Erin Hills shines during 2011 U.S. Amateur won by underdog Kelly Kraft
During my first visit to Erin Hills Golf Course last summer, the course’s fescue shimmered in the setting sun during my stay. It was a stunning sight in the middle of Wisconsin’s corn belt 35 miles west of Milwaukee. Hard as it is to believe, Erin Hills actually looked better on TV - even with the brown and crusty greens – this weekend during the U.S. Amateur than it did during my round last August.
Those two young studs in the U.S. Am. final, Patrick Cantlay and Kelly Kraft, helped make the course look so spectacular. They played it how you’re supposed to, hitting booming drives and using deft short games to manipulate slopes that only confounded my middling game. The course is such a long slog of a walk, I tweaked my back on the 12th hole and limped home to finish the round. I struggled to solve the riddle of the monster par-5 18th hole, which played 675 yards in Sunday’s final.
Kraft pulled off an impressive 2-up upset over Cantlay, a UCLA sophomore and the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world. Cantlay played so well the past two months, he made four cuts on The PGA Tour this summer.
Did anybody else get the feeling they were watching the 2010 U.S. Amateur all over again? The only thing missing at Erin Hills was the view of the Puget Sound from Chambers Bay. Both courses play like links, firm and fast, with wild green complexes and hairy bunkers.
The praise for Erin Hills just kept coming from those involved with the championship. The course seemed to validate its status as host for the 2017 U.S. Open. USGA executive director Mike Davis called it “Shinnecock (Hills) on steroids.” Announcer Roger Maltby pronounced “of all the inland properties I have seen, this is the most dramatic.”
During the telecast, I found the comments by USGA president Jim Hyler most intriguing. He hinted there could be more changes to a place that has already been tinkered with twice in five years. Check out my story on the recent changes here.
“We really learned a lot this week. As Mike (Davis) looks ahead, he has a lot of to think about,” Hyler said. “We might look at a couple of greens, maybe, for some changes. We will look at the fairway lines, maybe narrow them a bit. There’s nothing too dramatic.”
Can the new owner, Andy Ziegler, afford more expensive changes? Probably. All in the name of Wisconsin’s first U.S. Open. The dress rehearsal is done. Just the big show remains. Too bad we have to wait six years to see it.
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