Among a certain set of players and fans the whining has begun about the rough at Erin Hills.
A video by Kevin Na showing how difficult it is to get out of the deep fescue at Erin Hills has sparked a firestorm on social media. One faction says that if the world’s best golfers’ can’t hit the fairway, they should pay the price. Another (somewhat allied) group contends that US Open courses should be set up to require players to use a variety of clubs off the tee, including irons and fairway metals. There’s another faction that argues that since everyone plays the same course, penal conditions are irrelevant. And then there’s the Kevin Na camp which argues that golfers who miss the fairway should not be trapped in ball-swallowing rough.
Lost in all this is consideration of the actual width of the fairways. At Winged Foot and Oakmont, the fairways under US Open setups are 26 yard wide. A miss there that immediately transitioned to unplayable rough would indeed be unfair.
Erin Hills, by contrast, boasts fairways and primary cuts that are on average 50% wider. Some are as wide as 70 yards.
Think about the math on this one. At Winged Foot and Oakmont, the average fairway was 26 yards wide. At 50% wider, a shot at Erin Hills could be as much as twelve yards further offline and still be in the fairway. On the monster 70 yard fairways, you could miss the theoretical Oakmont fairway by fifty yards.
I played Erin Hills last summer, and missed the fairways only when I hit one of my big duck hooks. Granted, I was playing from more forward tees. And the fairways likely were wider than the US Open setup (although I am not certain about that. The positioning of the innumerable bunkers often defined the fairway widths.) But I am only a mid handicapper and like most of those, I spray my tee shots quite a bit. For the world’s best golfers, the fairways should be wide enough to avoid the rough.
The bigger problem for me was the rolling terrain. I constantly found my ball on slopes that required compensation for uphill, downhill and sidehill lies. I get in trouble when I have to start thinking: More loft or less? Lean with the slope of against it? Flatten or steepen swing? Add a club or subtract one? Once I start collecting swing thoughts, all bets are off.