2021 US Open Preview by: Keith Flemming
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The US Open is returning to a true public golf course(that does not double as a destination resort or exists close to a major city) for the first time since 2009 at Bethpage and the tour is coming off one of the greatest major wins in the history of the game at last months PGA Championship. Where Phil Mickelson won his first major in 8 years and broke the record for the oldest winner of a major in tour history by a few years at almost 51 years of age. Then there is the love him or hate him defending champ at this major Bryson Dechambeau.(okay more hate than love) Those storylines would be all anyone would be talking about, if not for the venue of this years US Open and what took place there in 2008. The last time a major was held there. In 2008 Tiger Woods on one freaking leg one his 14th major in a 18 hole playoff against Rocco Mediate. As a huge Tiger fan, I consider it a top 5 major in my lifetime, arguably until 2019 Tiger’s greatest feat, and had without a doubt the greatest single round to watch in a major with Tiger’s unreal back nine on Saturday to take a one shot lead going into Sunday. Which included two eagles and a chip in. I could talk about that US Open and how Tiger didn’t win major 15 for 11 years for hours, but that’s not the purpose of this article.

The US Open comes back to The South Course at Torrey Pines for the first time since 2008 and Woods historic win on one leg Thursday. Unfortunately, me and Allen will not be able to get together to do a Backdoor Cover Podcast, so instead I wanted to put this article up on the site. It will include a preview of the course, what type of players to target, my picks to win, and some of my favorite daily fantasy plays for this week. This is the last major on this side of the pond for 2021 and Torrey even when it is a non-major venue normally does not disappoint.

The Venue

The South Course at Torrey in San Diego California is a true municipal golf course. However this week it will play much different than it does for the locals or even those who play in the yearly PGA event held here. The Par 71 is playing 7,652 yards, the days of playing any major under 7500 appear to be over. At least on this side of the pond. The course is going to play similar to Whistling Straits in many ways, except for the POA greens(Sorry Allen) and the unpredictability of the pacific breeze on a course that runs along the ocean. This is a course where it is always hard to hit fairways. It ranked inside the top 10 toughest venues on tour to hit the fairways in each of the last 12 seasons. This is a 7600 yard course where it is going to be difficult to hit fairways. When Torrey was awarded its second US Open more than 12 million dollars was set aside to install new irrigation, replace every bunker and the surrounding areas of all 18 greens. Rees Jones the original designer oversaw this work and they also extending two holes and moving numerous bunkers further down the fairway. In hopes of hurting those that might want to copy the Bryson method from last year of bombing and gauging. The greens are the other part of this course which will be a huge factor. POA greens are considerably tougher to putt on. Particularly from 4-8 feet, where they have a nearly 3 percent lower average of pros making putts from that length on POA greens compared to all other surfaces. We can expect the USGA’s normal setup of the course. Long rough, repeating from 2008 turning the Par 5 6th hole into a long Par 4. Turning a birdie hole for normal PGA events here into one of the hardest on the course. Every player who played in January when asked by the media if they expect the course to play anything like it did then, simply said “NO”. So, its safe to say not to expect the 12 under par score of Patrick Reed that we saw here in January. Its particularly sad with Tiger’s comeback win in 2019 at Augusta that the only person to win a major will not be in the field following his horrific injuries suffered in a wreck early this year. Some of the names in the field with a recent win at this venue in the normal PGA annual event held here. (Note that they do not strictly play the South course for those events but the North Course as well.) Include Patrick Reed, Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson, and Phil Mickleson 3 times. However it should be noted Phil has not faired well here in the last decade.

What type of players to look for to succeed at this venue/major

Total Driving: When a course is playing 7600 yards and is consistently one of the toughest venues to hit the fairway on tour. Rather than looking strictly at Driving accuracy or Driving Distance. I would search for the Total Driving Statistic. That doesn’t mean if you like someone who drives it long but not accurate you shouldn’t take them or vice versa. The two players in a playoff in the 2008 US Open held here was Tiger Woods(one of the longest guys on tour at the time) and Rocco Mediate(one of the shorter but more accurate drivers on tour at the time.)

Ball Strikers: You can search Total Strokes Gained, Strokes Gained Approach, or even get specific and look at players with Strokes Gained approach 150-225 yards out, but people who watch golf week in and week out are going to know what I mean by ball strikers without looking up any of this info. Guys like Hovland, Louis, Conners, etc. are all worth a look. Not to mention guys with a good track record at US Open’s in general. Remember the USGA in the last 5 years or so has really got their major down to an artform. A  long course, brutal rough, a few tricky tee locations and probably a huge risk/reward tee shot on a Par 4 on Sunday.

Great POA Green Putters and Scramblers: This is where the Patrick Reed’s, Jordan Spieth and even Phil Mickleson deserve some serious consideration. If the wind blows and the course plays as tough as many expect. The winning score is going to be closer to par, meaning any great putter on POA greens or someone who is great in the strokes gained scrambling can stay around and win this tournament on Sunday. Even if other parts of their game do not necessarily fit this course.

Players to look at:

Guys with a good to great track record at US Open major:

DJ: last 4 US Open’s (3) Top 6s including a win

Brooks Koepka: last 4 starts at US Open 2nd, 1st, 1st, T13th

Xander:  last 4 US Open’s 5th, T3rd, 5th, 6th

Hovland: two career starts one as Am and one as a pro, both top 13 finishes

Patrick Reed: last 4 US Open’s T13th, T32nd, 4th, T13th and won at this venue in Jan

Hideki: last 4 US Open’s T17th, T21st, T16th and runner up. Won his first major at Augusta earlier this year and contended at PGA as well

Webb Simpson: 3 straight Top 16’s at US Open’s

Paul Casey: 4 straight top 26 finishes at US Open

Tommy Fleetwood: two top 5s in last 4 US Open’s

Louis Oostenhausen: 5 straight top 25s, including back-to-back top 10s last two starts over last 5 US Open’s

Charley Hoffman: hasn’t played in last 2 US Open’s but finished inside Top 37 in last 3 including two Top 20’s

Zach Johnson: 3 Top 12’s in last 5 US Open’s

Betting Board: Odds from Draftkings

Odds of 25-1 or better: It is very easy to love Rahm +1050, Dechambeau 15-1, DJ and Xander at 15-1, but unless you really loved one of these guys this week. I do not think the odds are good enough to go with any of them. Especially when you can have Koepka or Spieth at 19-1. I would rather have Koepka because he proved again at the PGA he should be the betting favorite in any major where it is going to play long and difficult. I also really like Morikawa at 23-1, Reed and Hovland at 25-1. I would rather take 2 or 3 of those guys at 19-1 than any of the top 4 betting favorites.

Odds of 35-1 to 75-1: Most major winners over the last 5 years come from this range and Mickleson is the highest odds on a major winner by a lot over the last 5 years. In this group I am really looking at Scheffler 35-1, has great total driving numbers, plays great in the wind being from Texas, plays big course well, and has done well in majors this year. Louis at 40-1 and honestly looking more at prop bets here, but Louis always plays well at US Open’s, this is a ball striker course, and he plays amazing in strong winds. His chances increase the harder the course plays and the less likely he needs a great putting week to win the tournament. Hideki at +4650, basically ditto for everything I said with Louis above. Then there is the 50-1 guys. Take your pick, Fitzpatrick whose numbers are off the chart for a course like Torrey, including great putting numbers on POA greens. Webb Simpson who plays well at US Open, is tailor made for this kind of course and comes in under the radar. Finally, Phil the thrill. Aare the chances great Phil wins back-to-back majors and finally gets his US Open victory to complete the career grand slam. Probably not, but if he drives the ball like he did at the PGA. He absolutely will be in contention and Phil is the kind of guy that rides momentum and playing well. 50-1 is still good odds for a California boy. Finally, I like two guys at 75-1, Nieman who I feel confident will win a US Open at some point in his career. He is just too good tee to green and plays hard courses well. The other is Corey Conners, who is one of my favorite daily fantasy plays this week. One of the best tee to green players on tour and if he had a good putting week. Like with Phil if he drives the ball well, Conners will be in contention with a good putting week.

Longshots 80-1 and below: Sergio at 110-1 is someone I am looking at for props and potentially a what the hell play to win. Same goes for Charley Hoffman at 85-1, Sunjae Im at 110-1, Brenden Grace and Stewart Cink at 140-1. Super long shots that I am looking at more as props but if you want to take your shot include Westwood 160-1, Henley and Scharwatzl at 225-1.

Picks to Win

Koepka 19-1

Morikawa 23-1

Hovland 25-1

Reed 25-1

Hideki +4650

Mickleson 50-1

Conners 75-1

Nieman 75-1

Higgo 75-1

Im 110-1

Top 5

Xander +350

Koepka +350

Oosthuizen 6-1

Rose 11-1

Top 10

Casey 3-1

Higgo 5-1

Cink 10-1

Top 20

Conners +225

Schwartzel +450

Kisner +750

Rafa Cabera Bello +900

Daily Fantasy Plays

Top Tier

Koepka $10,100: Koepka’s last 13 starts in majors T11th, 1st, T6th, T13th, 1st, T39th, 1st, T2nd, 1st, 2nd, T4th, T7th, T29th, Cut, T2nd. Yet there are 4 guys who are more expensive than Koepka. He will be in almost all my lineups

Hovland $9,200: Hovland has finished in the Top 30 in every major he has played for more. This course could arguably set up better for Hovland’s game than any previous major track.

Hideki $8,800: Hideki already has a win and a 23rd finish in his two majors this year and like Hovland this course should set up very well for him. I think he is basically a lock to make the cut and you are getting great value at $8,800

Middle Tier

Oosthuizen $8,100: ball striker course check, Louis has played really well at US Open’s the last 5 years check, and he already has a 26th and T2nd at the two majors this season, check. I love Louis but feel discretion I do on all ball strikers courses.

Rose $8,000: Rose is another guy with a great record at US Open’s. He finished inside the Top 8 at both majors so far this season and is playing well overall.

Im $7,600: compared to last year Im has not been as consistent or finished as well overall, but still has made the cut and contended in a ton of tough venues. Like The Honda, Players, Arnie’s tourney and the PGA. I think he makes the cut and always makes a lot of birdies.

Lower Tier

Nieman $7500: 17 out of 18 cuts made, and another guy who plays well on difficult tracks. A 40th and 30th at the two major venues this season so far. I expect him to compete and have a chance to win. At this price that is tremendous value

Garrick Higgo $7,200: his come from behind win last week at the Palmetto Championship to back up his last 4 starts on the European Tour that included two wins and 4 top 8 finishes. Many will point to his 64th place finish at the PGA but he did make the cut at that event. Now he has won on Tour and in an event with a good field. I couldn’t imagine the young men’s confidence right now.

Charley Hoffman 7,200: a good track record at US Open’s and before his 57th finish at Memorial. He had rolled off 5 straight top 20s and has finished Top 10 3 of his last 9 starts, Top 20 7 of his last 9.

Russell Henley $7,000: this is a bonus pick. Because Henley is from Macon Georgia and played at UGA. I have watched Henley play for years. His game is tailor made for the grind that is the US Open. I expect him to make the cut and have a great chance to get a TOP 20. At 7k that would be a huge value   

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