Going back to Shinnecock Hills.
The 118th U.S Open ushers us to a familiar links course at Long Island, the intensely stretched out Shinnecock Hills. Over the years, the club went through extensive relocation of tees and converting several unused sections into thick rough while tightening the fairway. A beautiful course nevertheless, as Shinnecock Hills was ranked second in Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest Courses Ranking for 2007, 2008, and third in 2009.
Shinnecock Hills, which was first established in 1891, is the only golf course historically to ever hold the U.S Open in three different centuries; 1896, 1986, 1995, 2004, and 2018. Always providing a tough and rigorous test, professionals have a love/hate relationship with the course.
Phil Mickelson for one has the opportunity to join a list of greats to complete a career Grand Slam. He came close to achieving this feat back in 2004, but after a double bogey on the par-3 17th, Retief Goosen claimed the prestigious trophy with a hurting margin of two strokes. Mickelson, who will turn 48 this year, has accumulated five major championships through his stellar 26-year career.
This year, Mickelson has found back his brilliant form, winning the World Golf Championships – Mexico and coming in top-10 five other times, amassing over $3.5 million in earnings with just 12 events. Prior to his win, Mickelson was in a winless drought for five years. A return to the very location that haunted him for over a decade can finally break him free of the horrors. Mickelson has also always endured banter as a non-closer, after his collection of six second-place finishes at U.S Opens.
Current world number one Dustin Johnson is a name that will always appear in the list of favourites. The bombing player has had a relatively quiet start to the year after winning the Sentry Tournament of Champions, coming in second at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and 10th at the Masters. Still, the 33-year-old is searching for his second major, after winning the U.S Open in 2016 at Oakmont.
Despite having four wins in 2017, Johnson has never been in contention at the previous year’s major. A freak accident caused him to withdraw from the Masters, missing the cut at the U.S Open, and a 54th place and 13th place finish at the British Open and PGA Championship respectively. Despite that, Johnson has proven that he is of enough quality to choke away majors but still retain the top spot in the rankings.
Having the event at Shinnecock Hills might be a blessing in disguise for Johnson, who can easily render the added distances irrelevant. With a 7-iron that gives him 200 yards, and a suspicious TaylorMade M4 that can get him over 400 yards on command, what is a little extension of length to him? His putter might have been quiet so far, but in the event, it syncs in time with the tournament, Johnson can easily pull away from the field.
Rory McIlroy might have had his dream of becoming a grand slam champion chucked aside by Patrick Reed at the Masters, but the Northern Irishman still has a lot to look forward to in the coming years. Only 29 years-old, McIlroy already has four majors to his name. His form has not extended to this year, however, despite winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational just weeks ago. He has not particularly excelled in any area, and putting especially, has let him down tremendously. Four and five putts lowlights have been shared on the internet, and he has since adopted a new putting stroke.
Hopefully, McIlroy will be able to find his touch again with his flat stick in time for the major he once won back in 2011.
Although a huge fan favourite, Jordan Speith has quietly slipped down the rankings, sitting comfortably (or uncomfortably) at fourth in the world. Similar to McIlroy, Speith has had issues with his putter. Despite ranking third on the PGA Tour for greens in regulation, at 71.53%, his birdie conversion rate is only at 31.63%. Phil Mickelson and Jon Rahm’s leads the Tour at 39%. This year, Speith has not won any event, and missed the cut three times, equalling his total cuts missed in 2017 despite not even being halfway into the year. Struggles with the putter will plague Speith, but his determination and work rate can alleviate his shortcomings, not to forget Speith always shows up for the big games. Think last year’s British Open.
Rickie Fowler seems to be taking over the mantle from Sergio Garcia as one of the greats that will always contend, but will never win a major. Garcia broke his record of 77-starts without a win just last year after a dramatic playoff win over Justin Rose. Fowler on the other hand, in 2014, came in top-5 for all four majors. That began to get the PUMA ambassador on people’s lips enough to pressure him, cumulating two years of dreadful results which included three missed cuts in eight majors between 2015 and 2016. 2017 saw him finish T5 at the U.S Open and the PGA Championship, where unluckily for Fowler, a scintillating Brooks Koepka shocked the world with a record breaking score and an on-fire Justin Thomas was on a runaway freight train. After a great second place finish at the Masters, Fowler should be sufficiently prepared for the test at Shinnecock Hills.
Personally, I like the idea of having new faces win the majors, but realistically, a first-timer at Shinnecock Hills wouldn’t know what hit them.
Tony Finau, just with his current form and explosive distance, Tommy Fleetwood with an exceptional 2017 that proved his consistency, and birdie machine Jon Rahm who definitely deserves credit for his performance but not his on-course attitude (he leads the PGA in average birdies a round). I’ll throw Rickie Fowler into this list out of goodwill, Henrik Stenson as a personal choice, Dustin Johnson for obvious reasons, and Phil Mickelson to complete his curtain call.