ERIN, WIS. – In 2015, the U.S. Golf Association took the U.S. Open to Chambers Bay and players compared the greens to broccoli and cauliflower.
In 2016, the USGA took the U.S. Open to venerable Oakmont and interrupted Dustin Johnson’s round with a specious ruling.
In 2017, the USGA brought the U.S. Open to Erin Hills, and got it wrong again.
The Masters is about beauty and memories. The British Open is about history and weather. The PGA Championship encourages shootouts and fun. The U.S. Open’s identity long has been infused with angst.
The U.S. Open exists to make players sweat on tee boxes, whine from the rough, fume around the greens and despair near the hole. The USGA’s insistence on protecting par has led to unfair setups and seared greens, but complaints only bolstered the tournament’s reputation.
Complaining about the U.S. Open setup is like complaining about the opposing hockey team’s enforcer. If you complain, he knows he’s doing his job.
The USGA brought the Open to Erin Hills for two good reasons: To stage the championship on a public course and bring it to the Midwest. The PGA of America has seized upon Whistling Straits and Hazeltine National. The USGA understandably wanted to create its own Midwestern base.
The problem is that Erin Hills is not interesting. It doesn’t challenge players off the tee, and it doesn’t look interesting either from the gallery or the couch.
Most times I visit a major, I find the course to be captivating and daunting. This week, Erin Hills was neither.
It doesn’t even compare to the PGA’s chosen Wisconsin site, Whistling Straits. With its stunning views of Lake Michigan, Whistling Straits can inspire awe, and trepidation.
The USGA usually sets up its golf courses to provide the ultimate test of nerve and skill. With its generous fairways, Erin Hills did not fulfill that mandate.
There was nothing wrong with the scoring, or the champion. Complaints that the course was easy enough to allow someone to shoot 16 under par are silly. As a links-style course, the weather was bound to determine difficulty. With soft conditions and pristine greens, these players were going to score.
Also, had the USGA played its old trick of playing a par-72 course as a par-70 course, the winning score would have been 8 under.
And Brooks Koepka is a fine, powerful, player who could have won anywhere.
Erin Hills was theoretically tough enough. It just wasn’t interesting enough.
If the USGA decides to return to Erin Hills, it probably will do so for the wrong reasons — because of strong relationships with the course owners, or because there is plenty of space for parking, infrastructure and corporate tents on the massive property.
What’s intriguing is that after hosting the Open at two upstart courses in the past three years — Chambers Bay and Erin Hills — the USGA is returning to traditional venues for the forseeable future.
Upcoming Opens will be held at Shinnecock, Pebble Beach, Winged Foot, Torrey Pines, The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., Los Angeles Country Club and Pinehurst.
What the USGA should recognize is that ratings and attendance were low for the Erin Open. The course did not capture imaginations or stir passions. And with Tiger Woods absent and Phil Mickelson aging, golf needs to attract casual fans.
Here’s my ranking of some of the major championship venues I’ve visited: Augusta National, Torrey Pines, Whistling Straits, Pebble Beach, Oakmont, Hazeltine National, Pinehurst, Medinah, Erin Hills. You could argue whether I’m properly judging the first eight. I’m not sure there’s any way to argue that Erin Hills should be moved above any of the others.
Hazeltine National is not well-loved by traditionalists, but it is challenging, scenic and probably even better suited to match play than stroke play. Tiger Woods vs. Y.E. Yang turned into a Sunday of match play, and Hazeltine proved ideal for the Ryder Cup.
Erin Hills looks like a nice place to play golf. It resides on a beautiful piece of land. But as a U.S. Open venue, it never stirred emotions. Not angst, not fear, not exultation. Not this week.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. email@example.com