As we all know, the US Open tees off on Thursday morning. Our National Championship has often been defined by outrageously difficult layouts with tiny fairways, long and thick rough, and tiny greens that are
unfair really fast and undulating. Perhaps no golf course fits that mold better than Winged Foot, which, coincidentally is where the best golfers in the world happen to be convening this week.
In its storied history, Winged Foot has hosted the US Open five times, and the winner has only finished under par once. In that tournament, Fuzzy Zoeller and Greg Norman finished tied at 4-under, and then Zoeller won a playoff. The next best score was 3-over. So, over the course of 5 US Opens held over the course of 80 years, 2 players have ever finished below par at Winged Foot. (Ed. Note – Norman shot 5-over in the playoff, so technically he finished over par for the week. But we’ll let that slide)
Over the last 20 years, however, the winner has finished over par only 5 times. One of those was the last visit to Winged Foot in 2006, when Mickelson famously blew his best chance to win the US Open with a double bogey on 18. Geoff Ogilvy won that US Open at 5-over par. The other over-par winners at the US Open this century are Angel Cabrera (Oakmont), Webb Simpson (Olympic), Justin Rose (Merion) and Brooks Koepka (Shinnecock).
Of those five golfers who have proven they can win in the most challenging of conditions, only two are in the field this week at Winged Foot – Simpson and Rose. While Ogilvy is surfing in Australia and Cabrera is likely enjoying some Argentinian beef and a giant bottle of malbec, Koepka is the most notable absence. He withdrew citing injury concerns, and the collective sigh of relief from the rest of the field may have caused Hurricane Sally. His Sunday 74 at the PGA Championship aside, Koepka is still the safest bet in a major since Tiger in his prime. While the other players are secretly celebrating his absence, Koepka being a quitter makes our job that much more difficult. But, enough of the pleasantries. Let’s make some picks.
- Jason Day – Every now and then, we just get a hunch. It helps when our hunch is someone who has won a major at Whistling Straits, won a Players Championship and has finished in the top 7 in four of his last 6 events. Day is way under the radar, but his game seems to be in good form, including finishing 4th at the PGA Championship. Plus, the Australian native lives in Ohio these days and let’s be honest, Ohio doesn’t have much else to cheer for.
- Tommy Fleetwood – The last time the winner of the US Open finished over par was in 2018, with Koepka winning at Shinnecock Hills. The runner up? Tommy Fleetwood, who shot a 63 in the final round to storm up the leaderboard. So, now we face another brutal US Open course in New York. So, give me Fleetwood and his magnificent hair.
- Tyrrell Hatton – When one thinks of the temperament of a US Open Champion, often words like patient, unflappable and steady come to mind. So, hypothetically, if there was a 3 minute video of your reactions on the golf course titled “CHILL!”, would you be considered unflappable? We hope so because the lovable Brit has been playing some great golf this year. And, to his credit, finished in the Top 10 at Shinnecock.
- Dustin Johnson – Let’s not overcomplicate things, friends. He’s #1 in the world and hasn’t finished worse than second in the last six weeks. The knock on DJ is he can’t win the big one, except that pesky US Open at Oakmont where he won convincingly on a similarly difficult course.
- Hideki Matsuyama – Matsuyama has a ton of talent and has seemed on the verge of breaking through with a major win for several years. He finished at the US Open at Erin Hills a few years back and in 2020, he is 5th in Shots Gained: Approach to Green and Shots Gained: Around Green, two skills which stand to be valuable this week.
- Phil Mickelson – Listen, this is a sentimental pick so please bear with us. We realize that Phil is 50 years old and appears to be more interested in selling coffee than grinding over 10-foot par putts, but what an amazing story this would be for golf. Interesting tidbit from Phil this week – he said in 2006 he hit a bunch of drivers because he knew he would miss fairways, but wanted to miss big to get into the areas that fans had walked because you would get better lies. This year, there will be no fans so that strategy won’t work. The mistake for Phil in 2006 wasn’t taking driver off the tee on 18 (he only hit 2 fairways all day) – it was trying to take on too much risk on the second shot. Had he punched out to the fairway, his chances of getting into the clubhouse with just a bogey would have been vastly improved, and at least he would have made a playoff. As for this year, there’s no statistical validation for picking him to win, or really even being in contention. If you like to rely on silly things like facts and data, then pick someone else. As for us and our blog, we believe in more reliable things like our gut. And aside from a devotion to 7-11 pepperoni pizza sticks in the early 2000s, our gut has never steered us wrong.
- Jon Rahm – The only person to beat DJ since August? Jon Rahm. We have often considered him a little too much of a hot head to win a US Open, but if we’re going to pick Hatton, then we can’t really use that as an excuse. Rahm’s wins at Muirfield Village and the BMW Championship proved his mettle on extremely challenging course setups. This week’s US Open could be the first of many majors for the Spaniard.
- Xander Schauffele – We pick Xander often, and so far, it hasn’t paid off. During Work Hangover’s first run, we would pick Paddy Harrington in just about every major and eventually our devotion paid off when he won 3 in two seasons. Schauffele fits the mold of a US Open champion (he’s never finished worse than 6th in three tries) and is on form, finishing second at the Tour Championship despite shooting the lowest actual score.
- Webb Simpson – Simpson’s lone major championship was won in 2012 at the US Open and his play has seen a resurgence this year, putting him in position to contend for another title. There’s nothing flashy about Webb’s game, but won twice this year (his best year ever) and led the tour in several statistical categories this year. He may not go really low, but he is best on tour in avoiding bogeys. With par being a potential winning score for the week, that’s a nice skill to have.
- Justin Thomas – We’ve made no secrets that we’re not the biggest fans of Thomas, but we can’t argue with his results. He’s won three times this year and leads the tour in strokes gained: tee to green. He can go low when the opportunity presents itself, but also is one of the best at avoiding bogeys. He’ll have Bones on the bag this week, who famously finished second 6 times at the US Open as a caddie, including here at Winged Foot. So, when Thomas double-bogeys 18 to lose on Sunday, we know who to blame.
Now that you know who will win, feel free to kick back, relax and enjoy watching the best golfers in the world struggle for four straight days. It’s going to be glorious.