120th U.S. Open Championship
Winged Foot Golf Club, Mamaroneck, N.Y
West Course, Par 70, 7,469 yards 2019
Defending Champ - Gary Woodland (Pebble Beach)
After reading this preview do yourself a favor and go to YouTube and type in “Massacre at Winged Foot”. It will give you a great idea of the history of the course and how difficult it plays. Winged Foot most recently hosted the 2006 U.S. Open, won by Geoff Ogilvy (+5). That tournament was the last major championship that any golfer has won without shooting under par for any of the 4 rounds. The 2006 U.S. Open also produced the fewest average birdies per round of any major in the past 14 years (1.8). This year should be no different, between the length of the course, the pinched in fairways, thick rough and difficult green complexes this U.S. Open will be the ultimate test for the best golfers in the world.
In normal years, without a pandemic, about half the field is filled by golfers who made it through qualifying, that’s what makes this tournament so great, literally anyone can play in it just as long as you qualify. This typically results in a very diverse field of golfers. Yes they’re the top players in the world but each year we see the mini-tour warriors and up-and-coming amateurs and everything in between. This year however, there was no qualifying, just another thing the pandemic has altered but the USGA granted various exemptions to a wide range of players, with the aim of replicating what you’d see in a non-COVID U.S. Open.
Around Winged Foot, Neil Regan is considered a walking encyclopedia. It wouldn’t be a surprise to the club’s members that its resident historian knew the wind direction on, say, Saturday afternoon of the 1929 U.S. Open. Neil was asked this week what he thinks the winning score will be for this year’s U.S. Open, he said “ It’s impossible to know. So my answer is this: I think the better question is, What’s the 3rd place score? One or two guys may separate themselves from the field with perfect golf, in which case they could break par. But I think 3rd place is +7 or +8 over par.”
The USGA which is the governing committee that oversees the U.S. Open and dictates the course layout always feels pressure to make the course tough but not too tough. Every year players will bitch and moan about certain features and how it’s unfair. Already this week it appears the USGA is concerned the rough might be too long as they haven’t cut it since September 3rd. It will be interesting to see how they react to comments made by players after the Tuesday and Wednesday practice rounds. I can already see it now; Ian Poulter crying about losing balls just off the fairway. Rumor is the grounds grew at Winged Foot wants to see +8 as the winning score.
So we know the course is tough and we know why. It’s narrow fairways, thick rough and slippery putting surfaces. What we want to know is what type of golfers fit this course the best? Do we want accuracy off the tee or bombers? My thoughts are nobody in the field will be accurate enough to hit all the fairways so let’s just assume most players in the field will be hitting out of the rough on at least 6 or 7 holes. What golfers play better out of the rough? Well when we look at the most recent US Open winners they all have something in common.
Past U.S. Open Winners
2019: Gary Woodland (Pebble Beach: -16)
2018: Brooks Koepka (Shinnecock Hills: +1)
2017: Brooks Koepka (Erin Hills: -16)
2016: Dustin Johnson (Oakmont: -4)
The past 4 winners all have something in common, they are strong and athletic. It’s no coincidence that’s the type of player who best plays it out of the thick stuff. Of course we could go through the 144 person field and find the most accurate ball strikers but even they will find themselves in the rough a few times per round and the penalty for doing so will be magnified. Plus the accurate guys are usually the shorter hitters and they will be at a serious disadvantage on this 7,500 yard monster of a Par 70. We want golfers who are hitting short irons into the greens and not golfers who are hitting hybrids, 4 or 5 irons into these greens because they will have no chance of keeping the ball on the putting surface.
It’s been a hot, dry summer in New York so we could see some firm and fast conditions. The look-ahead weather forecast shows near ideal conditions. Low temps in the 60s, highs in the 70s with perhaps some rain Thursday and Friday, but otherwise dry conditions throughout with winds reaching low double digit mph.
Before getting into player breakdowns, let’s just go over a few key stats that should provide a path to success for this tournament. We want to build a prototype player that we can back with real money.
Recent Form - This is simple, we want golfers that have been playing good coming into this event. It's very unlikely we see a golfer who has been struggling come out of nowhere and play great at a US Open track. Yes there have been unexpected champions in the past like Hale Irwin, Fuzzy Zoeller and Geoff Ogilvy. But we are betting real money here and we want what’s more likely to happen.
Course Fit - Discussed briefly above, ideally we want a golfer who is going to hit every fairway and since that doesn’t really exist we want the next best thing. A golfer who is strong enough to play out of the rough and long enough to not have to hit long irons into these firm and fast greens.
Strokes Gained Off the Tee - Course is long with narrow fairways and penalizing rough, SG:OTT will give us some guys who have both length and accuracy. Total Strokes Gained Off the Tee past 24 rounds: Bryson DeChambeau (+25.7), Jon Rahm (+39.5), Cameron Champ (+19.3), Xander Schauffele (+18.7) Sergio Garcia (+17.4).
Greens in Regulation - Pars are great scores at US Opens and the best way to save par is to be on the green in regulation. Missing greens and scrambling hole after hole will eventually result in bogeys or worse. Total Strokes Gained Greens in Regulation past 24 rounds: Dustin Johnson (+33.0), Scottie Scheffler (+32.0), Jon Rahm (+30.0), Matthew Wolff (+29.9), Bubba Watson (+27.5).
Bogeys Avoided - This one should be obvious, the golfer who can minimize mistakes and find ways to save difficult pars will likely separate themselves from the field. Total Strokes Gained Bogey Avoidance past 24 rounds: Xander Schauffele (+27.1), Jon Rahm (+26.1), Paul Casey (+18.2), Webb Simpson (+16.7), Patrick Reed (+16.3).
U.S. Open Player Breakdowns Note:
- Dustin Johnson (8/1) - You guys know I hate betting favorites in a golf tournament. Favorites simply don’t win enough times for it to be worth it. DJ might be the one exception to the rule, his current odds of +800 basically say he wins this event 11 times out of 100 tries (+800 = 11% implied odds). To me that actually seems about right. He’s absolutely worthy of being the favorite. He followed up his BMW Championship playoff loss to Jon Rahm with the FedEx Cup title at the Tour Championship, adding to his 11-shot win at the Northern Trust and a T-2 at the PGA Championship. Plus he has posted 4 top-4 finishes in U.S Open events from 2014-2018. As hot as he has been there is a theme starting to form with DJ, His T-2 at Harding Park made him 0-for-4 with 54-hole leads in major championships. He has 23 PGA Tour wins but hasn’t won a major since the 2016 US Open. Although, he was second or T-2 in three of his last 5 attempts. Nobody remembers runner ups, besides the runner up.
Jon Rahm (9/1) - He checks all the boxes right? Strong and long and has the touch around greens to save par on missed approaches. The tougher the course the better he seems to play, evidenced by recent victories at Muirfield and Olympia Fields. My only issue is he’s a bit over-hyped at only +900 odds. He has multiple missed cuts at U.S. Open events and although he seems to have matured a lot keeping his emotions in check, the U.S. Open will be a real test and I’m curious if the fiery Spaniard will let his temper get the best of him because bad shots and bad breaks will happen, it’s all about who can minimize the damage and keep it all together.
Justin Thomas (14/1) - My pick for PGA Tour Player of the Year. He has 3 victories this year and he definitely deserves to be among the betting favorites but I am a little hesitant here this week. Since his lone major win at the 2017 PGA, JT has just one top 10 in his past eight major starts. He let me down with a T-37 finish at the PGA Championship after winning the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational. Going off metrics alone Thomas does look like an ideal pick for outright winner, he led the Tour in SG: Tee-to-Green (Ball-Striking) and SG: Approach through 58 rounds last season which he will need to do in order to win this week. The only real blemish in JT’s game is the all important flat-stick, drive for show, Putt for dough$, Fortunately, his short game has eliminated the need to make a ton of testers for par (18th SG around the green, .339). He would be the least surprising winner this week IMO. Xander Schauffele (16/1) Xander very well might be the best player without a win in 2020. He just keeps churning out top-10s, with another coming in his last start at the Tour Championship. There is a lot to like about Xander this week. His T-10 finish at TPC Harding Park was his 6th top-10 in 12 career major championship appearances with just 1 missed cut. It really is a question of when he will claim his first major not if. No obvious flaws in his game and The US Open has been his best of the 4 majors with 3 straight top-10 finishes and for me what I find most appealing is he is 10th in greens in regulation (70.87%) which can be an overrated stat at times, but it’s a key metric at a tough U.S. Open layout like Winged Foot. He will likely get some money from me this week.
Collin Morikawa (20/1) - Here is a guy that checks all the boxes. He’s averaging 1.66 SG: Tee-to-Green and 1.04 SG: Approach in 2020 but there's just one thing holding me back from firing away on Collin and it doesn’t have anything to do with his on course performance. Can he win back 2 back majors? He had that historic weekend at TPC Harding Park where he shot a major championship record low (128) over 36 holes which put him in elite class. Nothing seems to rattle Morikawa and he was right in his backyard in San Fran for the PGA Championship but can he do that on the east coast in golf's super bowl? We can get him at a decent price, he’s the 6th betting favorite, as of Tuesday morning he’s a tempting +1800 which are more than fair odds.
Webb Simpson (25/1) - You’ll start to sense a theme with these player breakdowns, It’s either big and strong or crafty and accurate, Webb falls under the later column. Webb who is a former US Open champ (2012) has had a career best season with 2 wins, 5 top-3 finishes and 8 top 10s in only 13 starts this season. He’s definitely not a bomber and won’t overpower any golf course, ranks 84th in strokes gained off the tee but that’s about his only weak spot, if you even consider that a weak spot. He gets it done with his irons (ranked 6th in strokes gained approach) and putter (12th in strokes gained putting). The more you look at Webb’s metrics the more you’ll want to bet him this week. led the Tour last season in Bogey Avoidance and was 7th in 3-Putt Avoidance. All extremely helpful attributes for getting around Winged Foot.
Bryson DeChambeau (18/1) - I’m not a buyer on Bryson this week even though he fits our prototype golfer this week. He ranks first on Tour in strokes gained off the tee (1.039 per round) which should be appealing but a big disadvantage for a guy like Bryson who can spray tee shots from time to time (Kind of like Phil) is no gallery or stadium seats or tents. Those structures help a great deal with free drops and keeping errant tee shots from traveling too far into the thick stuff. Also no trampled down rough from spectators either so balls will be buried. His tee game gets all the attention but he’s a sneaky 10th in SG putting (.658) and first from inside 10 feet (91.2%). DeChambeau has made 3 of 5 cuts at the U.S. Open, finishing T-15th, T-25th and T-35th when he played the weekend. He won a USGA event at the 2015 U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields. He’d be a guy that if he won I’d have major regrets on not betting because it seems obvious but just can’t trust his irons right now,
Tony Finau (+3300) - Full disclosure, I already bet Finau +4500 to win the U.S. Open 7 months ago. Anyone who has been a member of The Betting Network for any length of time should know my well documented love-hate relationship with Tony. I always say when he finally gets a win I’ll have a bet on him but it will probably only get me to about break even on lifetime outright winner bets on him. Imagine if I had just bet on him to finish top-10 rather than all those outright winner bets. Tony has 6 top-10 results in his last 9 major starts, Since the June restart, Finau’s piled up 4 top-10s. He is exactly the type of player we want this week. He ranks 13th in driving distance (309.8) and his club head speed (122.05 miles per hour, 7th) allows him to advance balls out of the thickest of roughs. What a lot of people don’t realize is Tony is solid around the greens, ranks 30th in strokes gained around the green (.266 per round) and he's 18th in scrambling from inside 10 yards (90.24%) and 15th in proximity from the rough (40’6”) all will come in handy this week. Finau is very steady and he never just “mails it in”, his bad rounds are 71,72 which are scores that could win the US Open. Like most golfers this week it all comes down to making putts, Tony is 69th in SG putting (.14) but is shaky on those 4 to 8 footers (68.42%, 90th). Guess it doesn’t really matter though because I’m locked in.
Rory McIlroy (+1400) - McIlroy admitted his impending fatherhood was a distraction during his restart struggles. He got back on the right track by finishing T-7 by 72-hole score at the Tour Championship. Pre-Covid Rors was the hottest golfer on tour finishing 5th or better in his first 6 starts. Since the restart he has just one top-10 finish and has finished outside the top 30 in 6 of his last 9 starts. The reason for his shaky performances is inability to find the fairway off the tee, not exactly what we want at Winged Foot. He finished this past season ranked 155th in driving accuracy percentage (56.34). On the bright side you’re getting a pretty decent discount on odds for a 4-time major champ. I just can’t get behind Rors with his irons and driver being out of form.
Daniel Berger (25/1) - According to my model Berger is one of the very few golfers in the field that has a better chance to win it all than his listed odds imply and he will find himself on my official betting card (Posted in The Betting Networks golf channel Wednesday). Berger is the 15th-ranked player in the world and finished the season at No. 13 in the FedEx Cup standings. Berger has appeared in 6 U.S. Opens in 7 professional seasons, including a 6th place finish in 2018 in which he held a share of the 54-hole lead. Berger has the game to contend at a US Open. He has just 1 missed cut and 7 top 10s in his last 11 events, what I like most about him is he seems to play his best on final round Sundays. Also, Berger led the PGA Tour in scrambling (67.45%). Interesting note about Berger is he is not in the 2020 Masters field. Augusta National Golf Club finalized its field back in the spring, and is honoring those and only those who qualified for the original April date. Any PGA Tour winners since the June restart would be invited for 2021. Berger was outside the top 50 in the world in the spring when he could have earned a spot in the field via the Of icial World Golf ranking. A US Open win would surely get him a Masters invite.
Tiger Woods (40/1) - I can honestly say I can’t recall the last time I bet Tiger, I fade him almost every tournament and the reason is very simple. He’s over priced. You pay a premium to back a guy like Tiger, until now! At last check you could get Tiger at +4000. Do I think he will win, no, but at least the price is rewarding enough to take a shot on him. There's a reason his odds are “fair”, lackluster performances at the Northern Trust and BMW Championship to end his season have helped, but maybe the extra time to rest before the U.S. Open is a blessing in disguise for the 44-year-old. Tigers club head speed was once his magic bad shot eraser but we have seen his swing speed drop steadily over the past year. He missed the cut at Winged Foot in 2006. He’s one of the handful of players in the field this week who even played in the 2006 US Open.
Jason Day (30/1) - J. Day recently played some of his best golf since he was World No. 1. He’s had a recent stretch of 4 consecutive top-7 finishes but what’s crazy is he’s done so without great putting which is the best part of his game. If he somehow finds his flat-stick this week he very well could win it all. I’d love to back him but a missed cut and a 64th-place finish to end his season along with not having a win in over 2 years makes me a seller not a buyer for him this week. Plus I could see this thick rough doing a number on his lower back. Tommy Fleetwood (30/1) Ideal game for a U.S. Open setup as evidenced by a solo 4th at Erin Hills and a runner-up at Shinnecock Hills. He relies on his solid ball striking and his all around tee to green game. The question is still yet to be answered, can he win on American soil? Nevermind the US Open. I like him in some H2H matchups this week and he will surely find his way onto my official betting card.
Patrick Reed (40/1) - I have a confession to make, I thought this whole no crowds and fans thing would benefit Patrick Reed more than any other golfer. It’s apparent now that he thrives off the heckling gallery. If there were rowdy New Yorkers outside the ropes this week I’d probably look towards betting Reed in some form. Everyone will miss greens this week but Reed’s short game should give him a big edge. Already a winner of a World Golf Championship this year, the 2018 Masters champ also has 3 top 15s in his past six starts, including a T-13 at the PGA. He’s a solid pick for Top-20 this week.
Patrick Cantlay (30/1) - This almost feels like a sleeper pick because of how quiet he has been recently. Cantlay only has one top-10 since the restart but I just can’t completely disregard him, mainly because of his elite ball striking. Even though he hasn’t had any great finishing results, Cantlay has gained strokes tee-to-green in every start since January. My biggest concern for him is what I saw in his last appearance, which was at Olympia Fields, he lost more than 5 strokes on his approach shots to the field. Not exactly a great sign going into US Open play where SG:APP is paramount.
Sleepers & Long Shots
Mackenzie Hughes (+15000) - This name should be very familiar if you’ve been following my betting card the past 3 weeks, I’ve been riding Mack’s coattails for over a month now. Hughes has catapulted from No. 264 to No. 56 in the official world golf rankings entering the week. He was 6th on Tour in Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green this past season and has a great track record on more difficult courses.
Brendon Todd (+10000) - One of the most accurate drivers on tour and has a knack for playing great on difficult courses, especially courses that require driving accuracy which is exactly what we want this week. He’s also an above average putter. 2x winner in the PGA Tour’s fall swing last year (weaker fields) he proved he can compete in stronger fields with a T-17 finish at the PGA Championship and T-8 at the BMW Championship. He’s a safe play who can stay out of trouble and have success with the winning score expected to be around even par.
Sergio Garcia (+12500) - He keeps popping up on simulations and he keeps showing up on key stats for this event. Can you imagine what Sergio’s career resume would look like if he was even a slightly above avg putter. He already has a solid resume and he’s done it all while being a poor putter. The 2017 Masters champ has 3 top 10s in 2020, two of which came on the Euro Tour. He finished T-5 in a strong field at the RBC Heritage. He’s averaging 1.68 SG: Tee-to-Green per round and ranks 5th overall in strokes gained off the tee (+17.4) in 2020. His +12500 price tag makes me a buyer here.
Jason Kokrak (+15000) - Here’s a guy that fits our prototype golfer we want, big, strong and athletic. He also has 3 top 15 finishes in a row and is 7th overall in driving distance. What’s the catch you might be wondering, well he’s 138th in driving accuracy but that’s the reason we can put $5 on him to get back $755.
Will Zalatoris (+15000) - If you’ve been really paying attention to golf the past 5 years you have noticed a theme, golfer dominates Korn Ferry Tour, golfer gets his PGA Tour card and golfer makes a big splash his first year on tour. Will Zalatoris is the next Korn Ferry tour guy that will make a splash on the PGA tour. He leads almost every important metric on the Korn Ferry Tour, leads in scoring avg, greens in reg, ball-striking, kids got a great future, his odds are definitely worth a stab.
Notable Withdrawals & Alternates
- Paul Waring (replacing Brooks Koepka)
- Branden Grace (replacing Scottie Scheffler)
- Rory Sabbatini (replacing Sam Horsfield)
- Francesco Molinari - WD
Author Notes: My name's Lefty and I currently run a sports betting educational discord community. We do weekly betting lessons, game previews for all sports, market analysis and a mentorship program coming soon. To learn more check out @TheB
September 16, 2020
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