ERIN, WIS. – Perhaps Erin Hills’ history should have informed expectations. A man who wanted to build the course is in jail for murdering his wife, and the man who adopted his dream went broke and was forced to sell.
During Wisconsin’s first U.S. Open, Erin Hills has raised suspicions that it may host ghosts older than its clubhouse. A 94-year-old spectator died in the stands on Friday, a blimp crashed nearby on Thursday, there has been an E. coli scare at a water station, and an anonymous bunch of golfers have carved up the course the way ancient glaciers carved up this land.
Most major venues secretly pray for a renowned champion to stamp the course with legitimacy. Erin Hills may be handing the trophy on Sunday to someone who will require a name tag.
By the end of the second round Friday, four players shared the lead at 7 under and 12 were within two shots of the lead, and the top 18 featured zero players who have won a major.
The leaderboard is as dense as Gouda, promising an unpredictable weekend that well could lead to a first-time major winner in a seventh straight major.
“Any time you’re up there toward the top, you want to keep playing well, but you’re wondering, ‘Am I going to keep playing well?’ ” said Brian Harman, one of the leaders. “That’s why four days of golf is very tough. Everybody goes through the same emotions throughout the week.’’
On another benign day, Rickie Fowler wasted a chance to keep or lengthen his lead. He began the day at 7 under and gave back a shot. Harman, Paul Casey, Frank Shuttlesworth, Tommy Fleetwood and Brooks Koepka finished the day tied for the lead at 7 under, and if you didn’t realize that one of those names — Shuttlesworth — was made up, you are forgiven. Casual golf fans don’t know who Harman or Fleetwood are, either.
Casey would have been at Hazeltine National last fall as a member of the European Ryder Cup team if he had kept his membership with the Euro tour, but he didn’t. Harman is a 5-8 short hitter from Georgia who hadn’t made a cut in a major since 2014.
Fleetwood is an Englishman known for ball-striking who hadn’t made a major cut since 2015. And Koepka is an American Ryder Cupper known for his power, and his friendship with defending U.S. Open champ Dustin Johnson.
Johnson has turned Koepka into a workout fanatic. The two spent two hours in the gym on Thursday night, and Koepka unleashed his driver on a course with generous fairways, shooting a 70 while making the longest course in U.S. Open history play like a pitch-and-putt.
“I don’t get too worked up,’’ Koepka said. “I’m pretty chill. At the end of the day it’s just golf.
“I haven’t hit a club longer than 7-iron into a par-4. I’ve got to be able to put it close and take advantage of my length.’’
Koepka’s game and attitude are remindful of Johnson’s, who broke out for his first major last year at Oakmont. Koepka has a prime chance to win his first this weekend, considering the pack chasing the leaders includes an amateur and players named Jamie Lovemark and Xander Schauffele.
Neither of those names is made up.
There’s even an amateur in contention — Texas A&M’s Cameron Champ. (Strangely, that name is not made up, either.)
“The golf course is great,” said Rory McIlroy. “It’s a big, big golf course, with long rough and all that stuff, but it lets you play.”
The USGA hopes that its Open will identify a champion golfer, but the generosity of the fairways has inadvertently turned the longest course in Open history into a second-shot golf course.
The muddled leaderboard features long hitters (Koepka, Casey and J.B. Holmes), short hitters (Harman and Brandt Snedeker) and medium hitters (including Fowler.)
With no clear favorite and plenty of underdogs entering the weekend, Erin Hills could find itself hosting an 18-hole playoff on Monday, the first since Tiger Woods’ last major title at Torrey Pines in 2008.