BROOKLINE, Mass. — The growing tradition of the all-Canadian practice group at major championships has grown too big this week at the U.S. Open.
With six Canadians in the field this week, only four of them could play together on Tuesday morning at The Country Club in Brookline. The friendly early morning match took place on the front nine between Team Ontario featuring Corey Conners and Mackenzie Hughes and Team B.C. with Adam Hadwin and Nick Taylor.
There was plenty of talk in the foursome about last week’s RBC Canadian Open at St. George’s.
“It was such an enjoyable week for all of us,” Hadwin said. “We all echoed how great the crowds were and how big they were. You could almost argue too hype in a few spots.”
Corey Conners said he is already thinking about next year at Oakdale, and Mackenzie Hughes said there is plenty to be proud of.
“The tournament did a great job, and I don’t think they could have asked for much more,” Hughes said. “Selfishly, we all wish we could have been the one winning the tournament but as a second option Rory winning is as ideal as it could get. RBC and Golf Canada should be really pleased.”
This week’s U.S. Open is at another old-school design, and Hughes pointed out that other than a few more blind shots, the philosophy is like St. George’s in that you need to play smart, tactical golf, and keep the ball below the hole on the severe greens.
“There are a handful of shots where you can’t quite see the landing area like holes 10, 15, and three,” Hughes said. “For the most part though, once you have your line down it’s pretty straightforward and the greens are kind of like St. George’s, really pitched from back to front so you can’t be long, but short’s usually okay.”
For Hadwin, who played the course for the first time on Tuesday, it looked like a U.S. Open test he has the tools to tackle.
“Length is maybe not as much of a factor as some U.S. Open courses,” Hadwin said. “With my ball flight I was getting plenty of run in the fairways and keeping up with Corey and Mac with no issues. The U.S. Open is more of a mental test than anything and I do feel like I’m getting better and stronger in that part of the game.”
Hadwin warned that the USGA still has plenty of time to crank things up to 11 as they are known to do, but the 7,200-yard course has him optimistic.
“Off the tee in a lot of spots it’s a little more fair than a lot of the U.S. Opens that I’ve played,” he said. “Once things start playing firmer and faster the fairways will play smaller so you’re going to have to pick which side, I think it’s going to be a great test of golf.”
The U.S. Open begins Thursday, but in Tuesday’s match it was Team B.C. that came out on top.
“We’ll leave the amounts and by how much alone,” Hadwin said.
Hadwin’s caddie Joe Cruz walked us through what he has learned through two days of practice at The Country Club.
“The greens are going to be the defence for sure,” Cruz said.
Hadwin’s longtime caddie says the rough isn’t too bad, but the greens will require players to be very precise with their irons, and that scoring will require hitting fairways.
“If they firm it out, playing out of the rough — even though it’s playable — trying to judge the distance is going to be super difficult.”
The concern at any U.S. Open is how fast and firm the course will get, and with a clear weather forecast it looks like the USGA will have the entire toolbox at its disposal.
“If it gets firm there could be a bunch of run-offs and you’ve got to be aware,” Cruz said. “You don’t just have to read the greens, you have to read the fairways if it firms up.”
The old-school parkland design means the rule for approach shots is a simple one.
“If you get above the hole you’re screwed,” he said. “Very much like last week.”
U.S. Opens are often about how much punishment a player can endure, but we asked him where players have the best chance to score at The Country Club, and he said it’s late on the front nine that players will need to make their move.
It starts on the par-4 fifth hole. Cruz said his man Hadwin can’t reach the green of the 310-yard hole off the tee but that some of the bigger hitters will.
“Seven is 375 yards and downhill,” he said. “You can hit 3-wood and have a sand wedge in your hand.”
The par-5 eighth has a devilish green with a massive false front (I watched several players hit 40-yard wedge shots on Tuesday that rolled right back to their feet), but it will be reachable in two if you find the fairway.
“Even though the green is treacherous you are definitely able to go for it in two,” Cruz said. “That will be a birdie opportunity.”
Cruz is optimistic about the week and Hadwin has been playing solid golf since a top-ten at the Players Championship in March.
“He’s put in the work and he’s got the right mental makeup, he’s very patient now,” Cruz said. “We’ve just got to see if it happens.”
The other two Canadians in the field are Roger Sloan and Ben Silverman … Mackenzie Hughes had plans to take in the Red Sox game on Tuesday night … Brooks Koepka did not want to talk about LIV Golf at all: “I’m trying to focus on the U.S. Open, man. I legitimately don’t get it. I’m tired of the conversations. I’m tired of all this stuff. Y’all are throwing a black cloud on the U.S. Open. I think that sucks.” … Koepka also said he hasn’t talked to his brother Chase since the event in England … Is there a place to bet on Brooks signing up next?