As pedigrees go, Torrey Pines South is major championship golf’s version of a rescue dog, at least to many of the course architecture high brows who do their best to sound like Ivy League literature professors discussing motifs that run through Faulkner’s works.
Torrey Pines is a muni, for goodness’ sake.
It has some plain par-4s, a couple of which are difficult to separate in your mind. Maybe that’s because the scenery is so distracting.
But Torrey Pines puts on a heckuva U.S. Open show.
If it never gets another chance to host the national championship, Torrey Pines is 2-for-2.
Think of it as the U.S. Open version of Valhalla, which may not top many best-of lists but has a knack for delivering dynamite tournaments. Maybe it’s the so-called experts who have it wrong.
Thirteen years ago, Tiger Woods – the best player in the game – won in legendary style at Torrey Pines.
Last week, Jon Rahm – the best player in the game – won his first major championship in memorable style there.
Rahm, it should be noted, ascended to No. 1 in the world ranking with his victory, a ranking built on 11 top-10 PGA Tour finishes this season while leading the tour in scoring average and strokes gained total.
And that doesn’t include his COVID-19-interrupted performance at the Memorial Tournament where his six-stroke lead was erased 18 holes from the end.
If the goal of the U.S. Open is to test and identify the best players, Torrey Pines nailed it last weekend. Midway through the final round, 10 players were within one shot of the lead.
When it ended, six of the top 13 players in the world rankings had finished T7 or better.
Torrey Pines rewarded good and aggressive play – see Rahm’s two closing birdies – and it made players pay for their mistakes – see Bryson DeChambeau, Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa and others.
Phil Mickelson, who has never been shy in his criticism of the USGA’s course setups or the South Course, called last week’s presentation “the best I’ve ever seen” in a U.S. Open.
He was just one voice in a choir.
“From a golf course setup, it was brilliant, and I haven’t always been able to say that in the past,” said Paul Casey. “But the last couple of championships, in fact going back to Pebble Beach even, have been really, really good, and this one is spectacular. Torrey Pines was a superstar.”
Brooks Koepka agreed: “I think it’s perfect for a major championship. The way it sets up, you’ve got to be able to put the ball in the fairway, control your irons, and you’ve really got to putt well out here.
“That’s kind of the basis of a major championship. You need to be able to do everything really well. I think this course is perfect for that.”
Next year, the U.S. Open returns to its blue-blood roots at the Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts. In two years, Los Angeles Country Club – beloved by architecture aficionados – makes its U.S. Open debut. Then comes the great Pinehurst No. 2, the original pillar in the USGA’s plans going forward.
Torrey Pines may not have their bloodline but it has two U.S. Opens that hit all of the right notes.
In the span of 10 holes and about two hours Sunday afternoon, defending champion Bryson DeChambeau went from leading the U.S. Open to suggesting his back-nine 44 didn’t matter much to him after he finished tied for 26th place.
For a guy intent on bringing attention to his sponsors, it was hard to buy what DeChambeau was selling after his late collapse.
DeChambeau said his big numbers – he made a double bogey and a quadruple bogey on the back nine – were because of bad luck more than poor execution. Winning majors, DeChambeau said, is at least 50 percent luck.
That’s probably not the same equation used by Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods.
Though his game isn’t predicated on hitting fairways, DeChambeau hit just three in the final round. In a statistic called fairways missed penalty, DeChambeau ranked 69th among the 71 players who made the cut.
His frustration was understandable but for a guy struggling to win the public perception battle, he didn’t help himself when he was asked how he would deal with his closing 77.
“Right now. I don’t even care,” DeChambeau said. “I’ve changed a lot, attitude-wise and everything. It’s frustrating in the moment when it’s happening, but afterwards for me now, I don’t really care as much. I’ve already won it.”
Aside from Rahm, no one had a better week at Torrey Pines than Matthew Wolff, who returned from a self-imposed two-month sabbatical to deal with his mindset.
Wolff was refreshingly open as he talked about the negative place he found himself, leading him to step away from the PGA Tour. He skipped the Players and PGA Championship and considered sitting out the U.S. Open before deciding to play.
Arriving with no expectations, Wolff was among the leaders throughout the championship, ultimately finishing T15.
“Just enjoying myself this week was the main goal,” Wolff said, “and at the beginning of the week I was maybe even thinking – the possibility of finishing dead last wasn’t even out of my mind, and to come here and fight how I did, and yeah, just battle to the end, and unfortunately like I said, it didn’t go my way.
“But I put a huge check mark on this week as a success and just looking to build and get stronger and a little more mature.”
Top: Jon Rahm Photo: Chris Keane, USGA
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