Denny McCarthy said that he embarked on his final round Sunday in the 122nd U.S. Open Championship intent on trying to win it.
Such a bold statement from a player who had yet to win on the PGA Tour was not a product of hubris but of confidence. Besides, two of the players that he was chasing, Will Zalatoris and eventual champion Matt Fitzpatrick, hadn't won a tour event yet, either.
The attitude that McCarthy assumed reflected a player who had a firm grasp of his game and who was ready to embrace the biggest moment of his career thus far. And in the end, while he didn’t win the U.S. Open, McCarthy took home a couple of big prizes. He collected his first top-10 in a major, which has definite perks, and the satisfaction in knowing he could perform optimally under pressure.
Despite a bogey on the par-4 home hole at The Country Club, McCarthy, who got into the championship as a qualifier, closed with a second consecutive 2-under 68 and finished the championship at 1-under 279, tied for seventh. It was by far his best finish in his six major starts, improving dramatically on his T-42 effort in the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.
“I was so comfortable today,” said McCarthy, who finished one stroke better on Sunday than his playing partner, 2019 U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland, after hitting 10 fairways and 15 greens in regulation, a solid ball-striking performance. “Man, I was seeing shots so well, really committed. No doubts at all really. I was really comfortable with where my swing and game is and really committed with the clubs I was picking and the shots I was seeing. Just really proud of how I committed to all those shots and executed a lot of them. So, this is a huge step in the right direction for me.”
That direction actually started two weeks ago with a tie for fifth at the Memorial Tournament, Jack Nicklaus’ event in Dublin, Ohio. Then he easily got through the 36-hole Columbus qualifier the next day.
“I got a big boost at the Memorial. That’s a hard major championship-type course, and I was up near the top all week,” said McCarthy, 29. “Coming into this week, I really liked this course for my game. I feel like I was really just a hot putter away from shooting really low this weekend.”
That’s quite the statement from one of the best putters on the PGA Tour. “I know that sounds a little weird coming from me,” he admitted, “but I did leave quite a few out there.”
And, yet, no one scored lower than McCarthy’s 136 over the final 36 holes. Only Fitzpatrick and runners-up Zalatoris and Scottie Scheffler played as well with their own 4-under efforts. Only Fitzpatrick, Zalatoris, Woodland and McCarthy broke par in each of the final two rounds on a difficult course in which the field averaged 72.814 over that span.
A standout amateur who played on the USA’s 2014 World Amateur Team and then represented his country in the 2015 Walker Cup Match at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, McCarthy almost didn’t make the cut in his first U.S. Open start since 2016 at Oakmont. He played his first 15 holes of the championship in 5 over par, but he birdied his last two on Thursday, including a 30-footer at the ninth, for a 73.
“That's a round that could have gotten away from me. It was in the process of getting away from me. I had to dig really deep to finish strong that day,” he said. “That was some nice positive mojo going into the second day.”
Indeed, McCarthy, a University of Virginia product, shot 70 in Round 2 to make it on the number. He began Round 3 tied for 55th before putting together an impressive surge that ensures his place in the 2023 championship at The Los Angeles Country Club for finishing among the top 10.
“Just really proud of myself. This is a big stage, and I'm starting to get more comfortable at these events,” McCarthy said. “I’ll be back for sure. I like where my game is trending, and I'm going to keep working hard. I have really deep drive to get better. This is going to make me even more hungry.”
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.