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Len Ziehm On Golf

Could this U.S. Open produce seventh straight first time major champion?

ERIN, Wis. – It would seem that the more established players would have the most success in a tournament as difficult to win as the U.S. Open. That hasn’t been the case lately, however.

The last six U.S. Opens have had champions who won their first major title, and another could be in the offing when the Open tees off for the 117th time at Erin Hills on Thursday. Erin Hills would be appropriate for another first-time champion, since it’s a new venue for any major championship and the first Wisconsin course to host an Open.

At 7,693 yards Erin Hills will be the longest course used for any of golf’s four majors.

Jason Day started the run of six first-time major winners at the 2015 PGA Championship, which was also played in Wisconsin. His triumph came at Whistling Straits, in Kohler. Last year the four majors were won by Danny Willett (Masters), Dustin Johnson (U.S. Open), Henrik Stenson (British Open) and Jimmy Walker (PGA Championship). Sergio Garcia nabbed his first major at this year’s Masters.

“Just luck,’’ said Day during a break from practice at Erin Hills on Tuesday. “It’s been a stretch where guys just popped up and won. They’re all different in ages and are at different times in their careers.’’

“I’m not sure why that happened,’’ said Jordan Spieth, the last player to notch a second major, at the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, in Washington. “They were all world-class champions, and it’s very difficult to win a first major.’

“It was their time. It goes like that,’’ said Rory McIlroy, the world’s No. 2-ranked player with four major titles. “Some guys need a little more experience in the majors to break through, to get that first one. I just hope I end that streak this week.’’

“It’s nice to see some of those first-time major winners that maybe deserved for a while to get their own,’’ said Garcia, “but I’m sure it’s going to finish at some point. My goal is to make it stop this week and hopefully get my second one.’’

On an even far more lengthy streak the U.S. Open hasn’t had an amateur champion since Johnny Goodman won at North Shore in Glenview in 1933. He was the fifth amateur to win the title, following Francis Ouimet, Jerome Travers, Chick Evans and Bobby Jones.

The Open had just 915 entries when Goodman won. This year’s tournament had almost 9,000 (actually 8,979) and 14 amateurs survived the local and sectional qualifying rounds to earn their spots among the 156 finalists.

Here and there

Dustin Johnson, the defending champion and world’s No.1-ranked player, is to be the last player to hold a formal pre-tournament interview today (WEDNESDAY). He became a father for the second time when his fiancé Paulina Gretzky gave birth on Monday. Johnson, who had two practice rounds at Erin Hills last week, was expected to travel back to Wisconsin on Tuesday.

While the men didn’t have a U.S. Open sectional in the Chicago area, the women did. Sixty-two players competed for two spots at Prestwick in Frankfort on Monday. South African Ashleigh Buhai was the medalist at even par 144 for the 36 holes. The other berth in next month’s U.S. Women’s Open at Trump National in New Jersey went to Elin Arvidsson, of Las Vegas.

Two-time Illinois Amateur champion Tee-K Kelly is off to a great start as a touring pro. He won the Puerto Plata Dominican Republic Open on the PGA Latinoamerica Tour on Sunday by seven strokes. The 22-year old Medinah member and Ohio State product opened with a 61 and finished at 21-under-par 263.

At least 25 players who have entered next month’s John Deere Classic in the Quad Cities are in the U.S. Open field here. Defending JDC champion Ryan Moore isn’t among them. He’s nursing an injury but is expected to defend his title at TPC Deere Run.

Wheaton’s PGA player, Kevin Streelman, didn’t compete in U.S. Open sectional qualifying after holing a 35-foot chip to conclude play in the Memorial tourney the day before. He will return to the tour next week in the Travelers Championship in Hartford, Ct. Streelman won that event in 2014 by making birdies on the last seven holes.