Prediction Sure to Go Wrong
September 16, 2020

U.S. Open 2020: Picking a winner at Winged Foot means finding the Geoff Ogilvy of 2020. And we've done it

Clubhouse

Russell Kirk

Despite my best intentions and real number crunching, I will select a name to win this week’s U.S. Open that on the surface offers the excitement of an actuary driving a minivan in a cul-de-sac, the intellectual gravitas of seersucker, the logical consistency of a cartoon coyote getting beaned by his own anvil.

In other words, I’ll be wrong again—every major without fail since 2013—for reasons that make no sense to anyone but me.

Come to think of it, the U.S. Open setup at Winged Foot is very much like an anvil. Hard, impenetrable, unyielding, humorless. It is like a conversation with your prom date’s father when your prom date is late. And having second thoughts. Or, as it turns out, not at home.

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Seems fair to say that there will be lost balls this week—in the rough. To a tour pro, that’s the emotional equivalent of wetting your pants in the fourth grade. You really don’t recover from that. You might think you do, but the PTSD from those sorts of moments lingers like a kind of spiritual dysentery. Which, by the way, was not the name of the band at my prom. That was Emotional Hematoma.

But I digress.

To pick a proper U.S. Open winner at Winged Foot, you have to look at history. It’s really not a stretch to suggest the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in 2020 is pretty much going to be the U.S. Open in 1974 or the U.S. Open in 1984 or, quite probably, the U.S. Open in 2006. The winners are a type. Grinders, yes, but with resumes. There’s a resolve that is heroic, yet usually they are not the heroes that fit the super suit. They’re fatter or skinnier or less poetically skilled and with a greatness that is never fully appreciated no matter how much they’ve won before or since.

Billy Casper wins the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Arnold Palmer does not. Hale Irwin wins the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Jack Nicklaus does not. Fuzzy Zoeller wins the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Greg Norman does not. And, of course, Geoff Ogilvy wins the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Phil Mickelson does not.

(And before we get all misty about Lefty’s great miss at Winged Foot in 2006, remember this: Ogilvy made miraculous par saves at 16, 17 and 18. David Blaine balloon-stunt miraculous. So difficult and exacting he should have been wearing a jeweler’s loupe. So incredibly smooth Don Cornelius should have been in the 18th tower.)

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Bloomberg

You don’t accidentally win the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in the way you don’t accidentally solve the Conway knot problem. Or hike El Caminito del Rey. Or carry two kids and a car seat back into the house after a full day at Carowinds. You’re strong in all the ways that don’t end up as a New York Post headline. (By the way, my personal favorite, after a U.S. loss in the World Cup: “This sport is stupid anyway.”)

Moving on. It was the white-hot stable serenity of Ogilvy that won in 2006, so I figured it will be the Ogilvy of 2020 this time. Take the Geoff Ogilvy stats from 2006 heading into the U.S. Open in several key elements, match them up to who fits that profile today, and there’s your winner:

• Two rounds in the 60s and a top 20 in his most recent tournament coming in.
• Better than average in fairways hit (to avoid a lost ball or sprained wrist in the rough).
• A past top-30 finish in the U.S. Open because pretenders and first-timers don’t win U.S. Opens at Winged Foot.
• A win in the last 12 months to show you’re capable.
• And a scoring average, let’s say, .75 shots better than the tour standard. Why? Because that puts you probably in the top 20 percent. In short, you’re a player who matters, whether or not anybody notices.

Finally, since Ogilvy is listed at 6-foot-2, you need to be at least 6-foot-2. My reasoning: Nine of the top 10 in 2006 were at least 6-foot-1. Makes sense, right? Or at least the kind of sense that not allowing shorts at your club makes. Which was the rule at Winged Foot not all that long ago.

There are only two players who meet those criteria in this year’s field. They happen to be the two players who finished the recently completed PGA Tour season 1-2 in scoring average. Yes, one of them is Jon Rahm. A bull of a young man, perched on the very precipice of greatness. A heroic form given to heroic moments that should have their own national anthem or at least a rock opera.

But he is not the one I pick. Because I’m obviously an idiot. But Jon Rahm is basically Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson.

And Webb Simpson is Geoff Ogilvy.

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Kevin C. Cox

Simpson, a guy who seems just as likely to be a tour rules official or USGA president as a U.S. Open champion, has all the skills to go along with the quiet heroics of being a dad who left the tour in a middle of a hot streak to check on his daughter’s tonsils. Helps that he’s won a U.S. Open before (by surviving, not dominating, Olympic Club in 2012 when all around him were crashing), but he led the tour in scoring average this year, hits it 10 yards farther than he did 10 years ago, found out how to putt after anchoring was banned and won twice since February.

The clincher is whose short game is most like Ogilvy’s. Rahm’s is better ever so slightly, but that’s not what this is about. We’re looking for the guy most like Ogilvy, and Simpson’s strokes gained/around the green average is closer to what Ogilvy’s was than Rahm’s is. That’s my logic, which now that I’ve said it makes no sense to me, either. That’s why I’m 0-for-forever in picking major champions.

It’s a technicality, but sure as you can’t wear white after Labor Day (as James Frederick Webb Simpson has known since he put on his first bow tie), that’s the difference between being Geoff Ogilvy and being Phil Mickelson. And Webb Simpson is definitely not Phil Mickelson.

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