US Open 2015 – Chambers Bay, University Place, WA – 18th June 2015 -3:00 p.m. (GMT)
With what seems to less fanfare than usual–thank you F.I.F.A. for all your wonderfully newsworthy shenanigans– golf’s second major of the year, the 2015 US Open seems to have almost snuck up on us. Which, frankly, is in many ways a fantastic surprise as this year’s tournament takes place on a rather peculiar and spectacular location on Washington State’s Pacific north-west coast. Chambers Bay, at just eight years old and over 7900 yards long plays host to a number of firsts. A first US Open to be played on a Robert Trent Jones Jr designed course. A first US Open to grace the north-western wilderness and perhaps most impressively –if inane facts impress you- a first major tournament to be played on a former gravel quarry.
Chambers Bay is an outlier in terms of your standard U.S. Open course, a links –usually reserved for July’s British Open- in all but name and vastly different to the narrow, devilishly rough laden course that the USGA invariably select to host America’s oldest major. Some of the major features of the course are the batshit tee-boxes many of which are purposely placed on undulating ground. So, the one safe-haven of most golf courses has been turned into a bit of a Mad Hatter’s creation. Throw in the sloping, bowl-like greens, nightmarish bunkers and moody weather and you’ll understand that the players are in for an extraordinary challenge that will draw the chagrin of some (see Ian Poulter) but provide fascinating viewing for spectators.
The US open –first played in Newport County, Rhode Island in 1885- is usually won in a slog, save for the occasional demolition job like those of Martin Kaymer last year, Tiger Woods in 2000 and Rory McIlroy’s incredible, record-breaking performance in 2011. Generally, the USGA hate to see any US Open course getting torn to pieces, so, in the year following a runaway victory organisers will -perversely from the point of view of the participants and amusingly for most spectators- decide to provide a layout that will introduce almost prohibitive difficulty for the best players on the planet. Frankly, there is something incredibly enjoyable, perhaps comforting, about seeing a professional golfer splash around a bunker for three shots then sheepishly pick the ball out of the hole before his playing partner marks an eight on his card. That’s not to say we don’t want to see quality golf but seeing a player negotiate the vagaries of a course rather than shoot birdie upon birdie is eminently preferable.
This week’s winner as well as being a proven grinder will definitely need to be a big bopper with a very tidy short game. It also goes without saying that a major winner’s putting will have to reach another level. So, eh…. sorry Sergio! We would ordinarily say that this week’s course requires considerable experience on a links course but given the unpredictable and frankly intangible aspects of the course we think this week’s winner will be someone who can rise in the face of what may prove to be almost dystopian challenges.
As players have practised on Chambers Bay this week it seems that some are less than enamoured with what they have encountered. South African, Charl Schwartzel does not like the greens, claiming that good putts are missing and bad putts are dropping. Perhaps he’s just not very good at reading putts. Further the turf itself is reported to have all the give of a basketball court so it may be that an excellent short game rather than accurate iron approaches will be rewarded. So, with all the above in mind we’re moving to our picks but we wouldn’t deter anyone from going with the scientific approach of the Grand National and drawing a name from a hat.
US OPEN 2015 PICKS
Before moving on to who we like this week it’s worth mentioning that, unsurprisingly the two favourites –expect to see this for at least the next decade- are world number one Rory McIlroy and Augusta Masters victor, Jordan Spieth. Look, there’s no need for us to extol their golfing prowess and logically they make great choices but at 8/1 on a seemingly incomparable creation of a course we’re not going near them. Of the short priced favourites we’d be more inclined to go for Justin Rose (16/1). The Englishman is a former US Open winner, a world class grinder and is in superb form at present. He’s not really the type to get rattled by consecutive bad holes and if links experience comes into it, that won’t pose any trouble for him. Phil Mickelson, chasing the career Grand Slam and with a serious bag of tricks at hand is also worth a look but 16/1 is unappealing for a man with very little form of late. Still as much as we like Rose and Mickelson’s chances, given the almost unprecedented level of uncertainty going into the 2015 US Open we’re looking down the betting for some better value. We’ll be using the combined logic of this bunch of gents so all we can say is….. caveat audiens!
- Brooks Koepka (50/1)
For us –and anyone who has watched golf in the last two years- twenty-five-year-old Koepka has the full array of talent –a five-tool player to borrow from baseball parlance. He drives the ball a mile, putts fantastically well and hits a ton of birdies and eagles. His one standout flaw is driving accuracy but on the expansive fairways of Chambers Bay this may count for less than your typical US Open venue- think Merion. Added to this is the fact that Koepka cut his teeth on the European Tour and not on the homogenous courses of Florida, Texas and Carolina. This should assist in the somewhat alien surroundings of Washington State but if nothing else it shows the guy has got a bit of cut about him.
He won at the enticingly named Waste Management Phoenix Open earlier in the year and tied for third in Memphis last week meaning he comes into the tournament with confidence levels high- always more important for younger players, in our view. Also, a tied fourth in last year’s US Open means Koepka has the mentality and composure for the biggest stages. Sure he’s only twenty-five but in a week where many senior pros seem to be quaking in their boots, ignorance may prove to be bliss. We’ll go with the youngster who we firmly believe has all the right attributes to become a multi-major winner.
- Hideki Matsuyama (35/1)
If Koepka has the potential, then Hideki Matsuyama has already announced his arrival as a superstar of golf. Already idolised in his homeland of Japan, the twenty-three-year-old wowed American crowds with a terrific victory in the 2014 Memorial Tournament. Matsuyama’s credentials go through the roof when you consider that conventional wisdom points to this course being more akin to a British Open –where he finished sixth on debut in 2013- in terms of both layout and playing conditions. Perversely Matsuyama’s putting can be a weak point but as it appears the players will, in effect, be putting on rollercoasters for the week, this becomes somewhat of a leveller. Like Koepka, Matsuyama has form going into this week’s tournament, having finished fifth in his defence of the Memorial. And, again given the unknown nature of the course form for the young guns, in particular, may well prove to be key.
- Billy Horschel (55/1)
Full disclosure here. Since we had a tidy win on Mr. Horschel in the Zurich Classic in New Orleans in 2013, we’ve been more inclined to take a chance on the Florida native. Gambler’s reasoning, as ever, flawless. This week however we feel he’s got a great chance based purely, ok predominantly, on logic. Key to Horschel’s game -at least from the point of view of betting- is the fact he is extremely streaky, to the point where he came from nowhere at the back end of last year and won the $10,000,000.00 Fed Ex Cup. Against the best players on the US Tour, Horschel managed tied second in the Deutsche Bank Championship followed by back-to-back victories in the BMW and Tour Championships respectively. That was a pretty remarkable, Tigeresque sequence of results which seemed to confirm Horschel as a genuine superstar.
However, with the massive party comes the biblical hangover and Horschel’s start to 2015 was less than stellar, failing to come anywhere near the same conversation as McIlroy, Spieth, Rose or the rest of the true top dogs. Fear not, however, as there have been extremely positive signs of late. Four top 20s in his last four starts and eighth last week in Memphis means the Fed Ex champ is feeling it once more. Look, we know this one is a bit of a flier and it would be remiss of us to sidestep the fact that when things go awry Horschel can completely lose the plot. Admittedly, he’s a little flaky and has nothing resembling form on link courses but Billy Horschel has met his ally consistency at the opportune moment and as he proved last year, when in the right frame of mind the Floridian can beat absolutely anyone. When all things are considered this is not as much of a left-field pick as you may first think.
So youth very much gets the nod from us this year but not the usual suspects from Holywood and Texas. The 2015 US Open is going to be quite an unusual journey thanks to the anarchic set-up Robert Trent Jones Jr has provided. Incidentally, look out for the unique set-up of the first and eighteenth holes where the two alternate between a par four and par five each day. A business man’s whim or a standalone quirk for a wild, inexplicable course. Who really cares? Just enjoy the mayhem and marvel at the player who possesses the ability to endure and who learns, if not to love, then at least to co-exist with Chambers Bay’s eccentricities.
US Open Picks 2015
- Brooks Koepka (e/w @50/1)
- Hideki Matsuyama (e/w @35/1)
- Billy Horschel (e/w @55/1)