecock Hills which last hosted in 2004; in the intervening years, the course has undergone a ton of changes (in 2012 and then again in 2017), so looking that far back won’t offer much. The consensus winning score this week is expected to be in the -3 to -5 range, wind-dependant.

Just a reminder: the U.S. Open is Top-60 and ties, not top-70 like a regular week or Top-50 like Augusta. There’s no “10 shots within the leader” rule here, either.

The Course

Playing as a par-70 at 7,445 yards, Shinnecock this year is everything I expected Erin Hills to be last year: incredibly penal on missed fairways, positioning the tee shot is key, needing length, and wide open to the elements; Shinnecock is a wide-open links-style course with lots of elevation changes, so the wind will be a major factor this week – check the FGI email Wednesday night, as well as WindFinder – but it’s different than most courses where wind comes into play because the elevation changes and the way the course has holes running across each other makes it extremely hard to read what effect the wind will have.

The course has just two par-5s, the second (16th hole) being almost impossible for most of the field to hit in two as it sits at 616 yards; conversely, the 5th sits at 589 and will offer some rare eagle opportunities. The average fairway width on the 5th and 16th is 51 yards across and 43.5 yards across, respectively, so golfers will be able to uncork on both par-5s. Seven of the par-4s sit above 450-yards, with the longest being the 3rd hole at 500 yards, while two of the remaining could be driveable for long hitters as they’re below 400; it’s a bold strategy I wouldn’t expect many to take, but it’s definitely an option for the more aggressive if the winds are blowing the right way. Three of the par-3s are below 200 yards, including the radan hole (7th at 189), but Shinnecock has lengthened the first par-3 to a whopping 252 yards – a long iron could run up, but only the longest hitters will be able to hit it high into that green.

Off the tee, driver will have to be in hand on every hole. With the way Shinnecock is set up with doglegs and sandy/waste areas around the 250-yard marker on most holes, leaving a tee shot short is out of the question, even as it’s imperative to hit the fairway; unlike most courses, the Shinnecock fairways don’t have a lot of bounce to them, which means balls that hit the fairway should stay in the fairway. The width of the fairways won’t be the 60-yards across that golfers saw at Erin Hills last year, but they’ve changed dramatically from 2004: with an average width of 41-yards across, Shinnecock is much wider than the average course on Tour. That being said, positioning for the approach shot is key here, and hitting into the deep fescue or rough will require a chip-out to the fairway and is extremely punitive; what everyone wants is long & straight, but since that’s rarer than a unicorn, getting straight & slightly short (i.e. Henrik Stenson) is fine. Driving is key this week.

Approaching the greens here can be yet another challenge, as the greens offer lots of slope and false fronts, and will play smaller than their actual size (which is smallish to begin with); if the tee shot is set up properly however, it will be a relatively straight-forward approach, especially for the longer players. Shooting from the wrong side of the fairway could easily lead to a missed green, as the greens tend to slope to danger areas, and holding the ball on the firm and fast greens will be extremely hard. Again, longer players off the tee will have the advantage, as they’ll have more opportunity to control spin with shorter irons, which is crucial.

Missing the greens – which will happen fairly consistently – can hurt quite a bit, depending on the miss: the greenside bunkers are a best-case-scenario, as the fescue around the greens will be incredibly hard to chop out of if the miss goes long. Once on the poa greens, golfers will have to deal with lots of sloping and undulation, and lots of speed; unlike 2004 though, the greens should stay in good shape (see: the 7th) and should level the playing the field for the worse putters.

The Stats

The Strokes Gained stats to focus on in order (not including Tee to Green):

  • Off-the-Tee
  • Approach
  • Around-the-Green
  • Putting

Counting stats to focus on in order:

  • Bogey Avoidance
  • Carry Distance
  • Approach Shots 175-200 Yards – as always, this range will depend on the golfers you look at. If using a bomber (Brooks, DJ, etc), you can shift the range down to 125-150 or 150-175 as an example.
  • Par-4 Birdie or Better %
  • Distance from the Edge of the Fairway

Top-Tier Golfer

NOTE: All stats updated through Memorial, not Memphis

Jon Rahm ($9500): Sitting 2nd to only Dustin Johnson in SG: Off the Tee, Rahm is having a tremendous year both State-side and on the Euro Tour – his only ET event in 2018 was the Spanish Open, which he won. That ET event was his second win on the year, and fifth top-5 finish overall out of only 12 events; the only downside to Rahm from a non-statistical standpoint is that he missed the cut at Erin Hills last year which should have set up perfectly for a player with his skillset and aggressiveness, and his mental game can always be questioned as he’s prone to angry outbursts. Beyond that though, he checks a lot of boxes statistically:

  • 1st in Driving Distance (All Drives): 307.6 yards
  • 20th SG: Tee to Green: 1.140
  • 13th in Greens in Regulation: 70.42%
  • 10th in Approaches from 50-125 (due to being such a long and aggressive hitter, the expectation is he takes this shot on close to 50% of holes): -24 on 89 attempts
  • 2nd in Birdie or Better %: 27.64%
  • 36th in Bogey Avoidance: 15%

There are definite aspects to his game that could use some work, beyond the mental game, and using Rahm will mean he’s either the most-expensive golfer you use or you’re forced to go stars & scrubs and go dumpster-diving. For that reason, he should see lower ownership than some of the players around him like Rose and Jason Day.

 

Other golfers to consider:

Brooks Koepka ($9000)

Pros: Last year’s winner at Erin Hills, Brooks is the prototypical bomber but unlike some of the longer hitters he’s actually a very strong putter as well (c.c. Luke List, Keith Mitchell). Has performed well on wide-open tracks, scores extremely well especially on par-4s and -5s, and has been very strong in a small sample this year at getting to the green. Coming off a good week in Memphis.

Cons: Statistically still looks bad thanks to his wrist injury. The list of back-to-back US Open winners is extremely short, so it’s tough to expect Koepka to pull it off. Can get into lots of trouble if he misses the fairway, as he’s aggressive and probably won’t take the smarter route of chopping out; has missed 45% of fairways this season, but the added width of Shinnecock could help in that regard.

 

Henrik Stenson ($8800)

Pros: 19th in SG: Off the Tee, Stenson is deadly accurate off the tee – 1st in Accuracy (78.45%) and 18th in Distance from the Edge of the Fairway – and adds to that by being best in class with his irons; 3rd in SG: Approach but 1st in Greens in Regulation, a course that won’t be a birdie-fest sets up well for Henrik as he rarely bogeys. Very strong putter, and very strong outside of 175 yards which will be a typical approach shot given how short he usually is.

Cons: Lack of distance could hurt him quite a bit this week, as he averages only 277.8 off the tee (all drives) and needs to club down to stay as accurate as he is. Struggles on par-3s, and doesn’t score effectively on par-5s relative to the big hitters. Missed the cut last year at Erin Hills, which is a similar course set-up although longer and wider.

Value Golfer (below $8000)

Dean Burmester ($6000): The South African has had a fairly strong year on the European Tour, ranking 51st in total winnings and coming off finishes of T30 and T12 at the Italian Open and the BMW PGA Championship (a very strong field) respectively. Burmester ranks 50th in SG: Off the Tee on the European Tour and has been a very long hitter in Europe, with an average Driving Distance of 317.71 yards; he has been rather poor in hitting fairways so far – just 47.32% which is downright awful – but he’s also hitting 68.9% of greens in regulation in Europe, 0.4% more than the field average.

He’s been great on par-5s across the pond, sitting 27th in Par-5 Scoring, and he averages 4.30 birdies per round which is good for 51st on the E.T. leaderboard. He’s got a low ball-flight – fairly typical for a South African player – and should be good in the wind, and he should see extremely low ownership. He’s not without his warts: beyond the poor driving accuracy, his putting is “meh”, and his SG: Approach numbers on the Euro Tour are nothing special. At only $6000 though, he’s worth a shot in large-field contests, as long hitters like Burmester tend to score well for DFS.

 

Kyle Stanley ($7500)

Pros: 6th in Driving Accuracy and 4th in Greens in Regulation, Stanley is typically a tee-to-green stud but doesn’t pop up in that category thanks to poor SG: Around the Green so he may get overlooked. On poa greens, his poor putting should even out a touch. He’s better with mid-to-long irons than wedges (relative to other players) which works well for his slightly shorter play off the tee.

Cons: If he misses the green, he’s in heaps of trouble as he’s a combined +54 (117 attempts) when he misses the green by 10-30 yards and he loses an average of 0.226 strokes per round around the green. Has a fine SG: Putting number but is actually quite bad in that category, one-putting only 35% of the time and three-putting a brutal 3.67% (164th).

 

Gary Woodland ($6800)

Pros: One of the longest hitters on Tour – T10 on All Drives with an average of 300.5 – Woodland is coming off a T23 at Memorial and has hit the 5th-most greens in regulation this year (75.56%). He’s an excellent play for both par-4 and par-5 scoring, and his poor putter could be mitigated by the poa greens. Fits the bomber style with the wider fairways, and has actually been better than most if he does end up in the rough (-2 over 120 attempts).

Cons: His form has been fairly bad since taking a win at WMPO: six missed cuts in ten events. Inaccurate off the tee (63.57% fairways hit) and a horrible putter, Woody should be able to put himself in good positions on the longer holes but is very high-risk/high-reward. Very bad if he misses the green. Finished T50 at Erin Hills last year which should have set up better for him.

You can follow me on Twitter @adalyfrey and good luck this week!

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly June 10, 2018 19:06

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