Chambers Bay GC is now closed to the public, as the course is prepared for the US Open in a fortnight's time. Ahead of a renewal like no other, Paul Krishnamurty marks your card with five form angles to consider...
"Players with good records in the Open - for instance Rickie Fowler or Sergio Garcia - must come into serious reckoning."
Past US Open form may be of little relevance, apart from Pebble Beach renewals
Although the season's second major switches venue every year, the layouts invariably share common characteristics. The USGA set out to get a winning score around even par and that usually means a combination of narrow fairways, penal rough and, weather permitting, fast greens baked in the June heat. Simply keeping the ball in play and relentlessly making pars is often a winning strategy.
Chambers Bay, however, will be nothing like the US Open norm. There is not a single tree on the course, which apparently better resembles a UK links than any other in the States. The only course on the US Open rota which looks even vaguely similar is Pebble Beach, which hosted the 2000 and 2010 renewals, in so far as it is a links layout, exposed to the wind.
Open Championship and Whistling Straits form may prove a better guide
Given those characteristics, Chambers Bay clearly has more in common with courses on the Open Championship rota. The challenge lies in coping with uneven lies, avoiding deep fescue grass and bunkers, shaping imaginative approach shots through the wind and employing great skill around the greens.
Players with good records in The Open - for instance Rickie Fowler or Sergio Garcia - must come into serious reckoning, particularly because they thrive in windy conditions whereas others struggle.
Another major venue which may produce a form correlation is Whistling Straits, which hosted the 2004 and 2010 USPGAs and will do so again in August. Martin Kaymer, another great links player, won the second of those and noted the similarities when visiting Chambers Bay.
High-class scrambling skills could make the key difference
Apart from wind prowess, which depends of course on the forecast, the most important skill may well be scrambling. Such is the complexity of the greens, those lacking a world-class short game could well be exposed. Rather like Augusta or St Andrews, players will often be aiming their chips in a completely different direction to the pin.
All of the above mentioned trio - Fowler, Garcia and Kaymer - score well in this regard and this aspect will also play perfectly to the strengths of Phil Mickelson. Again, Pebble Beach form could be a useful guide because the smaller greens there always make good scrambling a pre-requisite for success.
A meticulous, detailed preparation is essential
Another interesting thing about Chambers Bay is that in theory everyone starts equal, with no tournament experience. Unlike a course like Augusta, where challengers have usually played half a dozen times, the winner will be a debutant.
Indeed, there a big rewards for players that commit a lot of time to learning the course beforehand. Mike Davis of the USGA says such preparation is essential, to learn the nuances around the greens and importance of finding the right fairway lies. It may pay, therefore, to look out for comments over the next fortnight, to see who is putting the hours in. Mickelson always does before a major, so does US Open specialist Jason Day.
Take on the favourites, especially Rory
If ever there was a scenario geared towards producing a shock major winner, this is it. Of all the majors, the Open Championship is the one where outsiders win or challenge most often. All of the aforementioned conditions, especially the weather forecast, can act as a great leveller. Moreover, while the stars are dealing with other commitments, there will be plenty of lesser names putting in the hours at Chambers Bay.
The favourite looks particularly vulnerable. Though raised playing links golf and the reigning Open champion, Rory McIlroy is always a risky bet on a links, because his record in windy conditions is poor. Last week he was blown away on day one at the Irish Open so, while his runaway win at Quail Hollow remains fresh in the memory, it's unlikely his current 6.86/1 odds will get any shorter.