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U.S. Open competitors can do something novel at Erin Hills — go low

A player makes his way up the first fairway during the second round of the U.S. Amateur golf tournament on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011, at Erin Hills Golf Course in Erin, Wis. (Morry Gash / AP)

Something radical could be in store for golf’s next major, the U.S. Open at Erin Hills.

Low scores.

I know, I know, you’ll believe it when you see it. The USGA seems to take pleasure in torturing the world’s best players by drying out greens, pretending that a 520-yard hole is a par-4 and by assessing a penalty for being an innocent bystander.

Our friends across the pond do not have an unhealthy obsession with protecting par. No one asked for a refund after Phil Mickelson shot 18 under at Royal Troon in July … to finish second.

This U.S. Open, however, promises to be different. And not simply because the event is making its Wisconsin debut.

In an interview with the Tribune at Augusta National’s grill room, USGA executive director Mike Davis put it like this: "All things being equal, I think the scoring will be lower at Erin Hills than at most any other site."

Here’s why: Relatively wide and hot-running fairways, assuming standard/dry conditions.

And get this: The course will play as a par-72, the first U.S. Open with a traditional card since 1992. That’s the last time the USGA played Pebble Beach’s second hole as a par-5.

Erin Hills has black tees that measure 7,812 yards. It played at 7,760 for the U.S. Amateur in 2011, a record for a USGA setup. Sadists could stretch it to 8,000 yards.

But Davis, the point man for daily setup, predicted a yardage range between 7,600 and 7,700 and that "the golf course actually will play shorter than most U.S. Opens."

Davis said Shinnecock Hills, the Long Island links course that will host in 2018, will be a par-70 of about 7,500 yards.

"Shinnecock will play longer," Davis said. "Not to mention that the fairways at Erin Hills are very generous and bouncy. Those who report that this will be over the top distance-wise, they don’t get it. The clubs that the pros will hit into these greens, I promise you, will be less than some Opens."

This is a good sign.

And quite honestly, USGA officials need to do everything humanly possible to create a U.S. Open that pleases both its customers and competitors.

Two years ago they experimented with Chambers Bay, near Seattle. A dry spell left the course with brown greens, a switcheroo on No. 18 changed it from a par-5 to par-4 ("dumbest hole I’ve ever played," opined Jordan Spieth) and an absurd setup for spectators prevented them from following a group off the first tee.

Grumbling pros lambasted the USGA — and then spewed even more venom last June when USGA rules officials penalized Dustin Johnson after his ball moved on the fifth green.

Rory McIlroy called the decision "a farce" on Twitter.

That recent history means USGA officials will get no leeway this time. If things go wrong in June, the pros will pounce.

Asked about the perception of Erin Hills, Jim Furyk replied: "I’ve heard it’s long, I’ve heard it’s linksy. I’ve heard the gamut. From pretty good to terrible, so I’ll go in there open-minded."

Then Furyk, the winner of the 2003 U.S. Open at Olympia Fields, the last to be played near Chicago, added: "I don’t think I’ve heard terrible. I’ve heard pretty good to pretty bad."

Davis called Erin Hills, a "magical piece of property" that will be spectator-friendly thanks to its vastness.

"You think about some of the great tree-lined courses in middle America, Medinah or Olympia Fields. By and large they’re tree-lined and you watch one hole," he said. "This one, logistically, I think will be one of the best because of the room we have. You’ll have grandstands that can see multiple holes."

The view will be superb, provided the USGA lets the players shine.

Twitter @TeddyGreenstein

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