The USGA’s Jeff Hall is proving prescient in his pre-championship discussions of the 123rd U.S. Open at The Los Angeles Country Club. “I almost feel bad for the standard bearers, because they could be very busy changing those numbers,” said Hall, who has been involved in U.S. Open course setup since 2006.
The workout has been especially demanding for those volunteers tasked with following Rickie Fowler, who has required a number change on 26 of the 36 holes he played the first two days, with 18 birdies, eight bogeys and just 10 pars. Busy, indeed.
Despite having tied the record for low first two rounds in championship history at 10-under-par 130, Fowler has not completely separated himself. Nine players are within six strokes of him, four of them major champions. The weekend promises to continue the rollercoaster ride on the North Course.
Here are 3 Things to Know for Round 3:
Course architect Gil Hanse, who completed a restoration of this George C. Thomas Jr. design in 2010, considers the collection of par 3s at the North Course among the best in the world. Not only are there five on this layout, the most in a U.S. Open since 1948 at St. Louis Country Club, they provide a wide array of demands, from two of the longest par 3s in championship history to a hole that will likely measure only 80 yards or so (No. 15) in one of the weekend rounds.
Through 36 holes, the par 3s are playing at an average of 3.19 strokes, which is more over par than the par 4 holes (4.13), while the par 5 holes are playing well under par (4.85). Three of the four toughest holes in Round 2 were par 3s: the 299-yard 7th, at a 3.51 stroke average, was the most difficult, followed by the 221-yard fourth hole at a 3.42 average. No. 4 also yielded the fewest birdies of any hole (4). The 297-yard 11th hole, which has gotten lots of air time thanks to its scenic backdrop featuring the LA skyline, was the fourth-toughest hole in Round 2 (3.37 average), and it trailed only No. 7 for the most bogeys of any hole on the course.
Even the little par-3 15th at 115 yards proved to be something of a hit-or-miss proposition on Friday – although it was the fourth-easiest hole and gave up 52 birdies, those who missed their target long were faced with a putt over the “bump” in the green’s midsection, and through late afternoon, two-thirds of them (19 of 30) had three-putted.
The par 3s are sure to play a major role in the outcome over the next two days.
Matt Fitzpatrick had to reluctantly relinquish his U.S. Open Trophy this week, and he is languishing a bit as the championship turns to the weekend, 11 shots behind Rickie Fowler at 1 over par. However, Fitzpatrick is not planning to go quietly.
The Englishman, who prevailed over Scottie Scheffler and Will Zalatoris by one stroke at The Country Club in 2022, notched the third hole-in-one of the championship on Friday, the first ever recorded by a defending champion. That ace on No. 15 helped Fitzpatrick avoid becoming the fifth defending champion to miss the cut since Rory McIlroy did so in his 2012 title defense. Other than Brooks Koepka – who won back-to-back in 2017-18 and finished runner-up to Gary Woodland in 2019 – no defending champion since Tiger Woods in 2009 (T-6) has finished better than 12th place in their defense. 2021 champion Jon Rahm (last year at Brookline) and 2013 champion Justin Rose (at Pinehurst in 2014) both turned in 12th-place efforts. Fitzpatrick is tied for 39th as he begins the weekend.
Nineteen amateurs made the field for this championship, and four will go on to play the weekend in the battle to earn low-amateur honors. Four amateurs also made the cut in 2022 at The Country Club. Gordon Sargent, 20, of Birmingham, Ala., who is No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking® (WAGR), leads the way through 36 holes at even-par 140, two strokes clear of Maxwell Moldovan, Aldrich Potgieter and Ben Carr, all of whom made the cut on the number.
Sargent was the 2022 NCAA Division I champion for Vanderbilt University, and the rising junior is competing in his first U.S. Open. Moldovan, 21, a rising senior at Ohio State who helped the Buckeyes qualify for the NCAA Championship, is competing in his second Open after missing the cut in 2022. Potgieter, 18, of South Africa, is No. 25 in the world and won The Amateur Championship, conducted by The R&A, almost exactly a year ago – the second-youngest player to win that title in 127 editions. Carr, 23, of Columbus, Ga., was the runner-up to Sam Bennett in last year’s U.S. Amateur at The Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J.
An additional aspect of the amateur watch is that next Wednesday, the first three members of the USA Team will be named for the Walker Cup Match in September on the Old Course at St. Andrews. The selections will be based on the WAGR released that day.
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org