2017 U.S. OPEN
Championship week begins
Practice rounds underway at Erin Hills

By Nicholas Dettmann - Conley News Service

June 13, 2017

 With the Holy Hill National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians in the background, patrons walk Erin Hills golf course Monday afternoon during the practice rounds for the 117th U.S. Open Championship.
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John Ehlke/Conley News Service

TOWN OF ERIN — For seven years, every nail banged into a siding, every pile of dirt moved, every tweak to Erin Hills Golf Course was done with the 2017 U.S. Open Championship in mind.

On Monday, all those projects, big and small, were shown off to the world’s best golfers and thousands of fans with the first official practice rounds for the 117th U.S. Open, marking the beginning of championship week for professional golf’s second major of the 2017 season.

The U.S. Open has arrived in Wisconsin and in Washington County.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” said John Morrissett, Erin Hills’ competitions director. “It’s neat seeing the game’s best players, the people we see on TV week in and week out playing a course, a place you know so well, you go to every day.

“It’s almost like all of a sudden seeing a celebrity sitting at your dining room table. It’s kind of like your home. They’re in your home, if you will.”

At times, it seemed like this day would never get here.

“When the announcement was made, when you know, five, six, seven years out, the U.S. Open is coming, it’s like, ‘OK. That’s nice, that’s great,’” Morrissett said.

Erin Hills was announced as the host of the 2017 U.S. Open during the week of the 2010 championship at Pebble Beach in California. That day was June 16, 2010, a mere 2,493 days ago.

Along the way, there have been several milestones that have helped pass the time. Morrissett said his first milestone was when the final putt fell last year at Oakmont in Pennsylvania and Dustin Johnson was crowned 2016 U.S. Open champion. The next milestone was when Jan. 1 came and the next one after that was Media Day on May 17.

And of course, the last came Monday as tee shots were struck by the world’s elite golfers as they tried to learn more about this course, unknown to so many.

“As you can see, the work that’s been done as far as hospitality and the tenting around this golf course is second to none,” said Andy North, two-time U.S. Open champion (1978 and 1985) and a Wisconsin native. “It’s going to be great to see the fans of Wisconsin come out and support it as well.

“We’ve had a couple of PGAs, a Women’s Open. But I think this is going to be really special to have a championship that I really care about right here in your back yard.”

Morrissett came to Erin Hills about six weeks after the announcement at Pebble Beach. That ended a 17-year run for Morrissett in the rules department with the USGA.

When Morrissett arrived, some of the several modifications made to Erin Hills in the last seven years had already started.

In 2009, Andy Ziegler bought the course from Bob Lang.

In August 2010, the course was reopening for the first time since fall 2009 to rebuild the 10th green.

“A lot was going on then,” Morrissett said. And it didn’t let up.

“There’s been so much,” he said.

Among the changes since then include:

Removal of several trees;

Building a significant road network;

A clubhouse was built;

Cottages;

Target greens in the practice area;

A new practice putting green;

Moving the clubhouse;

A new green for No. 3; “That’s a lot of projects,” Morrissett said. “The list goes on and on.”

Morrissett has helped oversee the course’s growth as each passing day meant another day closer to the course’s debut on the world stage with the U.S. Open. Mixed in was a series of tournaments, both collegiate and amateur, that began to put Erin Hills on the minds of golfers.

In 2008, the course hosted the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, won by Tiffany Joh. In 2011, the men’s U.S. Amateur Championship was at Erin Hills, won by Kelly Kraft. In 2015, the Wisconsin State Golf Association’s Men’s Amateur Championship was here, won by Eddie Wajda.

To look back on how far the facility has come in the last 2,000-plus days is almost surreal.

“It’s been a lot of big projects and a lot has been done to get here,” Morrissett said. “When you look back at all of that, you kind of get tired, just looking back and think about everything that’s gone on.

“But at the same time, you’re growing a business. The number of golfers here have grown significantly since 2011 through 2016. Every aspect has been touched on and improved.”