BY SCOTT MICHAUX
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA | While the record-low scoring in the first couple of rounds might have thrown some observers off, you know it’s a U.S. Open when the players start complaining about the golf course.
“It’s diabolical,” said Bryson DeChambeau.
“It's not my favorite,” said Brooks Koepka.
“I don't think there's any great holes,” said Viktor Hovland.
“Not my cup of tea,” said Matthew Fitzpatrick.
Ah, the chorus of boo-birds never gets old at the national championship. The non-sadistic setup and pristine greens at Los Angeles Country Club allowed the best players in the world to make birdies in bunches, but that still didn’t stop players from complaining.
LACC is a quirky place, with a few blind tee shots and several fairways where drives either collect in the same general area or send seemingly well-struck tee shots trundling the wrong way toward undeserved punishment. As the defending champ noted, not everyone’s cup of soy latte.
But it did deliver an intriguing championship with a leaderboard of talent that suited all tastes.
BIRDIE: Wyndham Clark. Six weeks removed from his maiden PGA Tour win at Quail Hollow, Clark showed impressive resilience in outlasting the all-star leading men around him. Good thing he didn’t quit the game the several times he contemplated it as a heartbroken collegian after his mom died and a struggling young pro. Those tears of joy on 18 were well earned.
BIRDIE: Rickie Fowler. It was disorienting seeing Fowler birdie half of his first 36 holes, the 18 birdies and 130 score (10-under) both U.S. Open records. His recent resurrection in form was the most popular twist to this week's L.A. story, even if the happy ending eluded him on Sunday.
BIRDIE: Rory McIlroy. He dialed back his media appearances to try to reduce the noise that has distracted him during golf’s civil war and his still unrequited quest to end a nine-year major drought. The peace was working for him as he looked sharper than he has in months. The futile slow-burn finish felt a lot like St. Andrews last summer.
BOGEY: Not primo. The late West Coast tee times may seem like a cool idea to have the broadcast live through primetime back East on the weekends. But when your leaders are finishing in the dark on Saturday night, it’s not good. “It’s a little ridiculous,” said Clark, who blamed late bogeys that he and Fowler had on the lack of light. “We played twilight golf.” It’s also inconsiderate of folks in Ireland who had to stay up to 3 a.m. to watch McIlroy try to win on SkySports.
BIRDIE: Sixty-two. Within 30 minutes of each other, Fowler and then Xander Schauffele posted the first 62s in U.S. Open history, joining Branden Grace (2017 Open Championship at Birkdale) for the lowest scores in any majors.
BOGEY: Masochists. There was so much howling about LACC’s North Course being too easy and not up to U.S. Open misery standards. Tough conditions arrived fashionably late (maybe it was stuck in L.A. traffic), but the less penal setup for the full field avoided pace-of-play issues with so many short and reachable holes that could have created debilitating bottlenecks.
BIRDIE: Tommy Fleetwood. For the second time in his career, the Englishman stood over a short birdie putt for a 62 on the 72nd hole of a U.S. Open. This
time he missed it from 5 feet, 2 inches. It never had a chance Sunday, unlike
his try from 8 feet, 8 inches in 2018 at Shinnecock.
PAR: Xander Schauffele. The concept of “U.S. Open specialist” isn’t quite the same in this new era of less punitive setups, but it certainly fits the X-man who has never finished worse than 14th in seven starts. While he couldn’t sustain his 62 momentum, majors clearly suit him. He just needs to get out of his way and win one.
BIRDIE: Scottie Scheffler. The world No. 1 is just always there, lurking week after week on every leaderboard. You just never know when an eagle will drop in on the hardest hole on the course and ignite his charge. His third-place finish is his 17th consecutive top-12 finish (14 top-10s) dating to October.
BOGEY: Whiners. “I'm not a huge fan of this place,” said Brooks Koepka, the five-time major winner, noting several blind tee shots, catch basins and the low scoring in the shadow of the erstwhile Playboy Mansion as turn-offs. Viktor Hovland, Matt Fitzpatrick and others also expressed dislike for the place. They all had one thing in common: not winning.
QUAD: Dustin Johnson. Through 17 holes, DJ was 7-under and cruising in third after a 64. On the second hole Friday, he made a gruesome snowman – his third career quad in a major. To his credit, DJ battled back to shoot even and stay in the hunt. “Everything that you could do wrong, I did wrong,” he said. “It happens sometimes.” Nobody in at least the last 30 years has made a quad en route to winning a major.
BIRDIE: USGA. The U.S. Open becomes the first major to keep up with the escalating “designated” prices by increasing its purse to $20 million that matches the going rate for big events. “We want this to be big,” USGA CEO Mike Whan said. “We have to find the right balance of bigness.”
BIRDIE: Model local rule. Don’t call it a rollback. But even if you do, credit the ruling bodies for its commitment to trying to address distance issues despite the carping of tour professionals. “Both the R&A and the USGA believe doing nothing is a bad idea for the long-term future and health of the game,” Whan said. When it was suggested to Whan to slow down, he said: “slower than an eight-year process?”
BOGEY: Jon Rahm. It’s easy to be easygoing when you’re winning all the time and donning green jackets. The Spaniard hasn’t been his Rahm-inating self during the past two majors, and it got to him Friday at LACC when he pantomimed snapping a club over his knee. Later, after two closing bogeys to make his 17th consecutive major cut on the number, he smashed two plastic sandwich boards with his club en route to signing his card.
BIRDIE: Par-3s. You have to love a championship course with five par-3s that range from 85 to 300 yards. The last U.S. Open staged on a course with five one-shotters (not even counting LACC’s drivable 330-yard par-4 sixth) was St. Louis CC in 1947.
BOGEY: Phil Mickelson. Another career-slam opportunity came and went quietly – except for the heckler with the fake mustache and ill-fitting sombrero who dogged him. Mickelson suggested that he might talk about the PGA Tour/PIF deal after the tournament, but he presumed that would be on Sunday and decided not to chat after missing the cut on his 53rd birthday.
BIRDIE: LACC. Kudos for bringing the U.S. Open to such an architectural gem in the middle of America’s second most populous city, opening the door for golf fans and players to experience such a unique place (even if some didn’t like it). Can’t wait for the U.S. Women’s Open (2032) and men’s U.S. Open (2039) to return as promised.
BOGEY: Justin Thomas. An 81 that sent the two-time PGA champion home finishing T152 left Thomas “the lowest I’ve felt” and “humiliated and embarrassed” for missing the cut the cut by 12 strokes. It was a bitter pill for a player how showed up confident he could contend at LACC. “I’ll figure it out,” he said. “If I go win the British Open, nobody even remembers that I’ve missed the cut by a zillion here.”
ACE: No. 15. Playing at a robust 124 yards in the first round, the wee par-3 yielded a pair of aces, by Matthieu Pavon and Sam Burns. Down to 115 on Friday, Matt Fitzpatrick added another. Nobody got close when it played only 80 yards, a record short distance.
BOGEY: Jordan Spieth. He joined JT in leaving early. Good friends stick together. (Well, not Rickie, who went the opposite way of his spring break bros.)
BIRDIE: Charlie Woods. Though there was no sign of his three-time U.S. Open-winning Pops on property, his 14-year-old son was seen scouting out the 2039 venue with a precious inside-the-ropes credential that our intrepid VfE couldn’t get despite traveling overseas to cover 48 of these national opens. Charlie, who played Riviera the day before, will be 30 when the Open returns here. Our VfE might be there covering his 64th.
BIRDIE: Adam Hadwin. After absorbing that textbook tackle by the security guard at the RBC Canadian Open without fumbling the champagne bottle (and then in typical Canuck fashion apologizing for being pancaked), Hadwin arrived at LACC to find a fluorescent-yellow USGA safety vest in his locker with a note reading: “Your safety and security are our utmost priority.”
BOGEY: Vibe. With a largely corporate boutique crowd of only 22,000 daily and infrastructure/access set well back from many holes, there was almost no energy outside the ropes despite all of the drama that was going on inside them. The U.S. Open at LACC: it’s golf … but quieter.
BIRDIE: Pennant flags. LACC’s signature triangular flag was doubly sweet atop the pins with the stacked white and red pennants providing a unique and defining look that stood out in its own way – much like Merion’s trademark wicker baskets did in 2013. With Westwood and UCLA as a neighbor, it all feels very collegial.
BIRDIE: Reduced ads. After getting skewered for the intrusive advertising last year, Whan promised on social media that he would address the issue. He did – even if it didn’t always feel that way – with 30 percent fewer breakaways from the action than in 2022.
BIRDIE: Bluth brothers. The USGA ad featuring Michael (Jason Bateman) and Gob (Will Arnett) Bluth from “Arrested Development” debating during a round at LACC the merits of the 14 previous U.S. Open champions in California was a nice L.A. touch.
BOUNCEBACK BIRDIE: The 18th green. The finishing stage was set so far away from the crowds that it just didn’t have the energy one might expect from a major-championship's final hole. The closest small grandstand was for executive VIPs only and was rarely filled. But letting the gallery swarm in a circle around the green at the end was a much-needed touch.
BIRDIE: Lionel Richie. From The Commodores to “American Idol,” Richie created a portfolio to afford the grand stucco (not brick) house overlooking the par-3 fourth. The abode once owned by Cher presides more handsomely than the former Playboy Mansion hidden adjacent to 14. One would hope that if a shanked shot finds its way into Richie’s garden, he would come to the fence and sing, “Hello, is it a Titleist 3 you’re looking for?”
BOGEY: L.A. weather. While we avoided the atmospheric rivers that have drenched L.A. with its wettest season in nearly two decades, the trademark SoCal sunshine was a little shy most of the week as “June Gloom” often shrouded the championship in overcast gray.
BIRDIE: Omar Morales. The rising junior at UCLA (a half mile west of LACC) from Mexico hit the opening tee shot from just off the Reagan Terrace of the clubhouse and made the first birdie of the tournament, then turned with lead in 3-under, the fifth amateur in the past 30 U.S. Opens to do so. Though the qualifying medalist from Hillcrest (about a mile down Century Park East from LACC) didn’t make the cut, he said “it was awesome.”
BIRDIE: Peter Millar. Taking over from Ralph Lauren Polo as the new official outfitter of the U.S. Open, the Raleigh, North Carolina, clothing brand is a perfect fit.