‘It’s pretty historic’
Fans from near and far come to U.S. Open at Erin Hills

By Nicholas Dettmann - Conley News Service

June 13, 2017

 American professional golfer and Wisconsin native Steve Stricker signs autographs for fans Monday afternoon during the practice rounds for the 117th U.S. Open Championship at Erin Hills in the Town of Erin.
John Ehlke/Conley News Service

TOWN OF ERIN — At 34, Aaron Jinkerson, a native of Wentzville, Missouri, about 45 minutes west of St. Louis, is finally doing something he’s waited 22 years to do: attend one of professional golf’s four majors.

Jinkerson will cross off this bucket list item by attending the 117th U.S. Open Championship at Erin Hills Golf Course.

“I’ve always wanted to go to a major,” Jinkerson said.

He saw his opportunity to fulfill that wish when he saw an ad during the telecast of the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont in Pennsylvania, promoting the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills.

“The fact that it’s being played on a public course is pretty cool,” Jinkerson said. “Being a golf fan, you don’t see a major (course that) anyone can play. It’s pretty historic.”

To an extent, he’s right.

Public courses have hosted the U.S. Open, but Erin Hills is only the sixth one to do so since the championship was first held in 1895 in Rhode Island.

Yes, it is the U.S. Open, but the championship will bring fans from nearby, such as Duane Kreuziger of Allenton, Gary Schwefel of Lebanon and Jeff Steliga of Menomonee Falls, and afar, including Tyler Esquivel of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and Tanya Tressel of Okanagan Falls, British Columbia, Canada.

“My dad and I are big golf fans. He got me into playing the sport when I was just 4 or 5 years old, so I’ve grown up with the game,” Esquivel said. “Back in 2009, we went to the PGA Championship at Hazeltine in Minnesota and really enjoyed the experience. Ever since then, we’ve wanted to take in all four majors.”

 American professional golfer J.T. Poston watches his shot attempt on the driving range in the midst of a crowd of other golfers Monday morning during the practice rounds for the 117th U.S. Open Championship at Erin Hills.
John Ehlke/Conley News Service

A golf gift for Father’s Day

There is another reason Esquivel is attending this year’s championship.

“The specific reason we’re coming to the U.S. Open is because my mom, sister and I decided to surprise my dad with tickets for his birthday and Father’s Day,” Esquivel said. “Back in March, I bought the tickets and we surprised him on his birthday (March 12) with a card and little video I made. My dad was in a little bit of shock when we told him. He didn’t really know what to think. I think he was a little overwhelmed.”

Tressel said, “I’m really looking forward to everything as this will be my first professional golf tournament. I’m very excited to see the players in person and have a great golf fan experience.”
 

Myriad media

And it’s not just fans from all over the world coming to Erin Hills. More than 230 media outlets from around the globe are credentialed for the championship.

Some of the national media outlets include the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald and the Dallas Morning News.

International media outlets include The Associated Press of Australia, Canal Plus France, Canal Plus Spain, Golf Australia magazine, Golf Today Japan, Jiji Press (Japan), L’Equipe Journal du Golf (France), Norsk Golf (Norway), Scottish Daily Record and Sankei Sports Network (Japan).

“It’s awesome,” Steliga said. “We went to the PGA (Championship) two years ago (at Whistling Straits) and it was awesome.

“But this course is nicer. It’s contoured differently. The fairways are wider.”
 

Close to home

But there was another reason why Steliga is excited for the U.S. Open: its proximity.

“It’s 17 miles from my house,” he said with a smile.

Steliga said attending a championship so close to his house makes the U.S. Open at Erin Hills feel different.

“This seems bigger,” Steliga said. “I can’t explain it.

“The PGA was the first major I ever went to. This is the second. Now I should make it my mission to go to the other two.”

And because it is so close to his house, that’s why he bought a Trophy Club ticket for the entire week, rather than one of two days, a practice round and the final round, like he did for the 2015 PGA Championship.

“That was enjoyable,” Steliga said. “But this is more enjoyable. Having this here is really important for golf in the area.”
 

In-person thrills

Speaking of enjoyable, it was hard to wipe the smile off the face of 7year-old James Sorenson of Appleton.

Sprinting from the practice green near the first tee box, Sorenson hollered for his father, Eric, eager to show him who just signed his hat: Jordan Spieth.

“I want to get as many autographs I can,” James said.

And that’s part of the thrill for the U.S. Open being where it is. For many, it is the first time people will see Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and others in person. That was part of the reason Schwefel bought a practice round ticket for Monday. He spent most of his day sitting in the top row of one of the grandstands overlooking the first tee box.

After all, it wasn’t a big obstacle. He lives 12 miles from the course. On top of that, he used to drive by the course everyday when he used to live in Richfield and on his way to work in Dodge County.

“Me and my wife, we went up and down this road a thousand times,” Schwefel said. “Never dreamed we’d see something like this that close to home.

“This is really something. I had to see it.”

Jinkerson, a sixth-grade science teacher and the varsity golf coach at Warrenton High School in Missouri, is staying in West Bend while in town for the championship.

“I want to see the big names,” he said. “I’m hoping to see Phil (Mickelson) play.”