It’s take three for Golf’s major championships, as Los Angeles — entertainment capital of the world — takes centre stage, hosting the US Open. After Spain’s Jon Rahm added a second major to his collection at Augusta, it was a fifth win in one of Golf’s signature events for Brooks Koepka at the USPGA. However, the man who stole the show at Oak Hill was club professional Michael Block. A journeyman, who supplements his earnings by selling golf lessons at $150 a throw, Block was the story of the tournament, achieving the best finish by a club professional since 1986, and ending the tournament on 1-over par to secure a place in next year’s PGA. The enduring image of the event was Block’s hole-in-one in the final round — with his golf ball slamming straight into the hole — with Rory McIlroy rushing to congratulate the event’s unlikely hero on his ace at the 15th hole.
The United States Golf Association (USGA) run the US Open — which is a moveable feast like the USPGA and the Open Championship — and they certainly don’t take any prisoners when it comes to selecting and setting up the course each year. It has been said that the closing-round 63 recorded by 1973 champion, Johnny Miller — at that time the lowest round in major history — persuaded the USGA to try to ensure that there would be no repeat of that sort of low scoring a year later. It wasn’t even as if Miller had dismantled the Oakmont Country Club course over the four days — his winning score was a modest 5-under par. Nevertheless, they certainly achieved their goal during the following year’s Massacre at Winged Foot. One player to emerge relatively unscathed was 1974 victor, Hale Irwin, but his winning score was 7-over par. On eight occasions over the past 50 years, the winner of the US Open has failed to break par for the tournament, and a further five times the winning score has been level par. On four occasions over that period, the USGA relented, and the winning score was double figures under par. Generally, though, this USGA event is the toughest test in major golf.
Players competing in the US Open will be vying for the US Open Trophy. While it may lack an original name, like many of Golf’s prizes it has a colourful history. When Fred Herd was victorious in 1898, the organisers were concerned. They had heard that Fred was a heavy drinker and were fearful that he might pawn the winner’s pot for drinking money and demanded that he pay a deposit before being allowed to take home the spoils. The first prize for the 2023 renewal is a replica of the original trophy which was destroyed in 1946 in a fire, on the outskirts of Chicago — it always seems to be Chicago, where things vanish, doesn’t it? In homage to his four US Open wins, part of a record total of 18 major titles — the winner also receives the Jack Nicklaus Medal (no deposit required).
The first time Ouimet
The US Open is an event with a long and illustrious history, which is worthy of a few flashbacks, including the 1913 renewal immortalised in the film, The Greatest Game Ever Played. In those early days of tournament Golf, Britannia ruled the waves. However, that year an unknown 20-year-old American amateur by the name of Francis Ouimet won a playoff against the two British stars of the sport: Harry Vardon and Ted Ray. Such was the clout of these British stars that the tournament was postponed until September solely to allow them to take part. If Ouimet seemed like a callow youth in comparison to the two giants from Jersey, in a storyline that could only have happened in those days, Ouimet’s caddie was a 10-year-old child. News of Ouimet’s triumph ignited a passion for the game of Golf in America which has burnt brightly ever since. Sadly, it’s unlikely that two British players will ever head the betting at the start of a major tournament again.
Without the benefit of modern television cameras and with far fewer scoreboards dotted around the course, Sam Snead stood on the tee of the last hole of the 1939 US Open. Unbeknownst to Snead a par would have sufficed to win the tournament. Without all the information that a modern golfer would take for granted, Snead believed he needed to play the 18th aggressively, to secure a birdie. He ran up an eight when a par 5 would have sufficed. Snead would end his career as the winner of the other three majors. However, his error on the final hole was as close as he ever got to US Open glory.
One of only five men to eclipse Snead, and complete a career Grand Slam, Ben Hogan’s career could have been very different. In 1949 he was fortunate to survive a crash which saw his car hit by a bus. He recovered to win the second of his four US National titles just 16 months later. Needing a closing par to reach a playoff, the photo of Hogan’s tee shot on the last hole of regulation remains one of the sport’s most iconic images.
Arnold Palmer featured in a couple of the tournament’s most famous closing rounds. In 1960, he trailed the leader by seven shots entering Round Four but posted his intent by driving the green on the opening hole of the final round. That would set up a birdie for Arnie and was the catalyst for a closing 65 which gave him the title. He was the crowd favourite two years later against a young upstart who was little known at the time. That youngster was Jack Nicklaus. The world of golf would come to hear a lot more about The Golden Bear, whose playoff win at Oakmont would be the first of a record 18 major championship wins.
Elementary, my dear Watson
Facing a tricky chip when in a tie for the lead at Pebble Beach, in 1982, Tom Watson’s caddie encouraged his charge to get it close to the hole, to which the man who would end his career with eight majors replied: “Get it close? Hell, I’m going to sink it.” Watson made the chip look straightforward en route to a two-stroke triumph over regular adversary, Jack Nicklaus.
“I am such an idiot”
Phil Mickelson was being a little hard on himself. However, his decision to take driver on the last hole of the 2006 version of this tournament, saw an errant tee shot which leaked left, bouncing off a hospitality tent and finding the rough. He compounded the error by attempting to reach the green, rather than laying up — an approach that saw his ball hit a tree, advancing a grand total of 25 yards. The resulting double bogey meant Lefty finished a shot behind Australia’s Geoff Ogilvy. Like Snead, the US Open would be the only major to elude another of the game’s great players, as Mickelson would fill the US Open’s runners-up berth on no fewer than six occasions.
All hail Irwin
Hale Irwin had an altogether happier relationship with his national championship. Three times a winner of the US Open, the 45-year-old Irwin celebrated holing a 45-foot putt to make the playoff in the 1990 renewal with an impromptu lap of honour around the green, high-fiving the patrons. The tournament’s policy of holding an 18-hole playoff on a Monday, gave the American time to recover from his exertions, and he needed even more than the additional 18 holes to complete his US Open hat-trick. The Missouri-native trailed Mike Donald by two strokes with just three holes remaining. Despite Irwin closing the gap, Donald still had an opportunity from fifteen feet for the title. He missed, and Irwin won a sudden-death playoff, becoming the event’s oldest winner, before sportingly saying of his opponent: “God bless him. I almost wish he had won.”
Tiger Woods has also won three US Opens. In 2000, his win as part of the Tiger Slam, saw him as the only player in the field to break par. Ernie Els and Miguel Angel Jiménez shared second place on 3-over par. Woods decimated the field with a 15-stroke victory. As impressive as that effort was, Woods’ third win in 2008 was even more remarkable. Playing his first tournament since knee surgery following The Masters and — it was later revealed — playing with two stress fractures of his tibia and a torn ACL, a hobbled Woods defied doctors’ advice and conventional wisdom to not only play but to battle into a playoff before defeating Rocco Mediate.
Fast-forward to 2011, and a post-Masters recovery of a different kind saw Rory McIlroy bounce back from his collapse at Augusta a couple of months earlier, to land his first major and keep the trophy in Northern Ireland. A year after his compatriot, Graeme McDowell had lifted the US Open trophy in 2010, McIlroy won the same prize by an eight-shot margin aided by holing his iron from the middle of the fairway for an eagle on Congressional’s eighth hole during the Second Round.
Whoever is going to write the next chapter in the tournament’s storied history will face a stern examination of their game awaiting them. Taking place less than seven miles from Hollywood, the only grips employed this week will be by the players, the sole cut will be after two rounds, and, for most, the accompanying score will be over par. Anyone who doesn’t bring their a-game is likely to find themselves down and out in Beverley Hills. Michael Connelly once said of Los Angeles that it is: “the kind of place where everybody was from somewhere else……Twelve million people and all of them ready to make a break for it if necessary…. People drawn by the dream…..Figuratively, literally, metaphorically — any way you want to look at it — everybody in L.A. keeps a bag packed. Just in case.” This week Golfers from all over the planet will all have a Golf bag packed, just in case.
The venue the USGA has chosen is the Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course. Once upon time in Hollywood, the course was designed by George C. Thomas Jr. The last Golf course in the City of Angels to host a major was Riviera — which was also designed by Thomas. But after 28 years, LA’s big sleep — in major terms — is over, with one of the sport’s signature events returning to La La Land for the first time since 1995. Back then, Steve Elkington narrowly defeated Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie in a playoff to land the USPGA. The Elk was a Golfer who, ironically, was genuinely allergic to grass, and spent his career using various medications to mitigate the symptoms. During those extra holes, the Elk drained a twenty-five-foot putt, while Monty missed from closer to the hole, and that would be as near as he would get to a major triumph. In this part of the world, the sequel is rarely as good as the original but, with an all-star cast, the 2023 US Open looks set to be a blockbuster.
A Hollywood reboot
In the mid-noughties, decisions were taken to redesign the Los Angeles Country Club course, with Gil Hanse and Geoff Shackelford overseeing substantial alterations to the 2nd, 6th, and 8th holes. Hanse was also involved in the restoration of Southern Hills, which hosted last year’s US PGA Championship, and the host course of the 2022 US Open, Brookline. As Shackelford commented: “This is an old course, and so many restorations you look at and the place looks brand new, and we didn’t want this to look brand new, we wanted this to look old…..I can’t wait to see how it looks on television with everything that comes with a major championship.” The Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course is ready for its close-up.
That said, the Los Angeles Country Club likes to keep things under wraps. It seems to have been the USGA courting the LACC to host Golf’s second-oldest major championship, rather than the other way around. Given the club’s reluctance for much publicity, and the fact that the course hasn’t hosted many recent events, we will only learn much about the LACC when play begins. What is known is that the North Course is a 7,423-yard, par 70 parkland layout. Appropriately for a course that is a short drive from Hollywood, variety is the name of the game at the LACC. The fairways have Bermuda Grass, the greens are Bentgrass, and it is a track with constant undulations. There are some very long holes, but the 15th is one of the shortest in championship Golf. The course itself is a bit like walking around LA — something the locals never do — one minute you’re in the hills, the next in the valley, and then you have Century City in front of you — the 13th green even backs onto the Playboy Mansion. The LACC showcases the many faces of LA.
Traditionally a par 70 course contains four par 3s, 12 par 4s, and two par 5s. But par 4 scoring will be slightly less of a factor on the North Course, with just 10 par 4s, and one additional short hole and one more long hole on the layout. Though water isn’t really in play on this course, one word you’ll hear a lot this week is barranca. It’s a narrow, winding river gorge that meanders around the property, providing an additional obstacle for the players to negotiate. After frost delayed the start of the USPGA, in the north-east of the United States, at least there will be no such issues in the SoCal sunshine.
Like pulling teeth
Thomas liked to start a course design with an accessible par 5, followed by a very difficult par 4, and this year’s US Open venue follows that edict. The third hole, called Molar — so-named due to the green’s resemblance to a tooth — has a severely sloping green with the potential to make putting about as much fun as a trip to the dentist. The 13th hole will be unlucky for some and, with its devilish green it will likely play as the toughest hole on the property. The closing three holes will provide an exacting finish and it will be tough for anyone to create the birdies to climb the leader board over these closing holes.
In common with all the majors — bar The Masters — the US Open is a movable feast, but many of the host courses chosen have a great deal in common and, over the past decade, every one of the US Open winners had come into the event with a previous top-25 finish in the United States’ national championship. Traditional thinking suggests that the identikit US Open winner is an accurate driver, who finds plenty of fairways and greens. However, a look at the recent roll of honour also sees big hitters predominate, with wins for Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau, Gary Woodland, and Brooks Koepka, and a career-best major finish for Matthew Wolff. The Los Angeles Country Club should offer slightly more room off the tee than many previous US Open venues. However, really errant drives will be punished, so players who are proficient in the Total Driving category — which combines Driving Distance and Driving Accuracy — would seem well-placed for a strong showing.
This week, this demanding course will provide numerous moments for the blooper reel. Braden Thornberry, who played in the 2017 Walker Cup at the LACC North Course commented: “…it just really penalises the bigger miss. Like on (hole number) two, it’s a big fairway, but if you do miss, you’re going to be wedging out, so it’s pretty important.” Being the US Open, the USGA will try to ensure the rough is at least four inches in length, and many players will need to attempt a rescue from the fescue.
The day peace broke out
This time last year, at a time when Golf fans should have been talking about the third major of the season, the build-up to the US Open was overshadowed by the inaugural event of the LIV Tour taking place. This year, the lead-up to the season’s third major has been dominated by the news that the PGA Tour, DP World Tour, and the PIF (Public Investment Fund), who have bankrolled the breakaway LIV Tour, are joining forces to create a new Golf venture. Even as we approach a tournament to be played on the outskirts of Hollywood, this is a plot twist that no-one saw coming. Who writes this stuff?
During the year or so since the inception of the LIV Tour, much has been said that can’t be unsaid by both those who stayed and those who left. Many PGA Tour pros who turned down mega bucks to stay loyal to the established tour feel betrayed. As Rory McIlroy, who has found himself in the role of de facto shop steward for the PGA Tour said: “The people that left irreparably harmed this Tour, started litigation against it. We can’t just welcome them back in and pretend like nothing’s happened. That’s not going to happen.”
While the news has upset much of Golf’s fraternity, who will be the winners? PGA Tour Chief Executive, Jay Monahan, said: “This will engender a new era in global golf, for the better.” Anyway, what about the bettors? Which players will most punters be backing to be the leading man, come Sunday?
Drive for show, putt for dough
At the head of the betting is American Scottie Scheffler — priced at 13/2 at the time of writing — and a look at the 2023 form figures of the 2022 Masters champion illustrates why. Scheffler hasn’t finished worse than in a tie for 12th in any Stroke Play event this year with finishes of T7/T11/1/T12/T4/1/T10/T11/T5/T2/T3/3. 15 of his last 24 rounds have been in the 60s. If he’d putted well, Scheffler would have won the Memorial Tournament from here to the Hollywood Sign, but he lost 8.58 strokes that week, according to the Strokes Gained: Putting metric — ranking stone last in the field with the flat stick. Strokes Gained: Approach the Green is often considered to be the most significant of Golfing statistics, and Scheffler leads the PGA Tour in this crucial category this season, as well as Strokes Gained: Total. Scheffler’s tied-2nd effort in last year’s US Open means his event form isn’t too shabby either, and he has more course experience than most. He was part of the victorious US Walker Cup team who trounced Britain and Ireland 19-7 in 2017. However, before you run off with the idea that Scheffler represents the biggest certainty since Ben Hur, take a look at the rest of this week’s ensemble cast.
The Golden State has already been kind to Jon Rahm. He won the 2021 US Open just down the I-5 highway, at Torrey Pines, and lifted the trophies in the PGA Tour’s stops in Palm Springs and Riviera. The Spaniard added a second major title to his collection at Augusta in April. An opening 76 at the USPGA scuppered any chance of adding the missing American leg of a career Grand Slam but he at least produced a positive 68-72-71 finish to that event. Rahm’s love of Muirfield Village — host course for the recent Memorial Tournament — is well documented, and an opening pair of 70s left him in prime position to challenge for this year’s renewal. So, it was somewhat of a surprise when he carded a pair of 74s, leaving him in tied-16th place. Nevertheless, with season stats that show the 28-year-old second in Strokes Gained: Total, third in both Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and Strokes Gained: Approach the Green, and seventeenth in Strokes Gained: Putting, the success he’s enjoyed comes as no surprise.
Rahm’s chief rival for much of The Masters was Brooks Koepka. Koepka fell away dramatically in the final round at Augusta and throughout the US PGA Championship he cryptically alluded to knowing what he had done wrong at The Masters, without fully expanding on what he meant. If it was that he played too defensively at the season’s first major, well, he put that right with a dominating performance in securing his fifth major title at the USPGA. Koepka would give Scheffler a run for his money in the current form stakes. He too hasn’t finished worse than tied-12th of late, in a run extending back to 31st March, and this included a win on the soon-to-be-extinct LIV Tour’s stop in Orlando.
Golf’s statistical guru, Justin Ray recently put what Koepka has already achieved in his career into stark context. In winning the USPGA, the 33-year-old became only the seventh man to claim five majors before the age of 34. The list of the others resembles a Mount Rushmore of the game: Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros, and Tiger Woods. Koepka’s past 33 starts in majors have seen the Florida-native record 18 top-10 finishes, including top-five efforts in the four majors that took place in 2019. On the rare occasions when he hasn’t flourished, it has often been the result of an injury, and he probably suffered last year as a result of a lack of competitive outings owing to the LIV Tour’s truncated schedule. Prior to finishing 55th at Brookline, he had only been beaten by four players in the previous four US Opens.
From Holywood to Hollywood
Twelve months ago, Rory McIlroy teed off in the US Open as the pre-tournament favourite. Born in Holywood, County Down, McIlroy heads to the west coast a bit further down the betting order this year. The Ulsterman has had his struggles in recent months, missing the cut at the season’s unofficial “fifth major” — the Players Championship, in March — failing to make the cut at Augusta, and producing a slightly disappointing tied-47th effort at the Wells Fargo, on the Quail Hollow course he loves. Putting has generally been his Achilles heel in recent years, though there have been some positive signs of late. His first two rounds at Memorial saw him record positive Strokes Gained: Putting in rounds one and two for the first time since last October. He also produced a solid tied-ninth effort in the RBC Canadian Open.
The winner of this tournament in 2011, McIlroy has followed three missed cuts in the US Open with a sequence of four top-10-finishes but his nine-year wait for a fifth major win goes on.
To the Viktor, the spoils?
Viktor Hovland seems to be getting the hang of this major lark. The Norwegian was 20 over par in his first nine major tournaments, after turning professional. Following a strong showing in the USPGA, he is now 27 under par for the past three of Golf’s signature events. Although the United States Open hasn’t been his happiest hunting ground, there have been extenuating circumstances. Hovland wasn’t striking the ball very well prior to this event last year, but you couldn’t say that about him now. In 2021 he suffered an eye injury during this tournament, which forced him to withdraw.
Hovland went out in the penultimate group in the Masters and contended for much of the USPGA before his hopes were extinguished when he drove his ball into the bunker on the 16th hole of the final round, and his attempt to blast it out of there only left his Titleist firmly embedded in the hazard. Undeterred, he finished in a tie for 16th place at the Charles Schwab Tournament and landed the Memorial Tournament at “Jack’s place”, Muirfield Village. Only three players can claim a win on the PGA Tour in each of the past four seasons. Two of them are Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy. The other is Viktor Hovland. Long touted as one of the best players yet to win a major, can the Norwegian add the Jack Nicklaus Medal to the trophy he won in Jack’s tournament?
Cantlay — a man not to be opposed on the Exchanges?
Patrick Cantlay better hope that the “new world” of the nascent Golf entity doesn’t include a shot clock, or he is likely to be racking up some penalty strokes. The critics have regularly panned him for his slow play — Patrick Can-delay would be more appropriate — but you can’t crab his ability to get over the line — in his own sweet time. Since turning professional in 2012, the man from Long Beach has secured eight PGA Tour titles, and he won the FedEx Cup during his Annus Mirabilis, in 2021.
Prior to a disastrous 78 in Round Four at Memorial, Cantlay had been in fine form. In spite of that poor closing round, he still finished tied-30th at Muirfield Village and had recorded three top-10 efforts in his four Stroke Play events prior to that. Cantlay has played in his national championship on seven occasions, making the cut every time, including as an amateur in 2011. Having mentioned the potential importance of the statistical category of Total Driving earlier, Cantlay sits atop the PGA Tour stats in that metric this season.
Cantlay’s regular partner in the Zurich Classic pairs event, Xander Schauffele, brings a metronomic consistency to his major performances. The most mis-pronounced of golfers — it’s pronounced “zan-der shaw-flea” — the native of San Diego, racked up nine top-10 finishes in majors between 2017 and 2021. By his metronomic standards, a missed cut at Augusta last year was an outlier, but there has been a return to the usual consistency in his tied-13th, tied 14th, tied-15th, tied-10th, and tied-18th efforts in Golf’s signature events, since then. Across the 24 majors he has played in his career, Schauffele has produced an impressive 17 top-20 finishes.
In truth, a second-round 74 scuppered his chances of a Green Jacket but Schauffele’s current form follows a similar pattern to his record in majors. He has completed 14 Stroke Play events on the PGA Tour’s 2022/23 schedule and is yet to win, with one runners-up effort and eight top-10 finishes. Form figures of 4/T4/2/T18/T24 suggest his game is in excellent shape.
No-one was more pleased than Collin Morikawa when Los Angeles Country Club was announced by the USGA as the venue for this year’s US Open. Born in Los Angeles, Morikawa went to the University of California-Berkeley, and won his maiden major title in the state. Like Scheffler, Morikawa also played the LACC North Course as part of the US Walker Cup winning team nearly six years ago.
After a missed cut in the Zurich Classic pairs event and on his own in the Wells Fargo, Morikawa was undone by one poor round in both the USPGA and the Charles Schwab Challenge, having to settle for top-30 finishes in both. Though each US Open track differs from the one before, the 26-year-old has finished tied-fourth and tied-fifth in his last two outings in this tournament. One concern is that Morikawa withdrew from the recent Memorial Tournament, citing back spasms, less than two weeks before the start of the season’s third major.
You only LIV twice
So those who spurned the PGA Tour, in favour of the breakaway LIV Tour, may yet get a second chance by joining the newly formed Golfing entity. Aside from Koepka, the next two (current) LIV golfers in the US Open betting are Dustin Johnson and Cameron Smith. Two major wins seems a meagre return for someone of DJ’s prodigious talent, but it has often been a case of what might have been. One of just eight players to have finished second in all four majors during his career, the laidback American has had a tumultuous relationship with the US Open. The tournament winner in 2016, he also shot a last round 82 when he seemed to have the 2010 US Open in the bag. His other major near misses include the 2010 US PGA Championship, where he stood on the 18th tee in Round Four with a one-shot lead. A bogey on 18 had looked to have consigned him to a playoff. However, he was adjudged to have grounded his club in a bunker and the resulting two-stroke penalty dropped him to a tie for fifth. However, he did manage to get over the line in the 2020 Masters to double his major tally. The winner on the LIV Tour’s stop in Tulsa, Johnson’s two major appearances this year have seen him make the cut without threatening to contend.
One major win behind Johnson is Australia’s Cameron Smith. The champion at St Andrews in last year’s Open Championship, when he putted the lights out, Smith has overcome various injury problems in posting some very solid recent efforts. Four consecutive top-10 finishes among the reduced LIV fields, were bolstered by a closing 65 which saw the Queenslander finish tied-9th in the USPGA. A player with at least one top-10 finish in each of the majors, the US Open has been his least successful event, and you have to go back to 2020 for the last time he made the cut.
The depth in men’s Golf means that there are dozens of other players who will realistically be hoping to see their name up in lights come Sunday. Max Homa — born in nearby Burbank — won in California when landing the Farmers Insurance Open in January and showed his well-being with a tied-ninth effort on his last outing. His major record is poor — he is yet to crack the top 10 in 15 attempts — but this has to be set against the fact that he is a much-improved performer over the past year, or so.
Good lies, unplayable lies, and golf statistics
Stats-wise, Tony Finau ticks a lot of boxes this week. Fifth on the PGA Tour this season in Strokes Gained: Approach the Green, seventh in Strokes Gained: Total, and tied-18th in the Total Driving category confirm he is a player in good heart. A winner in the Mexico Open in April, Finau played well enough in the PGA Championship until shooting a final round 77, but he missed the cut on the number in the Charles Schwab Challenge last time out. The model of consistency in majors a few years ago, Big Tone hasn’t managed to crack the top 25 in his past six major starts.
Si Woo Kim is another player who ranks in the top 25 this season in each of those statistical categories. The South Korean bounced back from a missed cut in the USPGA by finishing tied-29th in the Charles Schwab Challenge, and then posting an excellent fourth place in the Memorial. However, he has yet to finish in the top-10 in any of his 25 major appearances, and he has missed the cut in four of the past five US Opens.
Jordan Spieth’s supporters will be hoping that his recent injury problems are behind him, while his friend since childhood, Justin Thomas is looking to recapture the form that saw him make nine consecutive cuts at the start of the 2022/23 season. A pair of 75s led to a missed cut when he was last seen, at the Memorial Tournament.
Shane Lowry, the Open Champion in 2019, missed the cut at Brookline 12 months ago, but the Irishman has posted eight top-25 efforts in the past 10 majors. This exceptional iron player followed up his tied-12th finish in the PGA Championship, with a creditable tied-16th effort at Memorial, before making the cut in Canada last week. Another fine iron player, and another major champion, Hideki Matsuyama, also managed a tie for 16th at Muirfield Village. After back-to-back missed cuts in the spring, the Japanese star has rattled off six consecutive top-30 efforts. His US Open form figures are an eye-catching T21/T17/T26/4. Australia’s 2015 US PGA Championship victor, Jason Day won the recent Byron Nelson tournament, but suffered three missed cuts either side of that win, while Cameron Young already has a top-10 finish in each of the other three majors at the tender age of 26 but has missed the cut in his past three US Opens and two of his last three events this season.
Hollywood’s British Invasion
The Brits have had much success at Tinseltown’s Academy Awards, scooping copious Oscars down the years. Unlike the USPGA where British players have experienced a drought that has lasted nearly a century, golfers from these shores have fared much better in the US Open. Last year, Matt Fitzpatrick displayed the steel you’d expect from a lad from Sheffield, in winning the title, and nine years earlier Justin Rose became champion. Tony Jacklin lifted the trophy, back in 1970, and Nick Faldo reached an 18-hole playoff in 1988. Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie finished second, or joint-second on three occasions, and England’s Tommy Fleetwood also filled the runners-up berth in 2018. Fitzpatrick leads the British challenge once again, hoping to join the likes of Brooks Koepka and Curtis Strange among the ranks of back-to-back US Open winners.
Fitzpatrick captured the RBC Heritage, after a playoff, in April, and rebounded from a missed cut in the USPGA, with a top-10 effort in the Memorial and a solid showing in the Canadian Open. Consistent this season across most aspects of the game, the Yorkshireman ranks only 107th in Strokes Gained: Approach the Green this season — an area that will require improvement if he wants to retain his title.
Only Scheffler and Rahm are ahead of Tyrrell Hatton in the Strokes Gained: Total category this season, and the man from High Wycombe has produced six top-20 finishes, since he finished in a tie for 34th place at The Masters. After a raft of major missed cuts between 2017 and 2020, Hatton has played the weekend in each of his past six majors but hasn’t had a top-10 placing in one of Golf’s signature events since the 2019 Open Championship.
2013 US Open champion, Justin Rose proved he’s no back number, when finishing tied-ninth at the USPGA Championship and remains in consistent form with seven cuts made and six top-25 finishes since missing the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, including making a bold showing in the RBC Canadian Open. Tommy Fleetwood — now working with Butch Harmon — was the runner-up after a protracted playoff in Canada, and has made nine of his last 10 cuts, with the only exception coming when he missed the cut on the number in the Charles Schwab Challenge. Fourth in the 2017 US Open, and runner-up a year later, Fleetwood’s US Open form has tailed off in recent renewals, with two missed cuts since then and a tie for 50th place his best recent effort.
With Tiger Woods missing the event while he recuperates from ankle surgery, another player on the injury list is Will Zalatoris. The runner-up in both last year’s USPGA Championship and US Open, Zalatoris is expected to miss the rest of the season following back surgery.
Enough about who won’t be there, the US Open is an event that has always championed inclusivity, and this year’s renewal saw a record entry of 10,187 players set out with the dream of landing the trophy. For those outside the world’s Golfing elite, qualification requires you to be a scratch golfer and — channelling the spirit of Francis Ouimet — play three excellent qualification rounds. In a city where many arrive in hope, only to see their dreams dashed, now only 156 players will get the chance to tee it up in the 2023 US Open. As Michael Block reminded us with his scene-stealing performance at the USPGA Championship, it’s possible to find yourself in the spotlight, even if your career had seemed destined to be that of an understudy. To quote La La Land: “Here’s to the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem.”