ERIN, Wis. -- Dear Dad,
Happy Father’s Day! Another year, another U.S. Open (13 now, in a row, and 25 majors overall), another year I get to write a letter to you, and you get to tell me what I should have done all week while I was here. Oh well, it beats Mom feeding you that slop they call food at the nursing home, don’t it? I still remember trying to help you choke down what they laughingly called “Sloppy Joes” while the nursing home radio playing such Old Folks Home hits as “Hot Legs,” “Super Freak” and “Girls Girls Girls” over the P.A. system. I hope when they found the guy who did that.
The golfers emasculated Erin Hills today. We had 0.9 inches of rain last night, and it turned Erin Hills into a dart board. I saw the pin sheet, and it looked on paper like the USGA meant business. Most flags were just steps off the green, though a few were in accessible bowls. But with an inch of rain, it’s fire at will for these guys.
You’d be shocked at how far they can hit the ball. During my trip out here I played three times, and one day I played with a plus-handicap. He took that 5-wood you made for me in the basement and hit it 250 dead on a line -- a frozen rope to 5 feet from the pin on a par 5. He offered me $50 bucks for it, and I told him the sentimental value of carrying a club you mace is worth diamonds to me.
It saddens me terribly knowing you’ll never make another one.
Still 250 with your 5-wood is nothing compared to what the Tour pros do now. Amateur Cameron Champ is averaging 340 yards off the tee for the tournament: 340! And Si Woo Kim hits a 5-iron 240 yards...a 5-iron!
I know exactly what you’d say – they play with different equipment – cranked clubs, as much as a club-and-a-half more closed than retail clubs we can get or make – but still, 240 yard 5-irons?
The defining shot of this tournament however put that to shame. Justin Thomas, that young kid that hangs out with Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Smylie Kaufman, shot a 63 today – the 31st in major championship history, but only the fifth ever at the U.S. Open - and he did it by closing with an eagle on the 637-yard par-5 18th hole. First he hit a 330-yard 3-wood, then a 300-yard 3-wood that landed on the edge of the green just past a yawning chasm of a bunker, bounced softly, then rolled a mere 8 feet to finish just beside the cup.
The only thing the ball didn’t do was emit a fresh pine scent as it flew by.
Think about that: 7,813 yards in just 63 strokes. We’re going to need Daenerys Targaryen land her dragons to defend this golf course.
Justin wasn’t the only one who tore Erin Hills a new one; pretty much everyone did. Every one of the top 13 players on the leader board shot 68 or better yesterday. Excepting Olympia Fields in 2003 and Medinah in 1990, there’s never been an Open with more rounds under par.
I remember you once saying as you were putting a club together in the basement while rooting for the Red Sox that there is no such thing as a par 5 for these guys any more, and you were right. Par was effectively 68, not 72. All four par 5s on the course are over 607 yards in length, but they are also all among the six easiest holes on the golf course. Only the drivable par-4 second hole and the tiny par-3 16th are among the easiest six as well. The par 5s all are averaging under par for the entire week.
As you would say, “607 yards? I’d need a cannon to hit it in three!" So would every other weekend golfer. Maybe your idea of going back to persimmon when you turn pro, just like baseball players switching from metal bats to wood when they get to the show, is the future. That or roll back the specs on the ball.
Anyway, Thomas starts only one shot behind, but history is not on his side. Only seven times has a guy who shot a 63 at a major gone on to win the tournament. The last was Henrik Stenson at Troon last year when he stole the Claret Jug from Phil Mickelson, who opened with a 63.
If Johnny Miller were here right now, he’d say, “See the difference?” (In fact, he pretty much did say that yesterday.)
I was talking with some of writer pals over a particularly convivial dinner last night, and one of them said Thomas reminds him of Jordan Spieth – same youth, same unflappable demeanor, same short game, same ability to play any type of golf course, just with even more length. He thinks Thomas brings it home, but I can’t rule out Brooks Koepka, the American kid with the bullfighter good looks and linebacker physique. He’s also at 11 under while Rickie Fowler, who opened the tournament with a 65 is two back of leader Brian Harman, who stands at 12 under.
There are three other dangerous names on the board, though they have a lot of catching up to do and several players to leapfrog. Ryder Cup hero and firebrand Patrick Reed shot 65 yesterday and stands just four back at 8 under, though Erin Hills has not been kind to guys who went so low; they usually fell back the next day. Fowler, for example, opened with 65 and followed that with a 73. Two other guys that can go low, and they’ll need it as they’re five back at 7 under, are Brandt Snedeker and Bill Haas.
I know what you’re thinking: “Snedeker needs a haircut!” That’s nothing, you should get a load of England’s Tommy Fleetwood. He could pass for either a Musketeer or a member of Oasis.
Anyway, if I had to take the time to tell you how much I love you and how grateful I am to have you as my Dad, I’d never finish this article. You truly are my hero, and everything I could ever wish t be. No son ever had a better father. I try to emulate you every day. It’s the best way to honor you. I love you more than anything. Let’s do this again next year.