The 117th US Open at Erin Hills: Preview

When shovels first entered the ground that is now Erin Hills Golf Course in 2004, a long and tumultuous journey was initiated that was aimed at one goal: Hosting a US Open.

After thirteen years, multiple changes in routing and hole designs, new ownership and many, many demands met, one of Wisconsin’s newest and greatest golf destinations is finally fit for the prime time. The entire golf world is converging on small-town Erin, Wisconsin, and the course and America’s heartland are ready for their moment in the sun.

The journey that has gotten Erin Hills to this point has been well-documented, but never as well-written as it was recently by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Sports Columnist Gary D’Amato in his recent 7-part series, “The Making of a US Open Course: Erin Hills,” linked here:

The Making of a US Open Course: Erin Hills, by Gary D’Amato (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Only two days remain until the opening round of the 117th US Open, and I am excited to spend tomorrow there watching practice rounds as well as Friday to witness round two.

I have been actively involved with Erin Hills throughout the years, including several media days and playing a number of other rounds to review and photograph the course (my number one course in the state of Wisconsin) and of course to enjoy challenging rounds with friends on what is certainly one of the country’s greatest golf courses.

A few links to articles I’ve written on Erin Hills include:

Recap of the 2015 US Open media day at Erin Hills

 

 

 

Still looking for tickets to this year’s US Open? There is still limited availability to be had on the US Open website. Gallery tickets (allowing basic access to the event) start at $60 for Wednesday’s practice rounds, and are going for $110 for Thursday and $125 for Sunday. Friday and Saturday are already sold out.

There are several other, slightly more expensive, ticket options available for Wednesday’s practice rounds, as well as for the final round on Sunday, but they have been selling out quickly and are sure to be gone soon.

This is the first time the US Open has ever been played in the great state of Wisconsin, and I couldn’t be more excited to be there to watch the action and cheer on state competitors Steve Stricker and Jordan Niebrugge.

Will Phil make it to Erin by his 2:20 tee time on Thursday? Will Stricker or Niebrugge represent Wisconsin well on the leader board? Will Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Bubba Watson, Jon Rahm or any other huge hitters be able to overpower the shear length of the nearly 8,000-yard course?

Weather will certainly be a factor, with rain and thunderstorms in the forecast for much of the coming week. It is my hope that the weather will not define Erin Hills’ chance to shine, although high winds in otherwise dry conditions would make for amazing theater – players looking to score will need to avoid the long, thick fescue at all costs.

My top three picks for the 117th US Open: Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Sergio Garcia

My underdogs: Steve Stricker, Peter Uihlein, Kevin Chappell

My top amateur prediction: Brad Dalke

Keep an eye on my Twitter (@wissportsaddict) and Instagram (WiscoGolfAddict) feeds for on-location photos from my time at the US Open, and let’s all pray for the rain and thunderstorms to stay away.

AmFam Championship Countdown: Less than 3 Weeks!

Last Tuesday, WiscoGolfAddict contributing writer John Ziemer and I were at University Ridge Golf Course for the PGA Champions Tour American Family Championship media day in Madison, Wisconsin.

PGA and now Champions Tour legend Steve Stricker was mid-photo shoot when we arrived, leading up to the best interview panel I’ve seen in years: Stricker, last year’s event champion Kirk Triplett, two-time US Open winner and all-around world-class ambassador to the game of golf and the state of Wisconsin Andy North, American Family Insurance CEO Jack Salzwedel, and Tournament Director Nate Pokrass.

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Steve Stricker leaving the 9th green to join the AmFam Championship media day panel at University Ridge in Verona, WI

Staged questions to this prestigious panel were fairly quick and poignantly directed, allowing ample time for questions from the assembled media members.

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Nate Pokrass, Andy North, Kirk Triplett, Steve Stricker and Jack Salzwedel on stage for the AmFam Championship media day at University Ridge

Just over a week from the first US Open in the state’s history, much had been made about Stricker’s then-ineligibility for the country’s premier pro and amateur championship.

“This is the first US Open in the history of Wisconsin, and to not have a representative from Wisconsin is not right,” Steve told us. Currently the number 78th ranked player in the world, Stricker said “It’s not like I’m not competitive.”

Stricker has spent 253 total weeks as a top ten player in the official world golf rankings, won 12 times on the PGA Tour and 22 times total as a professional.

Eligible for the first time to play in the Champions Tour event at U-Ridge this year, Steve has been more than competitive over the past month, too, including:

  • The Masters: Tied 16th (E)
  • Zurich Classic: Tied 14th (-17)
  • PLAYERS Championship: Tied 41st (+3)
  • Dean & Deluca: Tied 7th (-6)
  • Memorial Tournament: Tied 40th (+1)

The USGA’s refusal to allow Steve in the tournament has not just annoyed him, but also inspired him – Strick’s last chance was earlier today in Memphis where he shot 67-65 at Ridgeway and Germantown Country Clubs to take first place among all participants in the sectional qualifier.

Also announced today was the celebrity foursome for this year’s Saturday round at the AmFam Championship: Brett Favre, Derek Jeter, Darius Rucker and Andy North.

Rucker, the multi-platinum and Grammy award winning county artist and former front-man of Hootie & The Blowfish, will also be hosting a concert on Friday, June 23rd on-site at University Ridge.

Last year’s celebrity foursome drew huge crowds when Favre and North partnered with ex-Packer and Wisconsinite Mark Tauscher and tournament host Stricker (he was not yet eligible to play on the Champions Tour, but still hosted the event).

If celebrities, great concerts and a beautiful golf course isn’t enough to get you on the road to Madison for the AmFam Championship, then maybe great golf will be. Last year’s winner, Kirk Triplett, fielded questions at the media event about the tournament as well as his final round 65 to win the inaugural event by two strokes over Bart Bryant and Mike Goodes.

While Triplett will defend his title at University Ridge, he will be met by many of last year’s field as well as Stricker and some great notables including golf announcer and one of the game’s all-time greats, Sir Nick Faldo, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Scott McCarron and Tom Lehman. The AmFam Championship will be Faldo’s first Champions Tour event since 2015.

AmFam Championship Media Day Video (John and I are in the crowd)

Tuesday was the first time I had the opportunity to play University Ridge since they renovated the course back in 2012, replacing putting surfaces with 007 Creeping Bent Grass, removing trees to allow for better air-flow and turf growth, adding a world-class indoor practice facility for the University of Wisconsin golf team, and making many other general improvements.

The results of their renovation are terrific. I was fortunate to be in a great foursome, too, including University of Wisconsin golf team head coach Mike Burcin, ESPN Wisconsin Homer & Gabe radio co-host Gabe Neitzel, and WISN Channel 12 Emmy award-winning sports reporter Stephen Watson.

I was the low man on the totem pole on that day, for sure. Neitzel moves the ball well, Watson is a huge hitter with great touch, and Burcin is an unbelievably skilled and well-rounded player. We finished at -9 or -10, which was good for fifth or sixth place. We lost by one stroke to Ziemer and our friends, Jason Kauflin (Wisconsin Golf Trips) and Chuck Garbedian’s (Garbedian on Golf, ESPN) team, which was the one sore spot on a fantastic day spent in Madison.

One of the shots they beat us with: Ziemer’s closest-to-the-pin winner on the par three 5th hole:

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John Ziemer’s closest-to-the-pin winner on the par three 5th at University Ridge GC

For AmFam Championship ticket information, including the Friday Darius Rucker concert, visit here:

2017 AmFam Championship event tickets

For more information on Robert Trent Jones, Jr’s beautiful University Ridge Golf Course, visit the course’s website here:

University Ridge Golf Course website

I’m currently working on updating my review of U-Ridge including new and better photos, and you can also look forward to great pics from the media day event by John Ziemer. For now, here is my 2011 review:

WiscoGolfAddict review of University Ridge Golf Course (2011)

My First Ever [Kind of] Hole-in-One!

In the thousands and thousands of rounds of golf and at least four times as many par threes I’ve played, I’ve never had a hole-in-one.

While I still don’t officially have one, I at least finally have my own hole-in-one story!

Several times a week, I get home from work and play a little 4-hole track in the back corner of North Hills Country Club that goes down the hill on six, across the river on the par three seventh, back across the river on the par three twelfth and then up the hill toward home on the par four thirteenth.

My 4-hole track v2

When my wife texted me she was leaving work at 5:15, I figured I had a little time on my own to head out and tool around the course. I spent some time practicing shaping iron shots right-to-left and left-to-right yesterday, and I was excited all day because I felt like I found something.

I started out on six pulling a couple of tee shots in to the woods, but hit some really nicely drawn iron shots around trees to get out of trouble. That felt good.

My range finder’s battery died this weekend so I took a guess that the blue tees on seven were set up somewhere in my 5- or 6-iron range. With a back-left pin on the other side of the greenside bunker to the left, I took my five and set up for a fade.

The swing felt perfect and the ball went right at the pin with a little left-to-right. It hit and I saw it kick a little to the right then disappear. Might be in?

It felt so good I had to hit another. Another perfect feeling swing and an even better, more lofted ball flight. This one was with a Bridgestone B330S #1 ball. It came down a little softer and again veered a little toward the right before disappearing.

The seventh plays way uphill, so it would be impossible to actually see the ball go in, but I had a feeling at least the second one was in. Sure enough, just one ball on the green and it was about ten feet past the pin.

The ball mark for the first shot was about five feet left of the hole, and there was another one five to ten feet short and just left… And then, of course, my B330S #1 ball in the cup.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t count as a hole-in-one for two key reasons: First because it was my second tee shot, and second because there were no witnesses.

I stuck around for about 5 minutes to see if anyone else came around – John and Ryan did, so I was able to find out how long of a shot it was that went in: 174 yards. Even though it doesn’t count, I took a little video to commemorate the occasion and at least now I know it’s possible!

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Video: Pulling the ball out on my first ever [kind of] hole-in-one

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The ball marks of my two tee shots from 174 yards on the par three 7th

Making the turn back toward home, the next hole I played is the par three twelfth back over the Menomonee River. I thought to myself it would be pretty crazy to get back-to-back holes in one, and when I hit my cut 6-iron over the river I started thinking it might happen. Landing 5″ from the hole, it rolled out to about fifteen feet and was an easy two-putt par.

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That close to back-to-back holes in one (ball mark just to the side of the hole)

Callaway Apex Pro Irons

Club Review: Callaway Apex Line

If you have read my Meet the Writer post you can see that I am playing primarily a Callaway set of clubs. This is 100% because I have done my research and hit most of the brands. Callaway has consistently won my respect for feel, look, and performance. Most people that know me know that come late winter, I am testing new clubs at my local Golf Galaxy or R.I.P. Golfsmith, just to see if there is something that might give me a new edge for the coming season. When it comes to irons, I have been playing Mizuno for the last 13 years; the Callaway Apex Pro’s have stolen the show.

Callaway’s Apex line of clubs consists of the Apex CF (cup face) 16 irons, Apex Pro 16 irons and the Apex Hybrid. The Apex CF is a game improvement iron with Callaway’s cup face technology to really get the ball to fly off the face. The cup face increases ball speeds and is said to have higher forgiveness across the face. If you aren’t able to play a muscle back blade, but also aren’t into playing that oversized game improvement iron, this might be the iron for you.

Callaway Apex Pro Iron Fade

Callaway Apex Pro (4-PW)

I played the Apex Pro 16 irons all last season and will play them again this season. Callaway did an amazing job when they created this iron. The iron has a tour inspired shape and is a quadruple net forged head without the cup face of the Apex CF. The main technology behind this set of irons lies in the progressive weighting, optimizing the center of gravity (CG) in each club. In the longer irons (3-5) the iron has a touch more offset and a tungsten insert to lower the CG and get a higher ball flight. In the shorter irons (6-A) the CG gets higher for a more controlled, penetrating ball flight. The 1025 mild carbon steel, along with Callaway’s forging process, gives this one of the softest and best feels I have ever felt when striking the ball.

Many people often look past how important picking a shaft is when buying any golf club. All of the technology in these irons will somewhat be wasted when not getting a shaft that matches your swing. Callaway offers many premium shafts by multiple different companies, and since we all have different swing types and speeds, all the more reason to take advantage of this when buying a new set.

Callaway Apex 3 Hybrid

Callaway Apex 3 Hybrid 20º

Callaway Apex Hybrid Top View

Callaway Apex Hybrid Top View

I don’t carry a 3-iron because of the invention of the hybrid. For a long time now, I have not been overly happy with my consistency and flight with a hybrid. Most hybrids perform too much like a fairway woods and not like an iron, which doesn’t allow for much stopping power on the green. Callaway’s Apex hybrid changes that. If you are looking for that fairway wood feel and flight this isn’t the club for you. The face cup technology comes back in with this club to produce higher ball speeds from center and off-center hits. A neutral, more iron like CG allows for control and workability, making this club perform much more like an iron. I love the number of different shots I can hit with this club and for better players this is a great long iron replacement.

Both of these sets of irons (along with the hybrid) are on Golf Digest’s hot list, receiving gold status and 5 stars in performance and sound/look/feel. I think this is spot on and think you should give these a try if you haven’t already.

Accuracy is key, fairways and greens!

Blackwolf Run Hole #7, Kohler Wisconsin

Rules of Golf Gets a Facelift

On the 5th hole of last years’ US Open at Oakmont, Dustin Johnson had begun to move his putter behind his ball; before addressing the golf ball, it rolled slightly back. Seeing that the ball had moved they ended up bringing in a rules official and because Dustin had not grounded his putter addressing the ball, they came to the decision that there would be no penalty assessed. Upon finishing his round, they brought Dustin in to review video footage of the ball moving. Even though Dustin continued to state that he did nothing to make the ball move, nor did he address the ball, officials decided the putter was in the vicinity and deemed Dustin caused the ball to move. They assessed him a one-stroke penalty. Even with this one-stroke penalty, Dustin still won the tournament by three shots.

Under newly proposed rule 9.2, if the ball or ball marker is accidentally moved there is no penalty incurred. This is one of many proposed rule changes just released by the USGA and R&A. The goal of these changes is to make the rules easier to understand and apply. I also feel there is an underlying attempt at speeding up the pace of play. Reading through the proposed rule changes to take effect in 2019, many of which we have just come to accept. I am very excited about what the USGA and R&A are refining.

I was definitely on the bandwagon of people who hated what took place last year with Dustin Johnson at the US Open. So the changing of that rule seems to be a long time coming, as it has been an issue in way more cases than just last year’s US Open.

Other proposals that I am impressed they are taking on:

  • Being able to repair almost all damage on the greens (exceptions being aeration and natural damage). No longer are you going to have to putt over spike marks. But in all seriousness, come on people, either don’t wear golf spikes, learn how to pick you feet up when you walk, or fix your own marks when you create the damage in the first place.
  • Removing the yellow hazards and marking all penalty areas in red with lateral relief. The amount of times I’ve found myself in yellow hazards has been minimal, but when it’s happened I’ve been unsure what kind of relief I’m entitled to.
  • Others may not agree with me on this one, but the allowing of distance measuring devices. As of now they are stating they would be allowed, and local rules could be put in place to not allow. I am all for this; I feel this has really sped up pace of play. It would be interesting watching the next PGA Tour event, seeing caddies no longer stepping yardage off from the closest sprinkler head.

Interesting rules I never really thought of being addressed:

  • Dropping the ball must take place at least one inch above the ground, no longer from shoulder height. Personally I feel like this takes some of the game of golf away, as it will now be much easier to drop in a wanted area. Gone would be the days of dropping and having it roll into the six inch deep rough a foot away.
  • No longer being penalized for hitting an unattended flagstick while putting on the putting surface. An interesting first take on this one is that if you choose to not take out the flagstick, putt your ball, and it hits the stick and doesn’t go in, you have still not finished the hole and will have to count that stroke to hole out. You are still better off taking the flag stick out when you get close than trying to use it as a backstop.

Rules that I think are going to get some backlash:

  • Search time for a lost ball going from 5 minutes to 3 minutes. I have been part of many a search where we have found it within the 5 and would not have inside of 3. I am okay with this change but we will see how others address this.
  • Suggested no stroke should take more than 40 seconds. I am not sure how this rule will come to fruition. Will competitors be calling this on each other? That could be an issue. As of right now it’s written as recommended but it will be interesting how this gets written in the official rules. The intent of this rule is understood, reducing the overall pace of play, which is needed.

Funniest rule change:

  • Allowing the use of a damaged club. All I can think of when reading this rule is Woody Austin rapping his putter against his head after only getting a 40-foot putt half way to the hole. Just last year, Zac Blair also bent his putter while banging it against his head and was disqualified for then using that putter to finish the hole. In all seriousness the rule this is addressing is quite complicated and if you’re actually still able to use the club you damaged, it does make sense.

These are just a few of the newly proposed rule changes. You can find all of the new rules at:

http://www.usga.org/rules-hub/rules-modernization/text/major-proposed-changes.html

The USGA and R&A are also asking for people to give their feedback. This is so great that they are asking the people that play the game every day for their opinions. You can find that survey at:

https://www.snapsurveys.com/wh/s.asp?k=148674720575

Winter Rules golfing in snow in Wisconsin

Winter rules still for us here in Wisconsin

Accuracy is key, fairways and greens!