With no tournament action over the Christmas break, Steve's spent some of his free time looking ahead to the four major championships in 2017. Here's his look at the US Open...
“Grace is a brilliant links performer who has contended in each of the last two editions and Fowler, following wins for Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson in 2016, is edging his way to the top of the ‘best player yet to win a major’ list.”
The 2017 US Open
Erin Hills Golf Club, Wisconsin
All four days live on Sky Sports
Having looked at the US Masters last week (article here), the only logical next step is to take an early peek at the year's second major, the US Open, and it's an event I'm really looking forward to.
With the often controversial United States Golf Association in charge, the US Open isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I love it. Unlike The Masters, which is always staged at the beautifully manicured Augusta National, the US Open is a nomadic event so the venue changes every year but the courses are always set up tough.
Heavy rain in the lead up to the 2011 edition at Congressional resulted in Rory McIlroy romping to an eight-stroke winning margin with a winning 16-under-par total but par is usually a very good score.
Having consistently revisited the same traditional US Open venues, in recent years the USGA have boldly broken the mould. Not only did they return to the logistically challenging Merion Golf Club in 2013, after a break of 32 years, in 2015 the recently opened Chambers Bay was chosen to host and in 2017, we're off to another brand new venue - Erin Hills in Wisconsin. And I fancy we're in for a real treat.
In stark contrast to Chambers Bay, which remained opened to the public up until a month before the event, Erin Hills has been shut since the end of September so it should be presented in perfect condition.
The bentgrass greens are raised and the fescue fairways exposed. It's not a links course but it has a links feel and appearance and it's almost certainly going to be wind-affected, like any links course. And if we do experience blustery conditions, at around 8,000 yards in length, it's going to be a monstrous test.
Erin Hills is only ten years old, and this will be the first time it's been used for a professional tournament, but it won't be the first time many in the field will play the course in competition. Erin Hills hosted the 2011 US Amateur, won by Kelly Kraft, and the likes of Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Harris English and Russell Henley, to name but four, all played in the event.
Also in the field was England's Jack Senior, who beat Spieth in the quarters but lost to Kraft in the semis, and he had this to say about the venue.
"Where the Walker Cup is in two weeks' time (Royal Aberdeen in Scotland), this is exactly like it. A lot. This is the exact style of course I play week in, week out, so this is a real home track for me."
Year after year, the US Open tends to be fought out by US Open specialists and if we look at the last 20 years, a number of US Open winners have also finished second. The likes of Phil Mickelson and Colin Mongomerie have finished runner-up on multiple occasions without ever winning and we've seen Tiger Woods win the event three times. Retief Goosen, Ernie Els, Lee Janzen and Payne Stewart all became two-time winners. Previous US Open form is clearly a big plus so Royal Aberdeen winner (2014 Scottish Open) and 2013 US Open champ, Justin Rose, looks one for the shortlist, assuming he can get his putter back working in 2017 and others I like are Branden Grace and Rickie Fowler.
Grace is a brilliant links performer who has contended in each of the last two editions and Fowler, following wins for Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson in 2016, is edging his way to the top of the 'best player yet to win a major' list.
Fowler's US Open record is mixed and he's missed the last two cuts but he was 10th in 2013 and he finished runner-up to Martin Kaymer in 2014. He'll love the course and he won't mind any windy conditions. The Sportsbook are wisely ducking him at just 25/1 but at odds of 33/1 and bigger he looks like a speculative early play. He's ended 2016 quietly but if he refocuses next year his odds will tumble.
For more on the course, check out the hole-by-hole guide here.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter