Sobel: Who Do I Like in the U.S. Open? I’ll Tell You … Next Week

Sobel: Who Do I Like in the U.S. Open? I’ll Tell You … Next Week article feature image

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The Highlights

  • There are too many variables in play to pick a U.S. Open winner this early — weather, rough length and player pairings.
  • Use all the information available and wait as long as possible before picking.

With the PGA’s second major championship quickly approaching, I’ve been getting this question rather frequently over the past few weeks.

“Who do you like for the U.S. Open?” My response is the same every time.


I’m kidding, guys. No, I don’t really say that. Well, at least I don’t say that to the people I actually want to help out.  The truth is, I always answer this query with a few of my own.

What’s the weather going to be like that week? How long will the rough be? Which players are grouped together? Will a specific tee-time wave own a distinct advantage?

You get the point.


There are plenty of variables in play when trying to pick a winner. Unless you absolutely had to make a decision a few days before a certain tournament — or you had reason to believe a player’s odds were about get a lot shorter — why lock yourself into someone who might not have these variables on his side?

Think about it: Would you place a Super Bowl wager without knowing whether the game would be played on fast turf or soggy grass? Would you bet Game 7 of the World Series without knowing whether the home team is going with its ace or its No. 4 starter?

If the answer to each of those questions isn’t “no,” you’re doing it wrong.

For some reason, though, potential golf prognosticators seem to think we should blindly make selections without having all the pertinent information.

It’s hardly just the U.S. Open, either.

I’ve gotten questions about picking the next Ryder Cup five minutes after the previous one ends, when we don’t even know the makeup of either roster, let alone who’s trending in the right direction. I’ll get questions about the Masters six months beforehand when we don’t even know how the West Coast and Florida swings played out.

Granted, you can always make some educated guesses in regard to these events, but even educated guesses are still guesses.

I play in a few one-and-done pools where we have to pick one golfer for each tournament at the beginning of the year. Well, trust me, a guy who looks like a lock to contend at, say, the WGC-Bridgestone in January can look like a silly pick seven months later. In fact, there are plenty of picks that can look silly the further in advance you make them.


This entire discussion reminds me of the analytical evidence in golf that deflates all those old drive-for-show, putt-for-dough theories.

Edoardo Molinari was an early adapter of Mark Broadie’s analysis that long game trumps short game. Five years ago, I had dinner with Molinari in an Orlando restaurant, where he presented me with the perfect example to substantiate these numbers.

“You and I are having a match,” the man with nine career professional victories at the time said to me, a higher single-digit handicapper. “Would you rather have a match on the putting green, chipping or who hits it longer and straighter? You’d take the putting green every time. At least you’d have a chance. You’d have no chance in the other areas. When you think about it, it makes sense.”

He’s right, of course. I’d never outdrive a professional golfer off the tee. I’d rarely hit a chip closer than one. But putting, well, at least I’d have a chance, as Molinari said.

Now let’s apply this theory to the topic at hand. You can pick one player to win the U.S. Open. Would you rather make your selection six months ahead of time, three weeks beforehand or next Wednesday evening, about 12 hours before the opening round is scheduled to begin?

Sure, you might get lucky in December and nail the pick. You might spot a trend three weeks in advance that pays off.

Really, though, if you want to play the percentages, if you want all possible information that could impact the field at your disposal, you’d obviously wait until the night before.

Part of the fun of being a golf fan — if not a conscientious gambler — is looking ahead to these big tournaments and starting a discussion about whom might win.

I just hope, for your own sakes, that all of you asking for U.S. Open picks ahead of the tournament haven’t been putting your money where your mouths are.

Remember: It’s not about making the first pick, it’s about making the right pick.

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