I had to wait five long years to finally complete a round at Erin Hills Golf Course.
To say it was worth it would be an understatement, and if not for a follow-up email from contest director John Morrissett, I might never have gotten the chance.
It’s easy for things to get lost in the shuffle. But that ‘thing’ was the RSVP for US Medium Amateur Media Day at Erin Hills. And I’ll be honest – I can’t tell you when I first got it. All I know is that I foolishly let it slip through the cracks, likely during a busy high school sports schedule.
Thankfully, Morrissett had been having some email issues and so reached out on July 5th to confirm if I would be able to attend Tuesday’s media day – four days after the original RSVP deadline. Of course, Erin Hills is located in Washington County, and over the past few years, I’ve helped out with the Daily News in just about any capacity while maintaining my duties as assistant sports editor with the Freeman. So there was a good reason to attend and give coverage to the event.
An even better reason? The opportunity to play golf at one of the best courses in not only the state, but the country.
So, without hesitation, I answered a resounding yes. My Tuesday was very open, the only concern was the fact that I was playing in a two day volleyball tournament last weekend. At 32, my body just doesn’t bounce back like it used to (and yes, I hear your groans…I know 32 isn’t old in the grand scheme of things).
Volleyball came and went, with both days featuring an unfortunate early exit for yours truly. But on the plus side, I would be fresh as a pearl to walk 18 holes at the 2017 US Open venue.
This brings me to my first experience playing Erin Hills.
In my last year working for the Watertown Daily Times, I had the privilege of attending media day for the US Open in the spring of 2017 and had an opportunity to play the course, which opened to the public in 2006. It was a blast. cloudy day with a chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. Given the magnitude of the event, there were members of the media from far and wide who made the turn off Highway O onto the Erin Hills fairway, and therefore dozens and dozens who also signed up for golf, leading to a start with hunting weapons.
I started on the par 3 16th and immediately got four over, but overall, the round went as well as I could have hoped. Unfortunately, sitting on a 97 through 17, the horn sounded as we approached the 15th hole and the round was cut short. But Erin Hills really rolled out the red carpet for us, and I couldn’t wait to get another chance to experience it again, despite feeling like it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
There would be no such weather concerns on Tuesday. It was a picturesque day on the 652-acre property, with a light breeze and temperatures in the mid-70s making for comfortable conditions. And with the sun shining for almost the entirety of the five-hour round, I was able to see the course in all its glory.
It was also nice to play Erin Hills in a traditional fashion, as our foursome that included WISN Sports Director Dario Melendez, WISN Photojournalist Scott DePuy and USGA Senior Championship Communications Manager Brian DePasquale teed off on the first hole around 12:48 pm. a speaker session and lunch in the morning. In addition to the delicious buffet style meal, I was given a trinket for my golf bag that I will proudly display for the rest of my days. The only drawback was not having time to stay for drinks and appetizers after the round. Work beckoned.
I made sure to take full advantage of the practice range and putting greens before hitting the course, and I’d say it paid off big. What also paid off was the invaluable help of my caddy, Mason, provided by Erin Hills. I would not have prayed in that course without him.
We decided to play from the green tees, which brought the course’s official distance to 6,789 yards instead of 7,000 plus if we had played from the blue or black markers. Still no picnic, to say the least.
I won’t bore you with too many details from my round. Highlights were a par on the par 5 1st and a 60-foot putt from the fringe on the 3rd hole that somehow found the bottom of the cup (thanks, Mason). In total, I birdied three of the four Par 3s and finished with a total of five pars, shot a 46 on the front nine, and after doubling the 622-yard 18th, shot a final score of 95. The goal was to break 100, so the mission it was done.
No, I didn’t shoot a round of 63 like Justin Thomas did five years ago. No, I didn’t spend much time on the freeway. And no, my handicap of 18 does not qualify me for the Mid-Am Championship open to any amateur golfer who is 25 years old with a handicap index of 3.4 or lower. But for someone who doesn’t have the luxury of playing golf more than 7-8 times a year, I was happy to be able to hold my own on a course of that size. I was grateful to learn the game of golf from my father growing up and as a result I will have the ability to develop it for decades to come, God willing.
As I mentioned in my story from Tuesday’s media day, I didn’t think Erin Hills got a fair shake when it hosted the US Open because of the weather conditions. It’s such an incredible piece of land, with Holy Hill visible in the background, the elevation changes creating some challenging, blind shots and the proliferation of bunkers and fairways that make golfers pay for the smallest mistakes. I really hope there will be another opportunity to host a US Open at some point down the road.
One thing’s for sure — the US Women’s Open will be hosted by Erin Hills in 2025. You better believe I’ll be refreshing my email for that RSVP.