The 117th edition of the U.S. Open Championship, the second of the four major championships on the annual men’s golf calendar, will take place June 15-18 at Erin Hills in Erin, Wisconsin, with the final round slated to be played on Father’s Day barring any rain delays.
There will be 156 golfers vying for a prize purse of $12 million, including the event’s last two champions, 2016 winner Dustin Johnson and 2015 winner Jordan Spieth, both of whom represent the United States. An American has won the event 82 times.
With golf having returned to the Olympic Games program last year for the first time since 1904, and with the International Olympic Committee earlier this month voting it would stay in the Olympics through 2024, the sport’s popularity is continuing to rise.
Here are six storylines to watch during the U.S. Open.
1) Johnson Aims For A Repeat Performance
A year after capturing his long-elusive first major, Dustin Johnson will be a favorite to repeat at the U.S. Open. Since last year’s triumph at Oakmont, Johnson has had five wins and 13 top-10 finishes in 19 starts. Ranked No. 1 in the world, the 32-year-old will look to become the first player to win back-to-back U.S. Open titles since Curtis Strange did so in 1988 and 1989.
2) Up-And-Down Spieth Could Be Ready To Peak At Erin Hills
At No. 5 in the world, Jordan Spieth is currently the second best American golfer. He has won this event before with a score of 5-under-par when he was just 21 years old. However, his next best finish at the event was 17th, and he’s been inconsistent this year, missing the cut twice in his last four events. Never count Spieth out, though, as the 23-year-old has experience on the Erin Hills course and planned to go to Wisconsin early to play three full rounds before tapering his preparation before Thursday’s opening round.
3) Kuchar, Fellow U.S. Olympians, Could Be Contenders, Too
All four members of Team USA’s Rio 2016 Olympic contingent — Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar, Patrick Reed and Bubba Watson — will be playing at Erin Hills. Seven-time PGA Tour champion Kuchar, who won a bronze medal in Rio, was the top American finisher at the Masters in April, tying for fourth place at 5-under-par. Fowler, who has five top-10 finishes in the event, has said he’ll trade-in his Oklahoma State golf bag to use a Green Bay Packers themed one with not-so-subtle yellow and green threads. Click here for the Olympians' tee times and U.S. Open histories.
4) Wisconsin’s All-Time Winningest Golfer Gets In
Earlier this spring, Wisconsin’s 50-year-old Steve Stricker was denied a special exemption into the U.S. Open, as he is not a major championship winner. But he then earned a U.S. Open spot in a sectional qualifier earlier this month and did so in style, finishing first among nine golfers in his qualifier. A native of Edgerton and resident of Madison, Stricker has 12 PGA Tour titles to his name and is Wisconsin’s all-time winningest golfer. He once finished first in a “Good Guys on Tour” ranking by Golf Digest and should be a fan favorite in Erin Hills.
5) Will Mother Nature Come To Phil’s Aid?
Six-time U.S. Open runner-up Phil Mickelson has a Thursday afternoon tee time, but recently announced he plans to attend his daughter’s high school graduation instead. Mickelson will need at least a four-hour rain delay to fly from California to Wisconsin to keep his U.S. Open title hopes alive; a win would complete his career grand slam. A perfect scenario — a Thursday thunderstorm and a Sunday victory — would certainly make for a Hollywood story.
6) Erin Hills Makes Its Major Debut
What will Erin Hills hold for the golfers this week? It’s hard to say. The course opened in 2006 and hasn’t hosted so much as a PGA Tour event. The course, built on a former cattle farm northwest of Milwaukee, could prove challenging. The holes are long with plenty of hills, and when the wind is blowing it can have a devastating effect. The exceptionally long rough right off the fairway has also drawn its fair share of attention throughout the week. Golfers shouldn’t be surprised, though, as the U.S. Open is known for its difficult courses each year.
Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.