The 123rd U.S. Open Championship – the first on the North Course of The Los Angeles Country Club – is finally at hand. The buzz of anticipation for this championship started soon after it was announced in 2015, and the George C. Thomas Jr. design is expected to provide something of a rollercoaster ride this week, with a mix of “gettable” holes as well as demanding ones, including a daunting closing trio of par 4s. It’s the fourth USGA championship to be hosted here, including the 2017 Walker Cup Match, but before that it had been 63 years since the previous event, the 1954 U.S. Junior Amateur. With a primetime viewing schedule on the East Coast and the high potential for drama, the North Course is ready for its closeup.
The ninth trio of golfers off the first tee on Thursday (8:13 a.m. PDT) will garner plenty of attention, with a pair of LA-area standouts accompanied by the world’s No. 1 player. Two-time major champion Collin Morikawa hails from nearby La Caňada Flintridge, and he and Scottie Scheffler both played for the USA Team in the aforementioned Walker Cup, with Morikawa going 4-0 in his matches.
Fellow local Max Homa, from Valencia, owns the North Course scoring record, a 9-under-par 61 in the 2013 Pac-12 Championship when he played for the University of California-Berkeley. What does Homa remember about the record round?
“This is why golf is so bad,” he joked. “I remember not getting up-and-down from the front bunker on 6 for birdie, and I remember three-putting 8, so I could have shot 59.”
Homa is appreciative that this week at LACC, fans will be shouting out not just his college’s name, but his high school affiliation. The groundwork is done, and the tickets have been distributed to friends – as many as feasible, anyway. As Homa noted, “If I didn’t respond to you this week, I’m sorry, but it’s a lot.”
One pre-championship topic is fairway width, with the North Course having a wider-than-typical U.S. Open average of 43 yards. The numbers don’t necessarily lie, but another aspect of the course setup might be called “effective width.” On many holes, the slope of the fairway creates a more difficult target to hit. Jon Rahm, the 2021 champion, called the fairways “deceptively wide.”
Patrick Cantlay, a Southern California native who played at UCLA and has toured the course dozens of times, said, “I don’t think these fairways will play particularly wide.”
Scheffler, who tied for second last year at The Country Club behind Matt Fitzpatrick, ticked off several holes that he believes play much more narrow than they appear (Nos. 1, 5, 12, 13 and 16), and noted, “When you get fairways that are very firm, any sort of curve you put on the ball makes it play so much smaller.”
Perhaps the bermudagrass rough – the first such rough on a U.S. Open venue since 2005 at Pinehurst, will get more action that many expect.
The North Course provides the possibility for plenty of birdies, but also holes where pars will be tough to come by, hence the rollercoaster theme. As Morikawa said, “I think there’s going to be a lot of variance to the scores. There are birdie holes out here, no doubt about that. The par 5s are very gettable, but you have to keep it in the fairway. And just like a lot of U.S. Opens, you throw a ball in the rough, it's kind of hit-or-miss, roll the dice.”
Rahm noted, “There’s a bit of everything. There’s a certain flow to the course that’s quite different to what we usually see. Maybe a course like [2013 U.S. Open host] Merion being a little shorter gives you a little bit [of the same feel]. You have par 4s where you’re going to hit driver, wedge every day if you hit the fairway, no matter the wind; and then you have holes like No. 13, 16 and 17 that are going to play very long no matter what. It gives a bit of everything, and it’s fun. You have that diversity that you don’t usually see. You’ll see a lot of birdies, and I think you’ll also see some high numbers come out of nowhere.”
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.