ERIN, WIS. – Fescue is to grass as piranha are to fish. It is vegetation with teeth.
The word itself sounds like an insult, or a golfer’s curse as he tries to find a ball in it.
The tall, wispy, flowered grass is the visual calling card of Erin Hills, and could determine who contends on the newish course during the 2017 U.S. Open.
Fescue is just one of the words you should add to your golf glossary as the Erin Open begins today. The others:
Na: The symbol for sodium is also the last name of the first golfer to get salty this week over fescue. Kevin Na posted a video complaining about the length and difficulty of the grass, unofficially eliminating himself from contention.
Grip it and rip it: Erin Hills is the second-longest course in U.S. Open history and might play longer because of rain. The fairways are also generous and wide. This should favor long hitters who can whale away while enjoying a larger margin for error than the USGA usually allows.
That’s why long hitter Rory McIlroy countered Na’s complaints by noting that on many courses, the Erin Hills fescue would be located out of bounds or in a lateral hazard. Thus McIlroy did not violate the Jack Nicklaus rule of elimination by complaint.
Moisture-wicking: This will be a humid, sticky Open, as the nation is reintroduced to the joys of a Midwestern summer.
Metal spikes: Dustin Johnson was the favorite to win the Masters until Wednesday night, when he slipped in his rented house and injured himself. Contenders may want to wear bubble wrap and old-school spikes on staircases this week.
Flyover country: Erin Hills is sprawling and impressive, but at first glance it may be more beautiful from the air than on the ground. Aerial television views make it look like the landlocked portions of Ireland, but spectators will have trouble navigating the course, and from the ground many of the holes look the same. This may be one of many championship tournaments best viewed from the couch.
Curds: This may also be the rare championship tournament at which, on the first hole you encounter, you actually hear the words “cheese curds.” It happened to me on Wednesday at No. 1.
Campeon: The Spanish word for “champion” might become familiar if Jon Rahm can break through. He ranks fourth in FedEx Cup points, has seven top-10s and a victory this season and possesses power and imagination. In a field with no clear favorite, Rahm could make Spain 2-for-2 in majors this year, following countryman Sergio Garcia’s Masters title.
Rain dance: Phil Mickelson has finished second in six U.S. Opens. Our national championship is the only trophy he needs to become the sixth player during the Masters era to complete the career grand slam.
He needs a four-hour weather delay on Thursday to have a chance to make it to Erin Hills following his daughter’s high school graduation in California.
His daughter’s name is Amanda. Mickelson almost left the 1999 U.S. Open early to be home for her birth. But he was able to finish the tournament, and watched Payne Stewart beat him on the 72nd hole.
Almost Minnesota Nice: The sentimental favorite at Erin Hills is Steve Stricker, who grew up in Edgerton, Wis., and might be the nicest player in golf. He still lives in Wisconsin. After the USGA denied his request for a special exemption to get into the Open, he won a 36-hole sectional qualifier to get in.
“I think this story, the reason why it’s a little bigger than normal for me is I was declined the invite and then I went to work and got in on my own,” said the 50-year-old Stricker. “I think that’s Wisconsin people in general.”
Stricker and Iowa native Zach Johnson — two of golf’s nicest people — are quality players from the Upper Midwest worth cheering.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. email@example.com