Erin, Wis. – A rain-softened Erin Hills proved no match for the top amateurs in the stroke-play qualifying portion of the 111th U.S. Amateur.
It was always expected that Blue Mound Golf & Country Club, a classic Seth Raynor design measuring slightly more than 6,600 yards, would be less of a challenge for today’s long-hitting players, but wind-swept Erin Hills was supposed to filibuster the scoring entreaties of the 312 players who qualified for America’s oldest championship.
But a heavy downpour Tuesday morning, which forced qualifying to be completed on Wednesday, softened the greens at Erin Hills sufficiently enough to allow players to attack relatively accessible hole locations. Meanwhile, the fairways on the 7,760-yard layout remained firm. The result was an unexpected scoring onslaught.
With a bogey-free 5-under-par 67, Gregor Main of Danville, Calif., earned medalist honors at 10-under 132, tying the 36-hole championship qualifying record Hank Kim established in 1994 at the TPC Sawgrass (Stadium and Valley courses) in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Main led a charge that saw scoring eclipse anything seen in the last 20 years. It took even-par 142 just to get into a playoff for the final four match-play spots in the 64-player draw. Two over par was the previous low, on three occasions, in ’94, ’97 and 2001. The 142 aggregate total was one better than the 3-over 143 that made the match-play cut in 2003 at Oakmont C.C. near Pittsburgh.
Eighty players scored par or better on the two layouts in southeast Wisconsin.
I think if you can keep it in the fairways here, you can score, because the greens are perfect, said Main, a junior at UCLA. It’s tough, but good scores are out there if you play well.
It didn’t hurt at all that the greens were soft, and they are absolutely perfect, added Russell Henley, an All-American from the University of Georgia who will play for the USA at next month’s Walker Cup Match. Plus, we had some wind, but I don’t think it was as much wind as normal. You add it up and it just rewards good shots.
USGA executive director Mike Davis said he was not surprised by the low scoring. Neither was course co-designer Dr. Michael Hurdzan.
It just goes to show that the best players can take a long golf course and master it, and they do it not with strength but with finesse, especially with the short game, said Hurdzan, a long-time course architect from Columbus, Ohio, who teamed with Dana Fry and Ron Whitten of Golf Digest on the design of Erin Hills. Erin Hills is the kind of golf course where you don’t have to play golf shots, you have to invent them, and these guys are very good at it. When you see these skills these young guys have, then I’m not surprised at all.
Henley, who won a Nationwide Tour event earlier in the year in Athens, Ga., cautioned that the good times weren’t likely to continue once match play started.
If the wind keeps blowing and the greens dry out, the course is going to play a lot differently, he said. It will still reward good shots, but those shots are going to change and you won’t see as many easy birdies. But I think that’s going to be fun for match play. It’ll be interesting for sure.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose material has previously appeared on USGA websites