From ranking leaders Luke Donald and Lee Westwood of England to the most unheralded qualifiers, golfers get a unique thrill from the mental test and physical challenge of a US Open.
"We all come here excited to see what lies in front of us," said defending champion Graeme McDowell. "The rest of the major championships have upped their game, but there's something special about the US Open."
The 111th edition of what many players call golf's toughest test begins Thursday at Congressional Country Club, with Donald and Westwood seeking their first major titles as slight favorites in a wide open field of contenders.
"It's dangerous to go and expect too much and come to a tournament expecting to win," Donald said. "But I expect to do what I know I can do. The goal is always to have a chance on Sunday and contend. I've been doing that a lot lately and there's no reason why I can't do it this week."
The par-71, 7,574-yard layout offers the dense rough, narrow fairways, high-lipped bunkers and lightning-fast greens that have become US Open trademarks.
But with a variety of pin placements changing the potential dangers on certain holes each day, a premium on patience and decision making comes into play like few other events. Asked to pick a favorite, Westwood replied, "The course."
Four-time major champion Phil Mickelson has finished second a record five times in 20 tries without winning a US Open. The US left-hander, who turns 41 on the same day he starts round one off the 10th tee, likes the challenge.
"It's a matter of picking your spots, deciding if this is where you want to attack it, trying to just make pars on the really hard holes and seeing if you can make a few birdies here and there throughout the round," Mickelson said.
"This course setup tests your entire game. This one tests your short game. This one tests your ability to hit recovery shots as well as your ability to get the ball and keep the ball in play."
McDowell, who won his first major last year at Pebble Beach, said after a practice round last month that no one would shoot par on the second-longest course in US Open history. Dryer conditions have him slightly more hopeful.
“It's not going to be very far away from level par," he said. "I don't see anybody going crazy around here bbut guys will shoot some 3-, 4-, 5-under par rounds if they get it going. The golf course does offer up some chances and length isn’t an issue at all.”