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Picking the U.S. Open champ: Justin Rose is a good bet at Chambers Bay

Justin Rose enters the U.S. Open with a victory and two second-place finishes over the last two months. (AP)

At our office, and maybe at yours, too, someone is running a U.S. Open pool. You throw in $20, draft a bunch of golfers, watch the tournament and hope for the best. So you could say what I’m about to write is designed to help you win your pool. Or you could say what I’m about to write is the result of an editor asking: “Hey Jim, can you write a story with your prediction on who will win the U.S. Open?”

That was the case with editor Brady Henderson, who is constantly harassing me, expecting more than I’m willing to give in this cruise-control part of my life. Does he not know that I’m trying to get my kids off to school this morning? Does he not know that I’m trying to get to Chambers Bay after that? Does he not know that I’m trying to prepare for a show that he apparently never listens to?

Chambers Bay ready for eyes of world to see unique layout

A quick story that has nothing to do with golf but everything to do with Henderson, who at 28 is 30 years younger than me. Imagine having a boss who’s 30 years younger than you or an employee who’s 30 years older than you. It’s not fun for either one of us. He is still a dedicated journalist with high expectations for himself and others. I used to be that way, but I’m pretty much none of the above now.

During the football season, Henderson wanted me to go to every home Seahawks game and write stories to contribute to our coverage of the most popular team in town. I preferred to stay at home, watch the Seahawks with my wife and kids and avoid the traffic and crowds. Henderson got mad at me for not showing up at the games so I came up with a plan to make him happier. After every game I missed, I’d arrive at work with a bottle of Wild Turkey, his favorite booze.

Henderson is also always bugging me to play golf with him, and I always decline the invitation for two reasons:

1) I’m pretty sure he’s a hell of a lot better than I am, and I’m pretty sure I’m a hell of a lot worse than he thinks I am. I don’t need some young punk editor beating my brains out on the golf course and further battering my already fading self-esteem.

2) Mike Salk is frequently in Henderson’s foursome, and the thought of four or five hours with that group is something I want to avoid at all costs.

Now Henderson and I have a new deal that involves the U.S. Open. He is such a focused young man that he needs complete silence to function at his best. A few months ago, he moved out of our noisy sports pit and into the quieter KIRO-FM newsroom, and as far as I can tell, the stories he’s writing aren’t any better than they were before. Same old Henderson drivel, if you ask me.

I got a kick out of Henderson storming off to a new desk because, as I recall – though it was a long time ago – I would write stories on deadline in arenas with guys using blowers all around me, cleaning up after NBA games.

Here’s our new deal: If I correctly pick the winner of the U.S. Open, Henderson will be forced to return to the noisy sports pit, where it will get even noisier because of my smack-talking after Justin Rose holds up the trophy Sunday night at Chambers Bay.

To be honest, I’ve never been a huge Justin Rose fan. I like following guys who are colorful, and Rose is Vanilla with a capital V. He looks likable enough but rarely gets emotional.

I’m picking him for several reasons:

  • He’s ranked fifth in the world, and when you’re No. 5 in the world, you have a good chance to win every race you’re in.
  • He’s 34 years old, in the prime of his career, a career that features a U.S. Open title at Merion two years ago, one of three top-10 finishes in the U.S. Open.
  • He arrives in good form, finishing second at Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament two weeks ago. He is also a good bet at major championships, finishing in a tie for second at the Masters in April.
  • He’s in good shape, and let me tell you something right now: Chambers Bay is a tough walking course. Fatigue will be a factor. The champion will not be overweight or in his 40’s.
  • He likes the course, or actually loves the course, telling reporters: “It’s not your traditional U.S. Open course. People are going to love it or hate it, and I am going to love it.” That’s more than half the battle at Chambers Bay. If you don’t like it, you won’t play well.
  • He has spent a lot of time checking out Chambers Bay’s nuances and even walked part of the course Monday with Robert Trent Jones Jr., the man who designed it.

You should have seen the look on Henderson’s face when I told him who I was picking to win the U.S. Open. He thinks Rose has a good shot, too.

I’m already picturing Henderson with all of his stuff, sheepishly returning to the sports pit while I’m verbally blasting him every step of the way. I also plan to hang a framed picture of Justin Rose on the wall in front of his desk just to always remind him of what happened in the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.