Into the Fry(ing) Pan
HARTFORD, WI. The 117th US Open will be rather special in a host of ways. The championship will be played for the first time — both in Wisconsin and at Erin Hills. The Badger State has hosted big time events previously with three PGA Championships but the US Open has never graced a presence within its borders.
Erin Hills will unveil itself to the world stage — although the facility did host the ’11 US Amateur — the Open is truly the coming out party on the grandest of stages.
Few people better understand the nature of Erin Hills better than Dana Fry. The 55-year-old native of Kansas City, MO, was part of a trio of individuals who took the open farmland and designed a course capable in hosting golf’s second oldest major championship.
Fry spent a considerable amount of time working for acclaimed architect Tom Fazio before joining forces with Dr. Michael Hurdzan. The duo were responsible for a number of top tier layouts but nothing presented itself in the same manner as Erin Hills. Hooking up with Fry and Hurdzan was Ron Whitten, architecture editor for Golf Digest.
Erin Hills will for many players be a blank slate. Understanding how to execute on the key holes will likely determine the champion. Fry points out what to watch for as the championship unfolds.
“I’ve researched wind directions for course playing tips I sent Brandel Chamblee several months ago and found over the last few years on the exact dates the Open will be played the wind has come from the north, east and the west and varies from 4 to 28 mph. Apparently the weather isn’t typically warm enough for the wind to come from the south. The average wind speed in the afternoons the last few years has been around 16mph. In the mornings can average around 4-6 mph and during more active times the wind can intensify up to 28 mph in the afternoon.”
Beyond the uncertain role of Mother Nature, Fry highlights four key holes to focus upon which he sees as being crucial in determining the winner of golf’s second major in 2017.
2nd / 338 to 361 Yards / Par-4
The hole plays east to west and when playing from 361 yards the green will most likely not be reachable in one unless there’s an east wind.
If players do decide to go for the green the target will be the left edge of fairway bunkers on the face of the hill. To carry those bunkers from the black tees is approximately 285 carry slightly uphill. The ideal layup off tee is in left half of fairway even or slightly past fairway bunkers on the right. This will leave a approach shot of 80 yards or less.
The 2nd is the smallest green on the course measuring 3,765 square feet. The dimensions are 87 feet deep — 54 feet wide. The putting surface is perched up in the air with bulk of green sloping front to back and can be especially vexing for those players who are out of position.
9th / 135 to 165 Yards / Par-3
The hole commences from an elevated tee and plays north to south. The elevation drop is roughly 30 feet. Just a wonderful challenging par-3 with seven bunkers surrounding the green and each must be avoided. Missing the green can be extremely penal depending on the luck of the bounce.
The most important thing for the players to remember is missing the green left or long – that can mean a big number on the scorecard. Better to aim for the middle of the green and try to make a 15-25 foot birdie putt.
The green is 5,545 square feet — 108 feet deep and 66 feet wide.
In middle of green on right side is a deep valley that will take all balls off the green and roll twenty to thirty feet away from the putting surface.
With exception of a small forward portion of the green that drains to the front the rest of the putting surface drains from the front towards the back of the green. This hole plays extremely difficult when the wind gets up and plays its toughest when wind blows left to right (east to west).
Players able to gauge the trajectory of their approaches will be in a better position to score well. On the surface the slight distance says the 9th is a birdie hole. For those not paying attention it can mean a big time number that can potentially wreck one’s scorecard.
15th / 288 to 370 Yards / Par-4
Coming down the final stretch of holes the #15 will play a critical role in providing a potential late round eagle. Play starts from an elevated tee with the 15th playing east to west.
This could possibly play as a driveable Par 4 at the 288-yard tee placement — yet the hole presents a high risk-reward because of the deep bunkers short and right of the green.
On the flip side it may be prudent to layup short of fairway pot-bunkers and have pitching or sand wedge into the target. I would recommend that players practice from all four tees.
The putting green is 5,445 square feet — 99 feet deep and 55 feet wide. The green is very accessible on the left, however, short right and back right is very tough. Preferably to have a shot into this green to control spin. With fast green speeds players will need to be especially careful when the pin is in the front right.
18th / 622 to 675 Yards / Par-5
Like other recent US Open venues Chambers Bay and Torrey Pines / South the 18th hole at Erin Hills is a par-5. The hole can be set-up to play differently pending upon wind conditions and the desire of the USGA to encourage players to attempt to reach it in two shot. The hole plays from west to east and likely only reachable when playing downwind and shorter than 663 yards.
Like so many other holes at Erin Hills it’s Important to get the tee shot in the fairway. Failing to do that will likely mean a much more difficult task in positioning one’s second shot far enough down the fairway to have a good approach shot. The key with the 2nd shot is getting down the right side as far as you can. This leaves a much easier third shot.
Any third shot short ends up in the bunkers fronting the green. Any shot long rolls down a steep hill and end up 20 feet below the green.
The 18th green is 6,960 square feet — 87 feet deep and 102 feet at it’s widest. There’s a false front that will take balls into the front bunkers and a false back that will cause the ball to run down the steep hill behind the green. Front right portion of the green drains to the front right of the green and majority of the rest of the green drains from the right to left side of the green.
Just about any number from eagle to double-bogey can happen at this concluding hole so no player can rest easy until all contestants have concluded play.
Dana Fry, President Fry Straka Global Golf Design
Worked for Tom Fazio Golf Design from 1983 to 1988 and his involvement there included such stellar efforts as Wade Hampton, Black Diamond and Lake Nona. Was co-founder of Hurdzan Fry Environmental Golf Design from 1988 to 2012, and has been working for Fry Straka Global Golf Design since 2012 . Among his most acclaimed efforts are Devil’s Pulpit and Paintbrush, Calusa Pines in Canada, Shelter Harbor, Naples National, and the 2017 U.S. Open site Erin Hills.
Photos courtesy of Paul Hundley PhotoGraphics