Gotta get this out of the way first: Danny Noonan caddied this week. Yep, THE Danny Noonan of lumberyard, not being the ball, dressing like a Scotch ad, Lou’s right hand man, a good kid whose girlfriend needs him, and Judge Smail’s pal and Fresca fame. The actor Michael O’Keefe volunteered to caddy for a pro during practice rounds, And pro Danny Balin took him up on it. He actually worked as a caddy at Winged Foot Golf Club as a kid before the acting bug bit. He wrote down his thoughts for us here.
Now back to your regularly scheduled “why the hell is golf on the front page of Dawg Sports during football season?!?” interlude.
Tournament: United States Open, September 17-20, 2020
Course: Winged Foot Golf Club (West Course), 7,482 yards, par 70. Mamaroneck, NY. Just north of New Rochelle, about an hour or so outside New York City.
Purse: $12,500,000 total; $2,250,000 for the winner.
Defending Champ: Gary Woodland. The long-hitting and longer-suffering Kansas Jayhawk got his game and his emotions dialed in, and held off a charge by then #1 Brooks Koepka. The winning score at Pebble Beach was 13 under par, ridiculously low, and probably has Mike Davis all in a tizzy. More on that below.
Fun Fact: In the 1959 US Open at Winged Foot, Billy Casper, in his prime, laid up on the third hole, a par 3 mind you, all four days of the tournament. Playing around 230 yards, and surrounded by some of the thickest rough on the course and a severe green, Casper played his percentages and laid up all four rounds, making par each time, and capturing the title. This course is tough. Again, keep reading.
TV Times: There will be almost constant broadcast of this over the next four days, but it’s broken up by online vs. television. Basically, 6-7:30 am ET you can click on golfchannel.com, then it flips over to NBC’s streaming service Peacock for streaming through about 9:30 each day. Thursday and Friday will have TV broadcast on Golf Channel through mid-afternoon at which point NBC will broadcast it until 7 pm. Saturday and Sunday have the basic same early day options, but with NBC picking up the TV broadcast just before noon until the conclusion of the day’s play.
‘Dawgs in the Field: 7. Harris English, Brian Harman, Kevin Kisner, Greyson Sigg, Brendon Todd, and Bubba Watson. The seventh is current UGA student Davis Thompson.
The US Open is all about the course. There will be player storylines aplenty, but the biggest star in the US Open is always the one you trod upon, spit on, and hit divots out of. And you would be hard pressed to find a bigger star and more respected golf course than Winged Foot.
This will be the 6th time the US Open has come to Winged Foot, and the 7th major (Davis Love III won the 1997 PGA Championship on a slightly tamed down version). In 2006, Phil Mickelson watched Colin Montgomery give away the championship on the last hole, only to double-bogey it himself and hand the trophy to Aussie Geoff Ogilvy. I’m a lukewarm Phil fan - love a lot of what he does, and then sometimes get tired of his schtick. You can’t deny his talent nor his brass, but the USGA seemingly has denied him the missing piece to an otherwise career Grand Slam.
The course is big. It is long. You cannot take short cuts. It is too strong. The grounds are relatively flat, and only has a couple of creeks running through it so no real water danger. It just has enough doglegs, strategically placed hardwoods, fetlock-deep rough, and tons of undulation on extremely quick greens. There are really only a couple of straight holes, and it even has a driveable par 4 (#6). But the fairways are so narrow, that being offline in this 3-5” rough means pitching out or laying up almost automatically. A by-product of the pandemic is no fans, and no fans means no patrons on the course, which means no trampled down rough and wild areas made more manageable. And if you are straight, one par 5 is 565 yards, the other is 633. Good luck.
When Ogilvy won the 2006 Open, his winning score was +5. Bobby Jones won in 1929 with +6; Billy Casper with +2 in ‘59, and Hale Irwin with +7 in 1974. This version became known as the “Massacre at Winged Foot”, so named because conditions were nigh impossible. The rumour is that the USGA (which hosts the championship and sets up the course) wasn’t happy that Johnny Miller shot 63 in the 1973 final round to win. They were so unhappy, they decided that next year would prove that golfers aren’t supposed to make birdies, and that level par over 4 rounds produces the best champion. They shaved the greens, but didn’t touch the rough and 1974 resulted in brutal scores across the board. So after Gary Woodland took a soft and mostly wind-free Pebble Beach to the woodshed, golfers everywhere wonder if the USGA will once again take its revenge.
Harris English gets in via his 53rd spot in the world rankings. He’s never placed higher than 37th in a US Open, but he’s made the cut in all four he’s entered.
Brian Harman is playing in his 5th Open, missing the cut his first two tries but a tie for 2nd in 2017 and a T36th at Shinneock two years ago show he’s more than capable.
Kevin Kisner will play in his 7th straight championship where he’s missed the cut only twice. He’ll be the first to admit the lengthened venues aren’t an advantage, but he’s voracious as a competitor and plays well on tight fairways and fast greens.
Greyson Sigg did very well in the shortened Korn Ferry Tour this season, and either that or winning a spot in a regional qualifier got him into Winged Foot. Either way, this will be Sigg’s first US Open and he picked a heckuva course to get indoctrinated.
Brendon Todd also gets in via his world golf ranking, and will tee it up in his 4th US Open. He actually led the 2014 US Open after 2 rounds, but stumbled down the stretch. His resurgency has been led by incredible driving accuracy, and that will be sorely tested this week.
Bubba Watson will play in his 10th straight US Open, and his 14th overall. He had a tie for 5th in 2007, a tie for 18th in 2009, but has missed his last 3 US Open cuts and 5 of his last 6. Considering how much he curves the ball, the big trees and tight windows probably don’t do him any favors.
Davis Thompson gets into the US Open as being in the top 7 of the world amateur golf rankings. He’s spent his summer competing in the various regional and national amateur tournaments, but this isn’t his first time against the pros. He played in the Puerto Rico Open earlier this year, and played in last fall’s RSM Classic (Sea Island, GA).
Here are tee times for those who want to schedule their viewing pleasure. Gotta love the all Red and Black pairing of English, Todd, and Thompson:
Greyson Sigg, Danny Balin, J.C. Ritchie 6:50 am (#10)
Harris English, Brendon Todd, Davis Thompson 7:34 am
Brian Harman, Ricky Castillo, Andy Sullivan 7:01 am (#10)
Bubba Watson, Lee Westwood, James Sugrue 12:54 pm (#10)
Kevin Kisner, Tommy Fleetwood, Abraham Ancer 1:16 pm (#10)
Greyson Sigg, Danny Balin, J.C. Ritchie 12:10 pm
Harris English, Brendon Todd, Davis Thompson 12:54 pm (#10)
Brian Harman, Ricky Castillo, Andy Sullivan 12:21 pm
Bubba Watson, Lee Westwood, James Sugrue 7:34 am
Kevin Kisner, Tommy Fleetwood, Abraham Ancer 7:56 am
So that’s the course, and the players you want to root for. Feel free to list your betting favorites in the comments below. And as always...