A diverse 156-man field converges on Boston this week for the 2022 U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline. While the current tumultuous state of pro golf will dominate the airwaves early in the week, the course will take over the spotlight beginning Thursday.
The Country Club is one of the nation’s oldest courses, and one of the best, providing an interesting experience for the TV viewer and gnashing of teeth for the competitor. Playing to a par-70 and measuring up to 7,264 yards, the composite course is taken from the three nines on the property in the suburbs. It features rolling terrain, small greens and wild routing through rocks and chocolate drops as the spirit of Francis Ouimet lingers through the grounds. If an amateur starts fast in the opening round, let the references begin.
A few nuggets gleaned during my research: 40 of the last 41 major winners were ranked in the top 50 in the world; 13 of the last 18 U.S. Open winners were top-10 in driving distance that week; recent past champions had a top-10 in the last two majors.
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Before we get to the U.S. Open fantasy golf picks—where we favor golfers who have played well at previous U.S. Opens—here are a few more keys to success and course notes:
- With rolling, curving fairways, long rough, fescue and cross bunkers, elite driving is a critical skill to possess. Power gives players the option to cut corners and take their chances with a wedge on certain holes and reasonably attack the eight par-4s that measure 450 yards or longer.
- There are only two par-5s and the 14th is 650 yards and uphill, making the par-5s are a true 3-shot experience.
- The greens were expanded during the renovation but still measure only 4500 square feet on average (second smallest in U.S. Open history behind Pebble Beach). Strong iron play is always essential but a sharp short game will be the key requirement for the winner. By all accounts the course is firm and fast and 10-20 mph wind is expected during each tournament round. The greens are two-thirds poa annua and one-third bentgrass and expected to roll around 12.5 on the Stimpmeter.
- Beyond all the statistics, the U.S. Open tests patience and grit. Grinding out pars (or maybe bogeys) to hang around the leaderboard is critical in a tournament where 3 or 4 under par is the likely winning score. Golfers teeing off Thursday morning could have an advantage. The course will likely play more difficult as the hours fade.
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26. Webb Simpson. Watched a significant portion of his golf at Colonial and Simpson’s distance control suffered in just his second tournament with a new set of irons. Betting he’s adjusted and his filthy short game (seventh SG: Around the Green, long rough) and strong U.S. Open record (three top-10s, one win) make him a good low-priced option.
25. Corey Conners. Ranks fifth in the field in SG: Off the Tee, fourth in Greens in Regulation and ninth in scrambling. Also top-15 in SG: Tee-to-Green on difficult courses with long rough. Gained nearly 14 shots with his irons the last two weeks, finishing 13th at Memorial and eighth in Canada.
24. Viktor Hovland. Last time the U.S. Open was played on a course with tiny greens (Pebble Beach) the Norwegian Forest Cat finished T-12 as he bid adieu to his amateur status. Leads the field in proximity from 175-200 yards over the last 100 rounds and is fourth from 200-plus in the same span. Short game is the glaring weakness (109th SG: Around the Green).
23. Billy Horschel. He’s a streaky player and it’s difficult to ignore the 13.6 shots he gained Tee-to-Green last time out in a dominant victory at Muirfield Village. Has made the cut in six of eight U.S. Open starts, contending on another short, demanding course (Merion) in a T-4 in 2013.
22. Cameron Young. Powerful high fades work well in a U.S. Open and the favorite for Rookie of the Year has handled most challenges this season, assuming the disastrous closing 84 at Memorial didn’t dent his confidence. He’s second in the field in SG: Off the Tee, sixth in Scrambling out of long rough and better than the field average with his irons.
21. Daniel Berger. Played the weekend in six of seven U.S. Open appearances with top-10s at Shinnecock Hills and Torrey Pines. Finished T-5 at Memorial, gaining 5.4 shots on approach. Avoids bogeys at a high rate on difficult courses, terrific mid- and long-iron player and might be the best bunker player on Tour.
20. Aaron Wise. Quite possibly starting to fulfill his vast potential. Has gained an average of five shots on approach over the last four tournaments, finishing runner-up at Memorial. Has a T-35 and two MCs in the U.S. Open but fares well on the difficult layouts and he’s top-25 in the field in SG: Off the Tee and Greens in Regulation over the last 36 rounds.
19. Sungjae Im. Will be popular in the outright and fantasy markets this week. Easy to understand. Elite chipper has four consecutive top-25s despite putting horribly in two of those outings. Top-15 in Good Drives Gained, SG: Off the Tee and Greens in Regulation. Also third in bogey avoidance on difficult courses.
18. Patrick Cantlay. I’m not mad at Patrick even though he topped the Power Rankings for the PGA and missed the cut. I’m not ready to question his ability to compete in major championships either. For whatever reason he hasn’t produced the results yet but this test feels like a good fit for his superior skill set.
17. Mito Pereira. Top 10 in all the vital driving and approach stats and has finished 27th or better in the last seven tournaments with a pair of top-10s in his last four starts. Has been an adequate putter inside 10 feet on fast bentgrass / poa annua greens.
16. Tommy Fleetwood. Quietly having a good season and rises to the challenge in the major championships (14th at Augusta, fifth at Southern Hills). Back-to-back top-5s in the U.S. Open in 2017 and 2018. The Country Club is not a links course but delivers quirky bounces like one, per architect Gil Hanse. Handling those sub-optimal breaks will be a key to success this week.
15. Hideki Matsuyama. Finished 26th or better in four of the last five U.S. Opens and also has another top-10 and T-18 in the event. Been a quiet year since he hit the 3-wood of a lifetime to claim the Sony Open in January, but he projects in the top quarter of the field in every key area other than putting inside 10 feet.
14. Collin Morikawa. Wrestled with this decision after he received an unfavorable projection from the model, mostly because his short game is bad, well below the field average in each measurable area. But his major record is excellent: two victories, a T-5 in this year’s Masters and a T-4 in last year’s U.S. Open. Could ball-strike his way to an opening 66 on Thursday morning.
13. Sam Burns. About 18 months ago some folks were wondering when Sam Burns was finally going to break through and win. Four victories later, he’s a proven Sunday stone cold killer. Top-20 in Driving Distance, SG: Approach, Greens in Regulation and Bogey Avoidance (on difficult courses).
12. Tony Finau. He’s fifth in the field in SG: Tee-to-Green on difficult courses, has three top-5s in his last five tournaments and is thriving in every area of his game, including his usual weakness, gaining strokes on the greens in four consecutive starts. Adept pitching out of long rough and top-15 in SG: Off the Tee and SG: Approach.
11. Max Homa. Has won on demanding courses (Quail Hollow, Riviera, TPC Potomac) and pairs elite driving, stellar iron play with an improving short game and hot putting. Major record is indifferent but confidence is brimming. Similar to Curtis Strange, the last guy to win a U.S. Open at Brookline, his strength is no glaring weakness.
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10. Joaquin Niemann. One of my favorite plays this week but difficult to justify slotting him much higher because his best finish in 13 majors is 23rd in the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Still, he’s coming in hot off a T-3 at Memorial and his elite driving (ninth SG: Off the Tee) fits the recent U.S. Open formula.
9. Jon Rahm. The defending champion leads the field in SG: Off the Tee and Greens in Regulation over the last 36 rounds. Those are the favorable stats. Bunker play has been putrid and the rest of the short game mediocre in 2022. Putter sizzled in a T-10 at Memorial, just unsure he’s worth the hefty price.
8. Will Zalatoris. Not many have performed better in the majors the last three years. Has five top-10s in eight appearances including a T-6 at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in 2020. Putter is questionable, of course, but leads the field in SG: Approach and is fifth in SG: Off the Tee. A steady recipe of strong ballstriking should tame Brookline.
7. Matt Fitzpatrick. Won the U.S. Amateur here in 2013, of course. Playing consistently well and has the combo of driving, iron play and short game to thrive. Loves competing on the difficult courses (seventh in bogey avoidance), finishing top-10 on difficult scoring exams at Southern Hills and TPC-Potomac. Made the cut in six of seven U.S. Opens, finishing T-12 twice.
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6. Justin Thomas. Only small question mark is the driver, otherwise he’s in excellent form with top-5s in three of the last four tournaments, highlighted by the comeback victory at Southern Hills. Gained 6.5 shots on approach in a third-place finish in Canada. Has a pair of top-10s in the last five U.S. Opens.
5. Xander Schauffele. Loves this tournament, finishing seventh or better each of the last five years. Excels because he has a polished all-around skill set and is an elite putter on fast bentgrass / poa annua greens inside 10 feet. Landed 18th or better in four of five tournaments coming in, gaining 7.5 shots on approach at Memorial.
4. Scottie Scheffler. Putts aren’t falling like they were during his torrid stretch of four victories in six starts earlier this season, but his ballstriking and soft touch around the greens haven’t faded. Gained 5.5 shots on approach in a playoff loss at Colonial and four shots last week in Canada. Knows he can deliver in a major.
3. Jordan Spieth. Rare off week with his irons at Memorial but still managed a top-20 finish. Has gained shots off the tee in six consecutive tournaments. Paired with his ability to salvage pars (12th SG: Around the Green, long rough) and precise irons (9th in SG: Approach) and the 2015 U.S. Open champion looks poised to contend again.
2. Rory McIlroy. Somebody tell Rory this is the Greater Boston Open at Brookline, or something. Weeks like his impressive victory on a star-packed leaderboard in Canada make it difficult to believe it’s been eight years since he claimed one of golf’s four big trophies. All the stats are great, trust me.
1. Shane Lowry. Leads the field in bogey avoidance on difficult courses. Gained 5.3 shots on approach in a T-10 in Canada last week. The Country Club is a test of mind, spirit and swing, and the 2019 Open Champion Lowry has made the cut in six of the last seven U.S. Opens, contending at Oakmont in 2016 (T-2). Elite bunker player ranks fourth in Good Drives Gained and eighth in Greens in Regulation. He’s had an outstanding season. Only a victory is missing.
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Adri Arnaus, Kevin Chappell, Branden Grace
Brian Harman, Si Woo Kim, Luke List
Franceso Molinari, Kevin Na, Thorbjorn Olesen, Justin Rose.