Just when you thought golf courses couldn't get any longer, we present to you Erin Hills, site of the 117th U.S. Open. It will be the longest course ever in a major championship, exceeding Chambers Bay (2015 U.S. Open) by about 50 yards. It can even play in excess of 8,000, though USGA executive director Mike Davis assures us that will not happen.
Erin Hills, like Chambers Bay, is a public course playing host to its first professional event. It's only 11 years old, and thus most of the field had never seen it before this week. Eighteen golfers in the 156-man field did play the course at the 2011 U.S. Amateur. In recent weeks, we've heard some eyewitnesses describe Erin Hills as a links-style course, while others say that's overstated or flat-out wrong. What we do know for sure is that the course is not a traditional U.S. Open setup. Yes, it's Open-long, but fairways will be extremely wide, allowing for some mighty lashes off the tee. Still, there's plenty of trouble to be found in the form of waist-high fescue (fescue will be a big word on TV all week -- do NOT play a drinking game every time an announcer says "fescue"), sloped and slanted fairways, penal bunkers (138 of them), blind shots, semi-blind shots and elevated greens with runoffs and collection areas.
Davis said that he expects scores to be higher than usual in U.S. Opens, meaning par will not be good enough this time around. For the first time since 1992, par will be 72, meaning there will be four par-5s, including two of the final five holes at Nos. 14 and 18 (plus 1 and 7). All four play around 600 yards or more, so even though Davis said the course will not play as long as the stated yardage, with lots of roll in the fairways, that's an advantage for the longest hitters. The greens are said to be firm but not tricked out as they were at Chambers Bay, and there has been scant criticism of the putting surfaces this week. That should be considered an advantage for the better putters.
Weather-wise, heavy thunderstorms hit the area on Monday, with more forecast through Wednesday, softening the course and perhaps making it play a bit longer. Thursday should be a rain-free day -- dashing Phil Mickelson's bid to see his daughter's graduation and play in the Open -- but rain should return from Friday to Sunday. The biggest concern for the golfers could be the wind, which looks fairly benign until freshening on Sunday.
Key Stats to Winning at Erin Hills
• Greens in regulation/strokes gained tee-to-green
• Scrambling/strokes gained around the green
• Driving distance/strokes gained off the tee
• Putting average/strokes gained putting
2016 - Dustin Johnson
2015 - Jordan Spieth
2014 - Martin Kaymer
2013 - Justin Rose
2012 - Webb Simpson
2011 - Rory McIlroy
2010 - Graeme McDowell
2009 - Lucas Glover
2008 - Tiger Woods
2007 - Angel Cabrera
The tournament may come down to a winning putt, or who putts best, but golfers will be hard-pressed to be on the first page of the leaderboard without solid tee-to-green play. While the course may not play as long as the listed yardage, everyone would rather hit a shorter second shot than a longer one, especially with all the runoffs around the greens. And thus, driving distance is a big part of our model this week. With fairways incredibly wide, guys will be able to let it fly off the tee. Does that mean a shorter hitter can't win? Of course not. But those golfers will need to be so precise in virtually all other aspects of their game that they are a hard sell -- other than Jordan Spieth. Looking at the last seven Opens dating to Graeme McDowell's 2010 win at Pebble Beach, the winner was top-15 in driving distance five times (including McDowell!). Distance off the tee is just the beginning. Greens in regulation -- and, by extension, strokes gained tee-to-green -- is going to be even more important. Since the '10 Open, every winner has been top-20 in GIR. There won't be the usual rough around the greens this year, but with those runoffs and collection areas omnipresent, scrambling will be as important as always. Likewise, putting fits into the profile, even though last year Dustin Johnson was 43rd in putting average and Spieth was 23rd the year before. Taking a closer look at Spieth's victory at Chambers Bay, he was mediocre off the tee (59th in distance and 68th in accuracy) and on the greens. But he was sixth in GIR and second in scrambling. That's a U.S. Open win in a nutshell. Lastly, major winners don't find their form at the major. Rarely does someone playing poorly in the weeks and months ahead win the title.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS (Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)
Tier 1 Values
Dustin Johnson - $12,000 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 7-1)
Johnson is No. 1 in the world, No. 1 in the FedEx Cup point standings, the No. 1 price on the DraftKings board and the No. 1 choice at golfodds.com. (We sense a theme. But wait, there's more.) He's also No. 1 in driving distance, strokes gained off the tee, strokes gained tee-to-green and GIR. Johnson is bidding to become the first back-to-back U.S. Open champion since Curtis Strange in 1988-89 (Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods never did it). It's impossible to omit Johnson from the value picks, but he hasn't won a stroke-play event in three months and is coming off a missed cut at the Memorial. We're not as high on him as some other "J" names (check the rest of Tier 1 and Tier 2).
Jordan Spieth - $11,500 (12-1)
Spieth is only 89th in driving distance and 109th in SG off the tee. On the other hand, he's Jordan Spieth. Despite those mediocre numbers, Spieth elevates to fourth in GIR and 10th in SGT2G. And no need to discuss his scrambling and putting acumen. Accuracy off the tee has been a problem for Spieth this season, but presumably Erin Hills' wide fairways will not be so penal for him. He's also one of the 18 golfers familiar with the course via the 2011 U.S. Amateur, having reached the quarterfinals.
Jason Day - $10,800 (12-1)
Day's game has improved markedly in the past few months, with a playoff loss at the Byron Nelson and a T15 at the Memorial. Finding the fairways had been his biggest issue, leading to poor GIR numbers, but that's been improving. Day's short game has been solid all along, as he's first on Tour in SG around the green, while he's up to 45th in putting average. Day has five top-10s in six Open starts. The oddsmakers even see something in Day, putting him on par with Spieth at 12-1.
Sergio Garcia - $10,000 (25-1)
Garcia has not dropped off since winning the Masters. No, he hasn't won, but some guys fall off the map after winning their first major, or any major. He's so strong tee-to-green: T7 in GIR, second in SG off the tee and third in SGT2G. And he's also long, 29th in driving distance. We don't anticipate Garcia winning -- that would lock up Player of the Year in June -- but we do envision another quality performance from the Spaniard, who has five top-10s in the Open, including T5 last year.
Tier 2 Values
Justin Rose - $9,800 (20-1)
Rose has played only twice since his runner-up to Garcia at the Masters. Of course, Rose has won the Open, at Merion in 2013. He followed that up with a T12 at Pinehurst and a T27 at Chambers Bay, two courses some prognosticators view somewhat similarly to Erin Hills. Rose is so strong tee to green with a game made for U.S. Opens: eighth in SG off the tee, 14th in SGT2G, 16th in GIR and surprisingly long off the tee at T27 in driving distance.
Branden Grace - $8,600 (40-1)
Frankly, we're not as sold on Grace this week as some other prognosticators. But we feel more comfortable with the South African than higher-priced Hideki Matsuyama and Adam Scott. It's hard to argue with Grace's recent major success: top-5s in the past two U.S. Opens and PGA Championships. In the previous two years, though, Grace had notched a victory earlier in the season. This time around, he's is playing decently of late but since the start of 2017 has seen his world ranking drop from 17th to 29th.
Justin Thomas - $8,300 (30-1)
We haven't been high on Thomas since he left Hawaii, but we are this week (Wisconsin is like Hawaii, right?). Thomas hits the ball a ton and feasted on the generous fairways at Kapalua and Waialae. His accuracy has been an issue, but he was controlled in tying for fourth at the Memorial two weeks ago. Even with his usual waywardness, Thomas is 12th in GIR, plus first in putting average. Thomas has not had great major success, but before last year he had played in only two, including a T18 at Pinehurst. For what it's worth, the last six majors have been won by first-timers. Like Spieth, Thomas also was in the 2011 U.S. Amateur, though he bowed out in the round of 32.
Jason Dufner - $8,100 (50-1)
Dufner has clearly elevated his game in 2016-17, but even through some lean seasons he's been money at the Open. He's had three top-10s in the past five, including a T8 at Oakmont last year. His distance off the tee is not on par with most other names here (T92 in driving distance), but he's top-25 in most other metrics we're considering. And, of course, he's coming off a win at the Memorial.
Tier 3 Values
Thomas Pieters - $7,700 (30-1)
Odds of 30-1 are a bit eye-popping for someone who's never played a U.S. Open. Maybe that's what happens after someone who had never played the Masters ties for fourth, as Pieters did in April. Oddly, Pieters has made only one start since then, at the BMW PGA last month (T14). We don't envision Pieters winning the Open, but a solid week is certainly a good possibility for someone equally adept with the driver and the putter. For what it's worth, Pieters attended college in the Midwest.
Louis Oosthuizen - $7,400 (40-1)
There aren't many DraftKings prices out of whack this week, but this may be one of them. The South African has numerous high finishes in majors, including a pair of top-20s in U.S. Opens. Last year, Oosthuizen was T23 at Oakmont. He's tuned up nicely with a runner-up at The Players and a T18 at the Byron Nelson. Oosthuizen is sneaky long -- 69th in driving distance -- and ranks top-20 in strokes gained off the tee and tee to green, and 26th in strokes gained putting.
Charl Schwartzel - $7,300 (50-1)
Schwartzel surely has a good history at the U.S. Open, with four top-25s in the past six editions. And he's surely on form, with a runner-up last week at Memphis and a solo third at the Masters. His season-long GIR and SG off the tee numbers will need a big boost -- 188th and 141st, respectively -- but he's top-10 in putting.
Shane Lowry - $7,300 (60-1)
Completing an all-International Tier 3 is an Irishman. In Lowry's last nine majors, he has missed the cut six times. But he's also scored top-10s in the past two U.S. Opens, including runner-up to Johnson last year at Oakmont. Lowry isn't especially long at 68th in driving distance, but he ranks 19th in SG off the tee, 35th in SGT2G and 38th in GIR. He's even a more-than-respectable 64th in SGP. Lowry hasn't had the greatest season, but he's been finding his form of late, with a tie for 15th at the Memorial and another top-25 at the Wells Fargo.
Francesco Molinari - $7,000 (80-1)
History tells us that the Italian will finish top-30, which he's done four times in the U.S. Open, or miss the cut, which he's done in his other three appearances. There's no denying Molinari is playing well now -- seven top-25s since February -- so weekend play should be in order. He's viewed as one of the shorter hitters, but 101st in driving distance is middle of the road. After that, Molinari is fourth on Tour in SGT2G to go along with traditional strong play on the greens.
Emiliano Grillo - $6,900 (100-1)
Grillo's game has taken a step back from last season, when he won Rookie of the Year. But he's still missed only one cut and has even notched a couple of top-25s in the past month. The Argentine has made the cut in all six of his major appearances, including T54 last year in his lone U.S. Open (he was top-20 in the other three in 2017). Grillo ranks 31st in SGT2G and 48th off the tee, plus T59 in GIR.
Byeong Hun An - $6,800 (100-1)
An has missed only one cut all season, and three of his four top-25s have come in his past three starts. Two of those were top-10s. If not for poor putting, An could have had a win by now. He ranks 21st in SG off the tee and 15th in SGT2G. And he's pretty long, ranking 38th in driving distance. He's even got his putting average inside the top 100. Last year at Oakmont, An tied for 25th.
Billy Horschel - $6,700 (80-1)
Horschel has performed well at the Open the past four years -- when his overall game wasn't where it is now. Over the past month, Horschel has won the Byron Nelson and last week tied for fourth at Memphis. He was T32 last year at Oakmont, breaking a string of three straight top-25s, which began with a T4 at Merion in 2013. Horschel has been among the GIR leaders all season (currently ninth) and is pretty long off the tee at 39th in driving distance.
**We considered a few $6,600 golfers, but among the 57 golfers at $6,500 or less we didn't seen anyone we liked. Surely, some of them will make the cut or perhaps even more. But finding them is tantamount to total guesswork.