Heavy favorites have not been able to close the deal in the past three U.S. Opens at Shinnecock Hills, which produced surprise winners in 46-year-old Raymond Floyd in 1986, short hitter Corey Pavin in 1995 and South African Retief Goosen, who held off Phil Mickelson down the stretch to win his second U.S. Open in 2004.
Recalling that moment Monday as he came off the practice tee, South African Louis Oosthuizen said, “I watched it on TV. I never spoke to Retief about it, but I know he was a genius on the greens.”
If you’re looking for a dark horse to provide another surprise ending Sunday at Shinnecock, Oosthuizen is a prime candidate. He’s the 2010 British Open champion and has a second-place finish in each of the other majors, including the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, where he birdied the 72nd hole to join a three-way tie for the lead only to see Jordan Spieth in the next group make birdie for the win.
Although he is a member of the PGA Tour, Oosthuizen has considerable international experience, especially on links courses in Europe. He’s not a long bomber, which might put him at a disadvantage, but he currently ranks 10th in shots gained around the green and 33rd in shots gained off the tee. If his putter warms up, he could be a factor.
“In a major, it’s all in how you go around the greens,” Oosthuizen said. “If you make putts and your short game is in good form, you can save yourself when you don’t hit it too great off the tee. It’s a golf course I like on my eye. It suits me. Now it’s just going out and hitting proper shots and hopefully make a few putts.”
Since the 2004 Open, Shinnecock Hills has been lengthened by more than 400 yards to 7,440. That puts a greater premium on distance as happened the past two years when Dustin Johnson dominated at Oakmont and Brooks Koepka did the same at Erin Hills.
“The guy that is going to have an advantage will really drive it long and straight around here, but they have an advantage every single week,” Oosthuizen said. “The big thing now with golf is that guys aren’t scared of hitting their drivers everywhere.”
In addition to lengthening the course, Shinnecock has wider fairways than normal for a U.S. Open, which helps the bombers. “You sort of want to see it a little bit narrower, especially in a major to really give the guys who hit it straight for the week and plot their way around the golf course a good opportunity,” Oosthuizen added.
Still, the links-style course combined with windy conditions might bring more international players into contention. “It’s going to be longer than most of the golf courses they play [in Europe],” Oosthuizen said. “But they’ll enjoy the look, especially with the weather being a little chilly for the week. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s European players up there.”