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Sunday, June 14, 2015

U.S. Open - Preview

The 2015 season's second major championship is the U.S. Open, with Chambers Bay serving as the backdrop for the first time, and here is a preview to get you off and running with your research. Of this year's major rota (Augusta National, The Old Course at St. Andrews and Whistling Straights) Chambers Bay is by far the biggest wildcard.

In terms of course history, about the best we can do is take a look back at the 2010 U.S. Amateur. There are more big names than one would think inside the top 25 in the stroke play portion of the tournament, including Patrick Cantlay, Patrick Rodgers, Justin Thomas, Hudson Swafford, Morgan Hoffmann, Nick Taylor, Patrick Reed, Harris English, Max Homa and Kevin Tway. Oh, and the eventual winner isn't even listed in the top 25 of the stroke play portion. That would be Peter Uihlein.

The best news for punters and gamers in 2015, is that the cream seemed to rise to the top in 2015.

Typically when a major championship rotates from one course to another, past results in that particular major still matter to a degree. Courses usually follow similar setups and the test identifies similar characters. That's not the case this week. Throw U.S. Open course history completely out the window. Any semblance to past U.S. Open leaderboards at the end of the week is a happy accident.

My best guess based on all of the information available to me at this time is that Chambers Bay will play like a very long links course, minus the wind. The greens will likely be a bit slower than most U.S. Opens, the rough a bit more forgiving and the fairways a bit wider. Due to elevation changes and the humps and bumps to be found in the fairway, it's entirely possible that a good shot could find itself unlucky on occasion and a bad shot could avoid a harsh punishment.

The scorecard tells us that Chambers Bay will play as a 7,742-yard par 70. In terms of stats, that should immediately tell us to value par-4 scoring average and driving distance. So, long players with a solid track record in the Open Championship (not a typo) and a steady par-4 scoring average who also happen to be in good form are very appealing. Putting has not been a key indicator of success in this tournament as of late, and there's no reason to think that will change this week.

Normally I stray from talking about things like "gut instinct", but the lack of relevant history allows for that this week. If this U.S. Open does share any traits with past U.S. Opens, the three in recent memory I could see it resembling are Oakmont (2007), Bethpage Black (2009) and Congressional (2011).

While Oakmont is as traditional as they come in regards to U.S. Open layouts, it's also a monster of a course that identified Angel Cabrera as the champion. Bethpage was all about driving the golf ball, and Lucas Glover stole the trophy as a Sectional Qualifier by dominating the soggy course tee to green. To this day, Glover is an elite driver of the golf ball and his ball-striking is every bit as good today as it was in 2009. He just can't putt. Similar to Glover at Bethpage, McIlroy destroyed Congressional off the tee to run away with that U.S. Open.

My guess is that on Sunday night, we will look back at a leaderboard that featured players that can handle the rigors of a long golf course by hitting a driver with confidence off the tee. Mid-to-long irons should matter as well.

We will start to compile the numbers and return later this week with a power ranking and a one-and-done selection. Until then, best of luck to all!

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