U.S. Open: Erin Hills caddie reveals secrets for course

Jun 16, 2017; Erin, WI, USA; Brooks Koepka lines up his putt on the 18th green during the second round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Erin Hills. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 16, 2017; Erin, WI, USA; Brooks Koepka lines up his putt on the 18th green during the second round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Erin Hills. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports /

The 117th U.S. Open has put Erin Hills to the test and today Erin Hills will deliver its final test of the field. Here’s what to expect and what to watch for as Championship Sunday unfolds.

The 117th U.S. Open has generated a huge body of commentary about Erin Hills: the length – it is too long? – the fescue – is it too high? Now we have the inside track on Erin Hills’ playability and variability from a man who’s logged enough time on the track to qualify as an expert.

During the winter months, Jon Brackett is a U.S. and World History and advanced placement Government teacher at St. Francis High School in St. Francis, Wisconsin. He has a lot of enthusiasm when he talks, and my guess is his students are lucky to have him in front of the classroom.  I happened to sit across the aisle from him on a shuttle bus from the media hotel to Erin Hills on Friday. It’s a 45-minute ride, and so, typically people read newspapers or check their phones for scores or talk golf. We talked golf.

Turns out, in the summer, Brackett is a caddie at Erin Hills and has been since the course opened in 2007.

When I caught up with him on the phone on Saturday, he said in all his years at Erin Hills, he had never seen a shot as great as the one Justin Thomas hit to the 18th green on Saturday, although the one Katie Kemptner hit in the 2008 U.S. Women’s Public Links was almost as good.

“She was in front of bunker on left side, not far from where Justin hit, 250-260 yard shot, blind, and nailed it,” Brackett explained. He was caddying for her competitor, Tzu Chi Lin, in a match that lasted 20 holes.

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He’s been very impressed with the current crop of PGA Tour players.

“The length the guys, just how far they’re hitting the ball, how far they hit down the fairway,” he began with appreciation in his voice, “I’ve yet to have a player reach it (the 18th) in two.”

Brackett had a few more things to say about how the world’s best are handling Erin Hills.

For instance, green reading.

"They are overreading the greens. When the greens get soft, they don’t break as hard."

In other words, the putts are straighter than they appear.

He said, for instance, Rickie Fowler’s shot, where he took out wedge on the 8th green to get over the fringe in what looked like the only way to get close to the hole, that was an overread.

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"If he kept to the right of hole, he did not need to hit wedge.  Just take out the ridge and keep it to the right side."

Brackett’s seen that putt before. He knows the outcome.

As far as what to expect on Sunday, Brackett said some of the greens that typically are highest up ordinarily get faster when the wind picks up.  However, some are being protected by grandstands, like the 18th.  Those that are tend to dry out sooner and get faster, like the 7th, 8th and 10th.

"They may be a different speed. The 17th is the most subtle green in regard to reading.  It is easy to over or under read."

However, he said they are definitely pure putting surfaces, and he really knows his stuff around this U.S. Open track.

“For a while I was the caddie who had walked it the most,” he said.  Becoming part-time has certainly decreased his round count, but he estimates he has done 1000 rounds on the course.

As far as Sunday, he pointed out the lack of major experience on the leaderboard.  They will be nervous, as we all know. So, if he were on the bag, what would he tell them coming down the stretch?

"I tell my players we’ve worked so hard to get to this point, this isn’t the point to go into shell. Be smart about what you’re doing. Enjoy it.  Have fun.  Show off. It’s what you waited your whole life for."

He does think the 18th could factor in the outcome. Someone else could hit the green in two, as Thomas did Saturday.

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"Or someone could Van de Velde on that hole off the fairway, hacking it in. Put up an 8 or 9."

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According to Brackett, they could make the18th hole even harder by using a tee that is even farther back, almost 680 yards.

“I think tomorrow, really think, even or 1 or 2-under will be a good score,” he added citing the weather forecast. “When it starts going one to two clubs with wind, it’s not pretty.”

As far as the U.S. Open he thinks it’s a “great representation for Erin and golf in Wisconsin.”

He also hopes the course owners put a plaque a the 18th in the location where Justin Thomas hit his record-setting second shot for 9-under par, the lowest in relation to par in the entire history of the tournament.

Brackett has played the course 60 or 70 times at least.  He was a single digit player for quite a while.

“Now my handicap is three kids,” he joked. They are 16, 12 and nine, all boys, and they all play baseball.

Next: U.S. Open: Moving Day Madness

As you can imagine, when the Bracketts aren’t working, they are probably car-pooling the boys to games, like a lot of families all over the country.  Hopefully they will find some time on Father’s Day to watch the U.S. Open.