In retrospect, Dustin Johnson's victory at the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont makes perfect sense. Johnson falls right in line with a string of great ball strikers -- most recently Angel Cabrera and Ernie Els, and also including Johnny Miller, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead -- who have won a major championship at that golf course.
But how do we identify a potential winner this week at Erin Hills, a venue that has never hosted so much as a PGA Tour event, let alone a U.S. Open? It turns out history can give us some help here as well, even as most of the field will be seeing the course for the first time in a competitive setting.
In the past 20 years (dating to the 1997 season), six golf courses have made their major championship debuts: Sahalee (1998), Bethpage State Park (2002), Whistling Straits (2004), Torrey Pines (2008), Kiawah Island (2012) and Chambers Bay (2015). Of that group, only Torrey Pines had hosted a regular PGA Tour event recently enough before hosting the major for the field to have prior knowledge of the layout.
In five of those six instances (and in each of the past five), the eventual winner was ranked in the top three in the world at the time. If we take Torrey Pines out of the mix -- understandable, since it hosts a yearly tour event and hosted multiple events in 2008 -- we still have four straight first-time venues leading to victory for four different top-three players (Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth).
If we focus just on the U.S. Open but also include any venue that hadn't hosted a major for at least 20 years -- the idea being that the top contenders wouldn't have played the previous time -- we get a continuation of the same trend.
Starting in 1997 with Els at Congressional, seven golf courses in this time frame have hosted a U.S. Open as their first major in at least 20 years (with Chambers Bay and Bethpage, it was their first PGA Tour event).
Payne Stewart in 1999 was the lowest-ranked winner in the group at No. 13, and the other six were ranked in the top 10.
Finally, five of those seven U.S. Opens went to players who had already won a major in their careers. Jim Furyk (2003) and Justin Rose (2013) were the only players to earn their maiden major championship at such a venue.