June 13, 2017 / 10:31 PM / 2 months ago

Erin Hills new major mountain for golfers to conquer

Jun 13, 2017; Erin, WI, USA; Sandhill cranes walk along the course on the 12th hole during a practice round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Erin Hills. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

ERIN HILLS, Wisconsin (Reuters) - The U.S. Open is about as close as golfers get to stepping into a ring and this year they face a new contender for the sport's toughest test when they take on Erin Hills.

The United States Golf Association (USGA) pulls no punches when it chooses a venue and sets up the course and this year have chosen Erin Hills, a links style layout that weighs in at a beefy 7,800 yards.

Winged Foot, the Olympic Club and Oakland Hills are just a few of the courses that over the years have brought golf's best to their knees and now Erin Hills will try to add its name to that list of heavyweight layouts.

One round of golf at a U.S. Open can be like going 18 rounds in the ring, both capable of leaving the unprepared bruised and battered.

Traditionally U.S. Open courses challenge golfers both mentally and physically with a combination of lightning fast greens, narrow fairways and gnarly rough.

"Just a mental test, just dealing with the mental side of the game more than any other tournament," said American Jordan Spieth, winner of the 2015 U.S. Open on a similar links style course at Chambers Bay. "It's always a physical test.

"It's a big golf course. It's a tough one to walk ... the rough is always thick. You're just putting more effort into each round.

"It (U.S. Open) certainly tests the mental game more than any other place in golf.

"If you came for a stress free tournament you didn't come to the right place."

Over time some U.S. Open layouts such as Oakmont (nine times hosting), Baltusrol (seven) and Winged Foot (five) have developed frightening reputations.

Jack Nicklaus, an 18-times major winner and noted course designer, rated Winged Foot a 12 on a scale of 1-to-10 in terms of difficulty. At the 1974 U.S. Open it proved so brutal that Hale Irwin won with a seven-over-par score inspiring a book entitled "Massacre at Winged Foot".

The legendary Ben Hogan won the 1951 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills but called it a "monster" and the hardest course he ever played, not a single player breaking par in the opening three rounds.

Just 11-years old, Erin Hills has no such bona fides but some including reigning British Open champion Henrik Stenson are wary of the dangers that lurk.

"As always, the USGA likes to trick it up a little bit at times and if you go off track, then you're going to notice that that's not the place to be in a lot of areas, said the Swede.

"It (U.S. Open) is one of the toughest mental tests that you're going to encounter out there, and it's important to be fresh."

Editing by Andrew Both

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