The Toughest Test in Professional Golf ⏤ U.S. Open Championship

Fantasy Golf

Winged Foot7

America's National Championship makes its long-awaited 2020 appearance when the best players in the world gather at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, NY for the 120th U.S. Open Championship. The event was originally scheduled to be played back in its usual spot in mid-June, but was rescheduled for COVID-related reasons and will now be conducted this week without fans and as a part of the 2020-2021 season as opposed to the 2019-2020 season. The host site for this year's playing of the championship is the absolutely brutish West Course at historic Winged Foot Golf Club and the challenge of the golf course is sure to be one of the storylines throughout the week.

The Field and the Favorites

As one could predict for a major championship, the field includes pretty much every able-bodied player who qualified to compete in the championship. The only two notable absences come from Brooks Koepka and Francesco Molinari. Koepka has been battling a knee injury for the better part of the last year and it seems that the two-time U.S. Open champion (2017 and 2018) didn't think it wise to try to tough it out for this week's event. 

Molinari's absence is slightly more curious as he has not yet been seen on any tour post-COVID and admits freely it has nothing to do with any physical issues. "I see a lot of questions. I didn't hang up the bag, I took a break to manage life change with my family," Molinari said. "I am the only one who has not returned. I am well aware of it, but it is not the first time that I have made different or unpopular choices."

Outside of those two absences, the field is as strong as ever and maybe the strongest on record as the USGA was not able to open up nearly half the field to the local and sectional qualifying process for which this most open of championships is famous. Instead, they had to rely on handing out more exemptions and were able to stock the field from nearly top to bottom with the players of their choice. The net result is that there are fewer unknowns than usual in the U.S. Open field and fewer of the top professionals who missed out on exemptions.

Predictably, Dustin Johnson enters the week as a +800 favorite to win the championship. DJ has been the hottest golfer on the planet of late with his last four starts including two wins (at the Northern Trust and the TOUR Championship) and two runner-up finishes (the PGA Championship and the BMW Championship). That run of red-hot play was well timed as it led to his capturing his first Fedex Cup title and the $15 million prize that comes with it.

The next crop of favorites include Jon Rahm (+1000), Justin Thomas (+1200) and Rory McIlroy (+1400). Of those three, only Rory seems to arrive at Winged Foot searching for some form. Rahm won his second-to-last start (in a playoff over DJ at the PGA Championship) and Justin Thomas recently won the WGC Fedex St. Jude Invitational before fading a bit during the Fedex Cup playoffs. Rory, however, is still searching for his first post-COVID top-five finish and it's tough to imagine that the West Course at Winged Foot is going to be an easy place to find it.

The Golf Course

The West Course at Winged Foot Golf Club is about as ideal a venue for the U.S. Open Championship as any golf course on the planet. It has hosted five past U.S. Opens with the most recent staging of the championship at Winged Foot coming in 2006 when Geoff Ogilvy survived the brutish test to win the championship outright at a score of five-over par. The 1974 edition of the event was dubbed "The Massacre at Winged Foot" when Hale Irwin won outright with a score of seven-over par. 

The carnage from that 1974 championship evoked one of the classic lines in U.S. Open history. After watching the course beat up the players for a few days, the media asked Sandy Tatum (then the chairman of the USGA Competitions Committee) if the USGA was trying to make fools of the contestants. 

"No, we're not trying to humiliate the best players in the world," he said. "We're simply trying to identify who they are." 

The course was designed by A.W. Tillinghast (who authored dozens of the northeast's best courses) and features narrow tree-lined fairway corridors and pushed-up green complexes that have some of the most vexing contours of any major championship venue. These green contours are what drive the challenge at Winged Foot and this year's championship will feature even more dramatic slopes thanks to a restoration of the greens to their original design by modern architect Gil Hanse. The restoration captured old contours that had been lost to time and opened up new sections of the greens to hole locations unavailable for previous Opens at Winged Foot.

There are a number of key holes at Winged Foot, but none more important than the closing stretch and its famed finishing hole. All three of the finishing holes are long two-shotters and the shortest among them is perhaps the most difficult. The sixteenth plays just under 500 yards (498) and bends around a wall of trees to the left. The second shot is defined by the overhanging tree that fortifies the front-left of the green and spits out pulled approaches to various trouble spots. The seventeenth measures 504 yards and bends the other way (from left-to-right) with a greensite fortified on both sides by deep bunkers. The home hole features one of the most contoured greens on the golf course with a false front that will reject any approach that lacks the necessary distance to cover the true front edge of the green.

Outside of the closing stretch, the difficult tenth hole that opens the second nine will be important as well. This one-shotter plays 214 yards from a teeing ground located in the shadow of the clubhouse to a greensite fortified by the deepest bunkers on the golf course. Players should be thrilled to play this hole in even par over four days and don't be surprised to see a fair amount of double-bogeys from those who get out of position around this green.

Scoring opportunities are rare at Winged Foot, but perhaps the three best ones will be the short par-four sixth as well as the two par-fives at nine and twelve. While these are considered the scoring holes, they do not provide immunity from potential disaster thanks to green contours that render short-sided approaches nearly hopeless when it comes to getting the ball up and in. The three-shot 12th hole in particular is the hardest birdie of the bunch as it measures 633 yards and bends left around a giant tree that can obscure both the second shots for the long hitters and third shots for those who miss the fairway. Players this week will need to make some hay at these three holes if they want to have success in this year's championship.

Here are our selections:

Group A (Xander Schauffele)

Group B (Collin Morikawa)

Group C (Justin Rose)

Group D (Matthew Fitzpatrick)

Group E (Daniel Berger)

Group F (Viktor Hovland)