Darren Clarke never had the patience to handle the US Open but even though he’ll be behind a microphone for FOX Sports this week the big Irishman is fascinated by the challenge that lies in store.
The 2011 Open champion has a horrific US Open record — 15 appearances, seven missed cuts and just one top 10. It’s no coincidence his share of 10th place came at a linksy Pinehurst No 2 in 1999 when he finished nine shots behind the late Payne Stewart.
For the rest, it was always the same old story — he’d drop shots early, lose patience, go on the attack and shoot something in the high 70s. This week’s US Open test at Erin Hills is similar to most in that the course is incredibly long and protected by 138 penal bunkers with acres of deep fescue rough waiting to gobble up errants shots.
But while Clarke doesn’t expect Erin Hills to be the usual US Open test in that it has massively wide fairways and reasonably receptive greens, the examination remains a stern one.
“US Opens are far removed from what might be called ‘normal’ weeks on tour,” Clarke said. “They are a task and they are a challenge from the first tee to the 18th green.
“For me, that has always been a little too much. Every great course I ever played has always contained what I like to call a ‘breather’ hole, one where you are looking to make a birdie in the middle of a tough day.
“A typical US Open doesn’t have one of those. And this week is the same. Maybe only the second hole at Erin Hills could be put in that category. But even there it is debatable.
“A good drive over the fairway bunker still leaves a very tricky little pitch.
“But it is all relative. When they held the 2011 US Amateur here the easiest hole on the course was the first. This week that hole has a 278-yard carry from the tee to the fairway. And this week the course is going to be a lot softer - and so play longer - than it did in 2011, when it was ‘firm and fast.’”
For that reason, Clarke still expects it to play into the hands of the long bombers, which sounds like bad news for the likes of Graeme McDowell.
“The shorter hitters are going to be challenged a lot more than those who can blast away off the tee,” he said.
“This course is over 7,700-yards long. So it is a big ask for any medium to short hitter.
“And all the rain only adds to their difficulties. Shorter hitters won’t be able to utilise the slopes on the fairways at maybe 280-290 yards and get a bit more run out of their drives.
“That only adds to the advantage enjoyed by the bombers.” One man it will suit is Rory McIlroy. But the same goes for Dustin Johnson or Jason Day.
“But given the course hasn’t hosted a major professional event before, Clarke doesn’t quite want to write off the medium hitters give the myriad blind shots players may face.
“There are 14 holes out there that have at least the possibility of a blind shot,” he said.
“Bottom line? I wouldn’t completely eliminate the possibility of a medium-length hitter winning.
“Because we haven’t had an professional event here before we don’t really know for sure what is going to happen.
“Perhaps the only thing we know for sure is that it is going to be very challenging.”
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