BROOKLINE, MASSACHUSETTS | Mercifully, the moment has arrived when politics and posturing can be set aside. Pencils are in hand. And the U.S. Open is about the golf.
If things go well, by sundown Thursday the complaining will not be about insurgent golf leagues but about the wicked rough at The Country Club and pin positions set by Lucifer himself.
If it’s possible for a U.S. Open to be an afterthought even as it is unfolding, that has been the case to this point.
“We’re praying that changes (today),” USGA CEO Mike Whan said Wednesday.
He’s not alone.
To this point, it has been about turmoil outside the competition. LIV Golf isn’t just taking players; it’s threatening to steal the U.S. Open’s notorious thunder.
No tournament – sorry, no championship – induces more angst than the U.S. Open traditionally does. If some players aren’t complaining about the setup this week, it will be like Halloween without the candy.
It’s what the U.S. Open should be: tough as a Saharan summer and as charming as a traffic jam.
The Country Club, where bloodlines run deep through the exclusive membership, has waited 34 years since its last U.S. Open, which ended with Curtis Strange and Nick Faldo at their grinding best in a playoff won by Strange.
The game has changed over those three-plus decades, but the grinding demands of the U.S. Open – Erin Hills aside – have not.
“You always know the U.S. Open is a grind. That’s why I love it. That’s why a lot of guys love it,” said Justin Thomas, who won the PGA Championship last month.
It’s like loving a porcupine.
The roads into The Country Club southwest of downtown Boston are narrow, winding and leafy, speckled with the kinds of houses that tend to show up in Architectural Digest. The setting is almost quaint, but there is nothing cozy about this U.S. Open, not with knee-high fescue framing fairways and ancient rock formations dictating where to go and where not to go unless your golf shoes are outfitted with pitons on the bottom.
“It’s a beautiful design. I always love coming to places and courses that were designed so long ago because even though they add tee boxes, the uniqueness of the architecture from back then still stands.” – Jon Rahm
There is, however, a charm to the place that starts with the primrose yellow clubhouse and the small-college campus feel of the property, giving this whole thing a beauty-and-the-beast feel.
“I love to hear the stories and the nuances about the golf course like this, especially the clubhouse,” defending champion Jon Rahm said. “Clubhouse like this, right? I’ve never gone to a golf course where there’s a town before you see the course. It’s very unique.
“It’s a beautiful design. I always love coming to places and courses that were designed so long ago because even though they add tee boxes, the uniqueness of the architecture from back then still stands.”
A decade ago, the USGA thought The Country Club was set on too small of a footprint to host what Arnold Palmer called the National Open. But after making a similar setup work at Merion in 2013, the USGA made the wise choice to return to one of its five founding clubs to play a course that is like eye candy with its rocky ridges and waving fescue.
“It’s an old-school U.S. Open,” said John Bodenhamer, chief championships officer for the USGA.
There is an element of competitive ambiguity as this U.S. Open begins. For years, every major started with all eyes on Tiger Woods. He’s not here this year, resting up for the Open Championship next month, and there’s no overwhelming sense of who seems most likely to win here.
Rory McIlroy is the emotional favorite and riding the good vibes of his victory in the RBC Canadian Open on Sunday. He hasn’t won a major championship since 2014 – he’s constantly reminded of that – but he has finished top 10 in his last three U.S. Open starts.
Is this McIlroy’s week?
Every week can be his week.
Rahm won at Torrey Pines last June, and both his game and his mindset are big enough to handle and embrace what the U.S. Open throws at players.
Thomas checks every box. So does world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler at the moment.
More than perhaps any other event, the U.S. Open exposes weaknesses. It’s not like most weeks on the PGA Tour, when making birdies is the coin of the realm. This week, it’s about making pars, avoiding the big numbers and trusting oneself.
“Sometimes when you think you’re going to do everything right, it just doesn’t happen. That’s life.” – Collin Morikawa
Which brings us to Collin Morikawa and the peculiar nature of golf. At age 25, he already has won two major championships, and if there is one young player who seems capable of winning at least that many more, it’s Morikawa.
Yet he arrives in this Boston suburb in search of his best friend – the soft yet reliable cut shot that has earned him the reputation (based on both the eye test and statistical data) as the best iron player in the game.
“Sometimes when you think you’re going to do everything right, it just doesn’t happen. That’s life,” Morikawa said philosophically.
What if an LIV Golf member – say, Dustin Johnson or Sergio García – were to win? How would that echo through the golf landscape?
The path to this U.S. Open began with more than 9,300 players attempting to qualify, and there are 156 here, playing a course steeped in history and, at least to this point, one that is earning compliments not complaints from the players.
Most years, playing the U.S. Open is the hardest part. This year, getting to this point may have been harder.
Top: Defending champion Jon Rahm, shown strolling the fourth hole during a Monday practice round, hopes to take another step forward at Brookline. Photo: James Gilbert,USGA
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