Dave Tindall digs into stats, quotes and past form to try and unearth who might win this year's US Open at Chambers Bay...
"I'm looking for a player high on the All-Around ranking, who gives it a whack, performs well in Open Championships, won't get flustered and will play lots of practice rounds at Chambers Bay beforehand. The problem is, I'm not sure that player exists!"
"I think from a shot value standpoint, it's going to give the players, the best players in the world, some shots that they simply haven't had to make in past US Opens. So it's exciting.
"What we really want our national championships to be is an incredibly challenging test where it challenges every aspect of the game, shot-making skills, your course management skills, your ability to handle the pressure at certain times of the championship. We do it on some of this country's very best golf courses.
"Another change from the last two Opens is this is absolutely a wider Open than we're used to. That's not a bad thing. One of the great things about moving these championships around is that you get different types of courses."
That was USGA Executive Director Mike Davis speaking ahead of the US Open.
Except.... these quotes were taken ahead of last year's championship at Pinehurst No.2.
In other words, every US Open is billed as having its unique features and differences so don't get too freaked out about all the mystique and intrigue surrounding Chambers Bay. It's still a golf course, it will still test skills that all US Open courses test. And that's why looking at stats from previous editions of this tournament isn't a wasted exercise.
The last 10 US Open venues - Pinehurst No.2 (2014 and 2005), Merion, Olympic Club, Congressional, Pebble Beach, Bethpage, Torrey Pines, Oakmont and Winged Foot - have provided vastly different tests but, crunch the numbers, and several strong traits appear.
Last 10 US Open winners
7 of last 10 were ranked higher for Driving Distance than Driving Accuracy
7 of last 10 were ranked in the top 10 for Driving Distance
10 of last 10 were ranked in the top 16 for Greens In Regulation
9 of the last 10 were ranked in the top 3 on the All-Around ranking
Overall, the average ranking for the week of the last 10 winners shows:
Driving Distance: 15.0
Driving Accuracy: 21.0
Greens In Regulation: 10.3
Putting Average 11.1
So, there's a myth busted. Quite simply, Driving Accuracy gets overplayed in a US Open. On those stats it's the least important! By contrast, the idea that a US Open tests "every aspect of the game", a line quoted by Mike Davis above, is spot on. Just take a look at that average All-Around ranking of 2.3. Talking of Davis, the man in charge of course set-ups...
How well does Mike Davis call it?
He rattles on and on in his US Open press conferences - usually held about six weeks before the tournament starts - but is it just guff or do his words actually give punters a clue? Here's what Davis has said down the years.....
2014 Pinehurst No.2: Speaking in 2013: "Next year at Pinehurst it's a wider golf course, a longer golf course, I would contend a player that hits longer there, that can hit the ball high and stop it on those hump back greens would have an advantage.
Result: Nine of top 11 finishers could be considered big or biggish hitters.
2013 Merion: "This probably is the most precise golf course (it measured under 7,000 yards) we play a US Open on, it just requires precision off the teeing ground and precision with your approach shots. There is probably less width here than most US Opens. I don't care who it is, whether it's a long or short hitter or medium hitter, you have got to control your ball, you got to be very precise and think your way around.
Result: Tournament was won by the very precise Justin Rose.
2012 Olympic Club: "The person who is going to have an advantage here at Olympic Club is truly somebody that can comfortably manoeuvre their ball. Last year, I made the comment that I thought that Congressional would favour a long-ball hitter that hit it high. Well, look at Rory McIlroy. This year I could see a short-ball hitter winning, a long-ball hitter or somebody in between. It's just, can you manoeuvre it around?
Result: Webb Simpson came home in front of a host of shotmakers - McDowell, Dufner, Furyk, Harrington, Toms.
2011 Congressional: "It's a big golf course. It's always been that way. You know, if history tells us anything, you'd say, somebody that's got the ability to really move the ball out a pretty good distance and then bring their approach shots in with a high ball flight would do well at Congressional.
Result: Rory McIlroy won by 8. Big-hitting Jason Day was runner-up.
2010 Pebble Beach: "They are absolutely the smallest greens in major championship golf. This year in my mind, this is really a shotmaker's golf course. You're going to get wind, you're going to get firmness, and I think in some ways that allows more players in the field to be more competitive.
Result: Graeme McDowell plotted his way to victory.
2009 Bethpage: When asked if a shorter player could win on lengthy Bethpage (7,426 yards), Davis said 'yes' but with the caveat that he'd have to "really be on his game". Davis said it was tough for shorter hitters because "many of Bethpage's greens are protected in front by bunkers and rough, where you can't run a ball into it."
Result: Big-hitting Lucas Glover took the trophy.
Verdict: All in all, you'd say he was pretty much on the mark.
What does Mike Davis say about Chambers Bay?
"This is a bold site, a big site. There's a lot of scale to this site. It's obviously expansive, and I say that because we don't have anything that we play a US Open on that's remotely similar to this. Where you can be in parts of the property and see all 18 holes played at once. Obviously it's a tree less property. Almost tree less."
"Some of the greens have a lot of undulation, relative to other places we take a US Open."
"There are places out on the golf course where you got blind shots, semi-blind shots, which in and of itself is a very interesting thing. Makes you feel like you're across the pond on one of the great links courses."
"This is a very wide golf course. Easily, easily the widest golf course we have ever played a US Open on. At least going back to the 1950s when kind of the modern way to set a US Open came in place."
"This course will positively play firm and fast. Even if we get some rain, this is built on all sand, which is a great medium to allow for good drainage. If it's firm and fast and then you add slopes and undulations, from a player's standpoint, you really have to think your way around this golf course."
"Another feature about Chambers Bay, uneven lies."
"There's a lot of elevation changes and that just makes distance control all the more difficult."
"We want to reward somebody that can hit the ball a long way. We want to reward somebody that's got accuracy. Who can control their distance, who can control their spin, put spin on it, take spin off the ball, who can hit it high, low, curve it right to left, left to right, who can recover."
And his most famous quote...
"I would contend that there is no way, no way, a player would have success here at Chambers Bay unless he really studies the golf course and learns it. The idea of coming in and playing two practice rounds and having your caddie just walk it and using your yardage book, that person's done. Will not win the US Open."
Past stats and Mike Davis' quotes suggest we're looking for an exceptional golfer (high up in the All-Around ranking) who has done his homework and made several reconnaissance missions to Chambers Bay.
Current Top 10 on the All-Around ranking
So, do we know if any of the above have scoped out Chambers Bay yet?
Rory McIlroy: "I'm going to play a couple practice rounds the weekend before and then I'll probably play another, you know, 18 holes. So I'll play three practice rounds." According to Mike Davis, that isn't enough.
Jason Day: Traditionally puts in the hours before a major but has been hampered in recent times by a mystery illness which has led to dizziness and lethargy. He first got it in the final round of the Zurich Classic and since then he's made a R1 exit at the WGC-Accenture Match Play and missed cuts at The Players Championship and Memorial.
Webb Simpson: "I can't get out there. It's not exactly easy to get there from the East Coast. I would rather play in that tournament (St. Jude) than go see (Chambers Bay). I'm really going to be serious about Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday - almost making those days more important than the tournament, and just see what happens."
Hideki Matsuyama: The Japanese star had a peek before May's WGC-Cadillac Match Play in San Francisco. "I did go up, I played one round. It's really, really hard. And it was really cold. And it was rainy, there was hail blowing sideways. It's a tough, tough track."
Jordan Spieth: Spieth knows the course better than most. He's seen it several times and his caddie is a member at Chambers Bay and married his wife there. Spieth gave this insight at The Memorial: "It's going to be different short-game shots, almost like you're playing an Open Championship. The greens are massive, so controlling your speed on these longer putts, you're not going to be able to feed it into a lot of these pins. The only thing I'll think about is taking a driving iron instead of my hybrid. But it's not really windy there usually, so a hybrid is going to be beneficial in lofting the ball up in the air. It's going to be a little easier to hit greens than Pinehurst because they're bigger and things feed into the greens rather than feeding off the greens." Spieth, then 17, shot 83 there in the 2010 US Amateur but said: "The back nine was borderline unplayable for me at that time, given the length and lack of spin and height that I hit the ball."
Justin Thomas: First things first, he failed to qualify. However, Thomas does offer some useful insights. "You definitely need a lot of local knowledge. Top five toughest set-ups I've played." Two stroke-play rounds were used to whittle the field down for the match play section of the 2010 Amateur. Thomas shot a 69 on day two which was the joint low score of the day. Spieth (83), Russell Henley (82) and Brooks Koepka (81) all failed to qualify for the match play after shooting huge numbers. Of Spieth, Thomas joked: "He shot about a million at the US Amateur!" He added: "I've heard of some guys who aren't crazy about it, and it is a course where you're going to get people who either hate it or love it. But I loved it. It's very similar to a British Open. You have to be creative and you have to use your imagination."
Brooks Koepka: "I think it sets up perfect for long hitters. Guys who hit the ball over 300 yards are going to have a huge advantage. The changes they made to that golf course, they made it a lot better from when we played the US Amateur. Even if it is bad, you've got to change your mindset and think it's good. If you go in with a negative attitude, you're probably going to play bad. It's that simple."
Shawn Stefani: Not qualified
Ian Poulter: Via Twitter: "Well several players have played Chambers Bay in prep for US Open. The reports back are it's a complete farce. I guess someone has to win."
Justin Rose: "It's been such a hard venue to get to all the way out west. But I'm going to head up there early, probably get there Thursday night and play Friday, Saturday, Sunday, which is something I don't normally like to do. I normally like to do it a week in advance, then get fresh, spend the weekend at home and turn back up there Tuesday so the week doesn't become so long. This year, you've always got to try and adapt, but this year it hasn't been possible to schedule it the way I did for Merion. But I'm definitely going to get the rounds in."
Michael Putnam, who lives a mile or so from the course, said after qualifying: "I told guys, if you're expecting a US Open course, it's not going to be that. If you're going there expecting a British Open or a PGA Championship course, then you'll do all right. The US Open is usually on tree-lined courses, with firm and fast greens -- not fescue for sure -- and more of a traditional American-style golf course, whereas Chambers Bay is not that."
Who will win? It remains the $64 million dollar question.
I'm looking for a player high on the All-Around ranking, who gives it a whack, performs well in Open Championships, won't get flustered and will play lots of practice rounds at Chambers Bay beforehand.
The problem is, I'm not sure that player exists!
Bounce Back (the percent of time a player is over par on a hole and then under par on the following hole) is normally a good guide to temperament so that helps out too.
As does a good showing at Whistling Straits in 2010 - a venue that could also be crudely classed as a tricked-up links course. Certainly, there seem some similarities to Chambers Bay.
With a week to go, four to consider might be:
Dustin Johnson (1st in DD, 17th in All-Around, 29th in Bounce Back, former Open runner-up, should have won at Whistling Straits in 2010 US PGA. Negative: No mentions yet of how many practice rounds he'll play at Chambers Bay).
Justin Rose (29th in DD, 10th in All-Around, 27th in Bounce Back, plans to play lots of practice rounds there. Negative: Iffy Open record, missed both cuts at Whistling Straits (2004 and 2010), straying from his usual pre-majors routine).
Brooks Koepka (10th in DD, 7th in All-Around, 2nd in Bounce Back, played in 2010 Amateur at Chambers Bay, 4th in last year's US Open. Negative: Didn't play very well there in 2010, no Open form or much experience on similar courses).
Jimmy Walker (20th in DD, 11th in All-Around, 21st in Bounce Back. Negative: He said of Chambers Bay in April: "I know nothing about it - haven't been there, haven't looked at it. I've played a lot of golf in my life blind, and I played good golf. Course knowledge helps, but you can get over that pretty quick.")
Then again, maybe everyone is overlooking the obvious. Rory McIlroy is the Open champion, missed the 2010 playoff at Whistling Straits by a shot, is 1st in the All-Around and 8th in DD. He's missed his last two cuts though and won his four majors off the back of finishes of 5-5-14-1.
This is one seriously tough code to crack.
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