There’s a plaque on the 18th fairway at Erin Hills to mark the spot where Justin Thomas did something stupid.
Not stupid like a washed-up golf writer venturing to tackle an 8,000-yard U.S. Open venue — that’s a plaque The Committee would have to consider on my behalf. Nay, Thomas’ performance on 18 was only stupid because of the way it made us mortals feel. A 667-yard monster par-5 should not be reached in two shots, period. It especially should not be reached in two shots when a player “lays back” with 3-wood off the tee.
But the plaque is there and the video exists and if you make the trek to Erin Hills you should feel free to visit said plaque and picture yourself striping a 3-wood from that spot, 299 yards from the pin, and leaving yourself a four-foot putt for eagle, which you’d drain to finish off a round of 63.
Here’s hoping you’ve got an active imagination.
Thomas — and eventual tournament winner Brooks Koepka — showed up to Wisconsin and made Erin Hills look easy. I arrived with the exact opposite objective. Just how hard is a U.S. Open venue from the tips — or in this case, even longer? I was here to find out.
For context, I’m a reformed mini-tour pro who peaked as a decidedly below-average member of the Canadian Tour (I wrote more than enough about this here). These days, I spend a lot of time sitting and typing and not nearly enough playing golf. Still, I can still score, and carry a +3 handicap that’s probably inflated. Realistically I’m a shade better than scratch.
Here’s the thing about the U.S. Open course at Erin Hills: it could have been longer! The course those pros played was somewhere in the realm of 7700 yards. Here are the yardages the good folks at Erin Hills laid out for me:
ERIN HILLS X
- 630-yard par-5
- 361-yard par-4
- 508-yard par-4
- 439-yard par-4
- 505-yard par-4
- 236-yard par-3
- 619-yard par-5
- 512-yard par-5
- 150-yard par-3
FRONT NINE: 3960-yard par-36
- 524-yard par-4
- 460-yard par-4
- 464-yard par-4
- 215-yard par-3
- 650-yard par-5
- 370-yard par-4
- 200-yard par-3
- 518-yard par-4
- 675-yard par-5
BACK NINE: 4076-yard par-36
TOTAL: 8036-yard par-72
That is a whole ton of golf course.
By the time I walked up the 18th fairway, my dogs were barking. On the day Thomas capped off that absurd round with that particularly absurd 3-wood, he had “a little help, left-to-right,” according to then-Fox broadcaster Paul Azinger. The wind was a little into my face now, making the uphill approach look all that much more uphill. (Colleague and Wisconsinite Sean Zak was playing a far more reasonable set of tees but had joined for the 675-yard finale, which our caddies estimated was playing 800+ into the breeze.) I teed a ball up next to the plaque and pulled out driver, just to see. I rifled it towards the green. It came up well short.
How’d the rest of the day go? Well, the shot felt representative of my overall experience. Erin Hills was a brutish test from that yardage, but it allowed — nay, demanded! — heroism from untold distances. Take one stretch: I pulled driver into the wind on No. 6, which was 250 dead into the wind. I hit driver off the tee on the next hole, a 619-yard par-5, and then hit driver again from the fairway in an effort to get home. On No. 8, a par-4, I ripped driver straight into the wind, only to leave myself with driver — again — off the deck for my second. Five full swings in a row, all with the big stick.
The vastness of Erin’s 652-acre property encourages swinging away, as do the wide fairways and (relatively) playable greensides. It’s a massive, inviting expanse of Midwest farmland with a dash of Irish linksland mixed in. Swing away you must. Just don’t expect 63.
How’d the round finish up? Check out the video below to find out. It was a day I won’t soon forget.