Shinnecock Hills – photo courtesy of USGA / John Mummert
The US Open begins Thursday at the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton in New York, the golf course playing host to the event for the 5th occasion and remains the only venue to have staged the event in three separate centuries.
Shinnecock Hills first held the event in 1896 in what was then just the second ever staging of the US Open and subsequently played host in 1986, 1995 and 2004.
The seaside layout is often exposed to wind given that it lies adjacent to Long Island Sound and thus opens the door to perhaps a different range of golfers to whom the conditions might best suit.
The weather forecast for the week has relatively gentle winds however so the links influence might well be reduced somewhat although seaside golf can be a lottery in that regard.
While the demands of the golf course might differ from those typically experienced at the US Open, the demands of winning perhaps the game’s most significant championship does not and it takes a gritty, patient type of player to pass the examination of a US Open test.
Let’s take a look at the leading players in the field and assess their chances of challenging for the richest total purse in the game (US12 million and a first prize of US$2,160,000.)
Johnson already has a US Open title to his name and has generally played the event well. He was runner-up in 2015 prior to his win in 2016 and interestingly, given the links style layout he will be exposed to this week, has regularly played The Open Championship well. Johnson is in fine form at present as his six-shot victory at last week’s FedEx St Jude Memphis Classic would suggest and it is hard not to be excited about his prospects of a second major championship title. Some would say it is hard to back up after a win but Johnson is an unflappable type and more than capable of doing so.
Thomas will play just his 4th US Open with a best of 9th last year at Erin Hills. He continues to play well in 2018 and although he lost his world number one standing to Johnson last week he has been outside the top twenty only twice in 11 starts this year. If I had a concern about Thomas it would be his lack of form on this type of golf course environment but he gets better each year and so his best US Open showing is not beyond him but I prefer others in terms of winning chances.
It is hard not to like the way Rose is playing right now having won in Fort Worth two starts ago and then finished 6th at the Memorial. His form at the US Open however is mixed having missed as many cuts as he has made including the last two although he did of course win at Merion. His form on these windy, open, links style golf courses such as that he will face this week is hardly convincing either so while his current form is not in dispute there is reason to steer away from him.
This will be McIlroy’s 10th start in a US Open, one of which he won by eight shots in 2011. He missed the cut in each of the last two years but in theory it should be a golf course that suits his style of play having regularly played well on Open Championship style links layouts. McIlroy appears to be timing his run nicely with impressive weeks at the BMW PGA Championship and again at Memorial so there is a lot to like about his chances.
Spieth has been below his best in recent weeks but with three major championships to his name in such a relatively short career there is little doubting his liking of the big stage. He won this event at Chambers Bay in 2015 and is the current Open Championship titleholder suggesting this style of course will not be a problem. His current form is a concern however.
Koepka was the 2017 US Open champion and after a hand injury earlier this year he appears to have his game heading in the right direction ahead of defending his title. He finished runner-up in Forth Worth recently and was 11th at the Players Championship and although a little disappointing last week in Memphis his game is in good shape for the task ahead. Importantly he has proven to himself and the world that he can win a major. He was also 4th in this event in 2014 when not the player he is now and has done well at the Open Championship on this style of golf course.
Rahm is one of the game’s most consistent players having missed only one cut in the last twelve months and having finished 4th at the Masters in April and 5th at his last start in Fort Worth then his game appears to be in good enough shape to do well this week. Rahm will surely win major championships in the years ahead but whether he is yet ready is debatable.
At his best Jason Day can win this event but the question is whether he will bring his best to Shinnecock Hills. He has won twice in 2018 and did finish 5th at the Players Championship so it would seem his game is not far from where it needs to be. Day has a great record at the US Open having finished inside the top ten in five of seven starts including two runner-up finishes. If he was to win this week he would become only the second Australian after David Graham to win two different major championships. His chances are good.
Matsuyama appears to be playing well again after an injury issue having finished inside the top twenty at his last two starts. He finished 10th on debut in this event in 2013 and runner-up last year behind Koepka. He has played well enough at Open Championship venues for that style of golf course not to bother him this week so a good showing is expected of the young man destined to be Japan’s first major championship winner at some stage.
Has developed into an outstanding player in 2018 with a series of very consistent finishes on the PGA Tour. His issue is a very ordinary record at the US Open with just one top ten in 14 starts, that coming when 10th at nearby Bethpage Black in 2009. He is however playing some of his best golf at present and might be one for longer odds.
Reed appears to be taking a while to adjust to being Masters Champion and has played only three events since. Disappointing final round last year at Erin Hills costs him a very good result but while he can’t be dismissed I prefer others.
Fowler is arguably one of the best players in the game without a major to his name but typically plays the bigger events well including when runner-up and 5th in this event in recent years. He has three runner-up finishes in major championships and appears close to where he needs to be to again challenge. He has been runner-up at the Open Championship and won a Scottish Open so the style of golf he will encounter this week is not a concern or him. His last start produced a top ten at the Memorial and of course he did finish runner-up at the Masters in April.
Leishman continues to go quietly about his business and handles the big time in the unflappable manner required of US Open Champions. Leishman has several nice finishes to his name in 2018 including when runner-up in Dallas and when 9th at the Masters. His recent record at the Open Championship is very good and coming from where he does in Australia a windy week would bother him less than others. Would appear to be a chance for a very good week.
Fleetwood has played the US Open on only two occasions making the cut in both and last year finishing a very impressive 4th. The Englishman has continued to play well since and has developed into a world class player reaching as high as world # 10 a few weeks ago and is now 12th. He finished 7th at the Players Championship a few weeks ago and has many other solid finishes in Europe and the US this year.
Stenson might not win that often but he puts himself in contention on a regular basis and has done so for much of this year. I see him as a good chance to contend this week and if he can contend then he can potentially win. His liking for links golf culminated in an Open Championship win in 2016 and his credentials are good for a second major championship.
Grace has a good record at the US Open having finished 5th and 4th in recent years and his form at present is very good having finished 3rd with a final round of 62 at the recent AT&T Byron Nelson Championship. Is the sort of player who could well win this event and could be considered a good chance at longer odds.