That four-letter word gets tossed around a lot in golf. From a swing to a sound to a roll, it personifies perfection. As it should. As it's meant to be. As Shinnecock Hills Golf Club will be presented for the 118th U.S. Open this week.
Only those of us with memories long enough will draw comparisons to the course's troubles when it last hosted this tournament in 2004. For the younger generation of golf fans, it will wonder what the fuss was all about. Shinnecock Hills is poised and ready to generate new experiences for all.
As we laid out for the Masters and THE PLAYERS Championship, this Power Rankings encompasses the entire field of 156 for the U.S. Open. For more on the course, how it should play and other relevant information, be sure to scroll beneath the sections devoted to the qualifiers.
POWER RANKINGS: 2018 U.S. OPEN
20 Jordan Spieth 19 Marc Leishman 18 Jimmy Walker 17 Matt Kuchar 16 Louis Oosthuizen 15 Tommy Fleetwood 14 Bryson DeChambeau 13 Henrik Stenson 12 Webb Simpson 11 Hideki Matsuyama 10 Patrick Reed 9 Brooks Koepka 8 Phil Mickelson 7 Rory McIlroy 6 Justin Rose 5 Justin Thomas 4 Jason Day 3 Rickie Fowler 2 Dustin Johnson 1 Jon Rahm
Paul Casey … Despite how sharp he's looked in advance of this tournament, the Brit has gone nine consecutive appearances without a top 25. It's the only reason he's not embedded in the Power Rankings. He checks every other box worth consideration.
If you'd prefer, label them as the snubs from the Power Rankings. Each could appear and few would argue.
Ranked in order of Rob's confidence
Patrick Cantlay (figures to be a fixture in the Power Rankings for most majors, but has yet to record a top 20 in five tries; mammoth 2017-18 includes breakthrough win among five top 10s)
Tiger Woods (commemorating the 10-year anniversary of his last victory in a major this week; statistically strong overall but inconsistency has been rampant despite his positive rhetoric)
Tony Finau (among the best tee-to-green performers anywhere he pegs it; at 12th in the FedExCup standings, remains the highest-ranked without a victory)
Branden Grace (always a short-lister on par 70s; top fives on par 70s in 2015 and 2016; two top fives worldwide within the last month)
Steve Stricker (ageless and perfect in 10 U.S. Opens since 2006; top 25s in each of his last five)
Kyle Stanley (back in the U.S. Open for the first time in five years and arguably never more ready to make noise; playoff victim in his last start at Muirfield Village; four top 15s in last six starts)
Xander Schauffele (it was at Erin Hills last year when he began to cast his own mold; the T5 sparked a late push and conversion of Rookie of the Year honors; co-runner-up at THE PLAYERS a month ago)
Brian Harman (co-runner-up at Erin Hills last year; 10 top 25s in 2017-18, including a T14 in his last start at Colonial)
Francesco Molinari (if only the form the Italian showcases on his home circuit translated on U.S. soil as often; winner at Wentworth finished second in his national open; no top 20s in eight U.S. Opens)
Brendan Steele (rarely lets us down; top 15s in last two U.S. Opens; among the longest off the tee and ranks 10th in greens hit)
Rafa Cabrera Bello (he's gone T17-T8-4th from THE PLAYERS to the BMW PGA Championship to the Italian Open)
Ian Poulter (hasn't slowed down since winning in Houston; five straight top 25s upon arrival; steady but unspectacular slate in the U.S. Open – still chasing his first top 10 in now his 13th appearance)
Alex Noren (first U.S. start since THE PLAYERS; top 25s in last three starts worldwide; the 35-year-old projects to reverse his record in the U.S. Open where he's just 1-for-5 with a T51 in 2011).
Adam Scott (benefited by unfamiliar greens at Shinnecock Hills where his ball-striking proficiency can shine; since the Genesis Open in February, he's 10-for-11 with four top 20s)
Martin Kaymer (the 2014 champ at Pinehurst is now greeted with another Coore & Crenshaw update; ended a months-long drought with a T8 at the Italian Open two weeks ago)
Zach Johnson (just one top 25 in 14 U.S. Opens – T8 at Oakmont in 2016 – but he's been consistently strong for most of 2017-18; leads the PGA TOUR in proximity to the hole)
Kiradech Aphibarnrat (three times a winner worldwide since December; more recently placed T5 at Wentworth and T13 at Muirfield Village; achieved Special Temporary Membership on the PGA TOUR)
Si Woo Kim (T13 in his U.S. Open debut at Erin Hills last year before disappearing for five months; more consistent in 2018 but still one of the most elusive targets out there)
Bubba Watson (just 5-for-11 in the U.S. Open without a top 30 since 2009, but he's been rejuvenated this season with two wins among four top 10s)
Charl Schwartzel (recent subdued after connecting three top 10s through a T2 at THE PLAYERS; five top 25s in 11 starts at the U.S. Open)
Sergio Garcia (current form is atrocious, but he's 10-for-10 with seven top 25s in the U.S. Open since 2008)
Trey Mullinax (overshadowed by fellow rookie Xander Schauffele's T5 at Erin Hills last year, but still earned this week's exemption via his own top 10; T6 at St. Jude was third top 10 in last nine starts)
Gary Woodland (ekes into this lineup on the hope of a T23 at Muirfield Village in his last start; hasn't contended in seven starts in this major)
Because it's a major, loosen the restraints as to who qualifies as a Sleeper. Ignore current world ranking, distant victories in majors and recent inclusion in team competition.
Ranked in order of Rob's confidence (* - debutant)
Emiliano Grillo (scattered five top 10s this season, the latest a solo third at Colonial three weeks ago)
Keegan Bradley (quietly 44th in the FedExCup standings with three top 10s)
Graeme McDowell (the 2010 champ at Pebble Beach has added three top 10s in the U.S. Open since; marches in on a T12 at the BMW PGA Championship and T5 at the Italian Open)
Brandt Snedeker (refreshing T6 in Memphis last week with a second-round 62 baked in; five top 10s among eight top 25s in 11 U.S. Open appearances)
Adam Hadwin (with Dustin Johnson, co-leads the PGA TOUR with 19 consecutive cuts made)
Matthew Fitzpatrick (sustaining his gradual ascent on the world stage; also 3-for-3 in this tournament)
Byeong Hun An (solid 2018 thus far; recently showcased tee-to-green proficiency at Muirfield Village)
Thorbjørn Olesen (the streaky Dane enjoyed last week off after rising to victory at the Italian Open)
Peter Uihlein (fearless 28-year-old is poised to crack the top 40 for the first time in a major; fifth-place finishes recently at Quail Hollow and Muirfield Village)
*Chesson Hadley (in the midst of a renaissance season)
Shane Lowry (forgotten co-runner-up at Oakmont in 2016 also placed T9 at Chambers Bay in 2015; seven straight paydays worldwide with a pair of top 15s upon arrival)
Luke List (0-for-3 in this tournament but hasn't appeared in 11 years; four top 10s since a playoff loss at The Honda Classic in late February)
Russell Knox (the box-score stuffer is on the upswing with three top 10s and another four top 25s this season)
Patrick Rodgers (coming off a T8 at Muirfield Village; plenty long off the tee but his moneymaker is on the greens – he's 14th on TOUR in strokes gained: putting)
Jason Dufner (needs to connect with ball-striking default to contend, but he's never overwhelmed by the stage)
Cameron Smith (big-stage performer in a slump, so he's getting the benefit of the doubt; T4 at Chambers Bay in 2015; tied for fifth at the Masters two months ago)
Alexander Levy (11th in the Race to Dubai standings with a victory among four top 10s)
Matt Wallace (28-year-old Englishman currently is 20th in the Race to Dubai standings; the winner in India in March added a T3 in China in April)
Ollie Schniederjans (silent since opening 2018 with two top 10s in three starts but has survived nine straight cuts, solid for anyone but especially a PGA TOUR sophomore)
Chez Reavie (delivered on his fit at TPC Southwind with a T6; flashed his possibilities on the monster that was Erin Hills with a T16 last year)
Andrew Johnston (after a disappointing debut as a PGA TOUR member in 2016-17, he's enjoyed a return to his home circuit in Europe; 2-for-2 in the U.S. Open)
Jhonattan Vegas (needed his finish inside the top 30 in the FedExCup standings in 2016-17 for entry, but he's 15-for-18 this season; profiles as a long-hitting ball-striker when on)
This cuts both ways. For golfers who have yet to scale to a position from which they can disappoint, they remain full of promise. In the last 10 editions of the U.S. Open, at least one amateur has survived the cut. In all but two of those occasions, multiple amateurs played on, thus the inclusion of three from this week's field in ARROW UP below.
On the other side of the ledger are talents, many of whom household names, who present negatively for any number of reasons. The doubt includes, but is not limited to, form upon arrival, course fit, history in majors, overall career trajectory and relative inexperience in the face of higher expectations.
Ranked in order of Rob's confidence (* - debutant; # - amateur with World Amateur Golf Ranking)
*#Braden Thornberry (3rd)
*#Doug Ghim (1st)
*#Shintaro Ban (15th)
Ranked in order of Rob's confidence
Charles Howell III
Ted Potter, Jr.
Hao Tong Li
Harold Varner III
It's an annual conversation at the Masters where Fuzzy Zoeller is the last to prevail in his first appearance. That was in 1979, but it has nothing on the same angle at the U.S. Open for which you have to go back 105 years to find that last first-timer. Indeed, it was Francis Ouimet, who famously outdueled Harry Vardon and Edward Ray in a playoff in 1913. It's the stuff of which movies are made. Thus, 40 of this week's 49 first-timers are positioned below, including 17 of the 22 amateurs in the field.
Ranked in order of Rob's confidence (# - amateur with World Amateur Golf Ranking)
#Harry Ellis (36th)
#Theo Humphrey (10th)
#Kristoffer Reitan (27th)
#Noah Goodwin (38th)
Sung Joon Park
#Jacob Bergeron (47th)
#Chun An Yu (33rd)
#Garrett Rank (74th)
#Ty Strafaci (166th)
#Luis Gagne (105th)
#Ryan Lumsden (100th)
#Matt Parziale (181st)
#Philip Barbaree (196th)
#Franklin Huang (221st)
#Mickey DeMorat (268th)
#Rhett Rasmussen (332nd)
#Sulman Raza (1,120th)
#Timothy Wiseman (1,472nd)
Not only was Ouimet a debutant in 1913, he also was an amateur. Six different amateurs have won the U.S. Open, including career amateur Bobby Jones four times. Johnny Goodman was the last in 1933. In this day and age, it's rare for any amateur to qualify for the U.S. Open more than once, but there are two returning participants this year. Stewart Hagestad is arguably best known as the 2016 Mid-Amateur champion. He missed the cut at Erin Hills last year. Grimmer just completed his junior year at Ohio State University. Before he missed the cut in his U.S. Open debut in 2014, he made headlines the previous year when he carded a 59 as a 16-year-old at Pinehurst No. 1 in the North & South Junior Amateur.
Ranked in order of Rob's confidence (with World Amateur Golf Ranking)
Stewart Hagestad (23rd)
Will Grimmer (278th)
NOTE: Joaquin Niemann and Doc Redman forfeited exemptions into the U.S. Open when each turned pro in recent weeks. Neither requalified. All of the other automatic qualifiers are eligible and scheduled to compete.
Located on the East End of Long Island, Shinnecock Hills is a stock par 70. Its par 5s are the 589-yard fifth and 616-yard 16th. At a capable length of 7,440 yards thanks in part to 10 new tees, it's 444 yards longer than how the USGA set it up for the 2004 U.S. Open.
After barely budging during the first three rounds 14 years ago when the respective scoring averages were 73.36, 73.03 and 73.52 – challenging but consistent – the course became as difficult as any anyone in the field had ever tried to tackle. Due to the virtual absence of moisture, the field averaged 78.73 in the final round. That remains the highest mark for a finale in any tournament since data was first maintained in earnest in 1983.
It's not an issue that will be replicated this week if for no other reason than the USGA won't allow it. By again awarding this championship to Shinnecock Hills – the announcement came in 2011 – there was an explicit narrative that the test would remain under control. The USGA doubled down on its promise by hiring architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, the respected duo responsible for the turn-back-the-clock version of Pinehurst No. 2 for the U.S. Open in 2014 as well as the recent debut of Trinity Forest for the AT&T Byron Nelson, to name two sanctioned stops.
Beginning in 2012, Coore and Crenshaw brought back to life William Flynn's 1931 redesign of Shinnecock Hills. The result is nothing short of postcard-caliber beauty. We won't be able to unsee the events of 2004, but we're going to fall back in love with this gem.
Natural terrain with fairways 15 yards wider and framed by four-inch rough, as well as targets defended by yawning bunkers will remind us that all that was once good can be again, and is. With the variety of the par 3s, the absence of parallel holes and the starkness of its location, you'll want to reach for a sepia setting on your HDTV.
Even Mother Nature will be taking a break to enjoy the action. The only challenge will come in the form of typical sea breezes, but even they aren't expected to gust. (Writer's note: Always keep an eye on the wind forecast because it's most prone to change with little notice.) Daytimes highs will creep into the 70s.
For the second straight year, total prize money is $12 million of which the winner will receive $2.16 million and 600 FedExCup points. For the first time in tournament history, a two-hole aggregate playoff will determine the champion, if necessary. If still tied, a standard hole-by-hole playoff will be used. The 36-hole cut remains low 60 and ties.
Two years ago, the USGA announced that Shinnecock Hills will host the U.S. Open yet again in 2026, so the governing body is way ahead of whatever expectations you may have for this week. Pure genius.
ROB BOLTON’S SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM’s Fantasy Insider Rob Bolton reviews and previews every tournament from numerous angles. Look for his following contributions as scheduled.
MONDAY: Rookie Ranking, Qualifiers, Reshuffle, Medical Extensions, Power Rankings
TUESDAY*: Fantasy Insider
WEDNESDAY: One & Done, Facebook Live
* - Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM’s Expert Picks for PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf presented by SERVPRO, which also publishes on Tuesdays.