On a championship Sunday that featured a bevy of leading stars, it was an up-and-comer who had an Oscar-worthy performance at The Los Angeles Country Club.
Playing in the shadows of Hollywood, Wyndham Clark, who had missed the cut in his only two previous U.S. Open starts and finished no better than a share of 75th in six major-championship starts, stole the show to claim a one-stroke victory.
Showing the moxie of a steely veteran, Clark, 29, of Denver, Colo., overcame two late bogeys on Nos. 15 and 16 with a brilliant par save on the 71st hole, then two-putted from 60 feet on the 72nd hole to hold off world No. 3 Rory McIlroy. Clark’s even-par 70 gave him a four-day total of 10-under 270.
“You know, this is now my second win on the PGA Tour, and the first one [at last month’s Wells Fargo Championship] was surreal and this one is surreal,” said Clark. “It hasn’t quite hit me yet. Walking up 18 was pretty emotional, and then finishing. It’s been a whirlwind the last five, six weeks. Just so blessed and humbled to be here.”
Rickie Fowler, a five-time PGA Tour winner who had led the championship the first three days and shared the 54-hole lead with Clark, struggled from the outset in his bid for a first major and posted a disappointing 5-over 75 to share fifth with Tommy Fleetwood and Min Woo Lee at 5-under 275.
World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler also was stuck in neutral most of the day and finished with a 70 to finish in solo third, three behind the winner.
When Clark made it official with his tap-in par on 18, he was immediately hugged by older sister, Kristin, and younger brother, Brendan. One person missing from the celebration was his late mother, Lise Thevenet, whom the family lost to breast cancer in 2013 at age 55.
“All I really wish is that my mom could be here, and I could just hug her, and we could celebrate together – but I know she's proud of me,” said Clark, who will share his victory later with his father, Randall, a former collegiate and professional tennis player.
When his mother lost her battle with cancer, Clark considered walking away from the game. The loss also factored in his decision to transfer from Oklahoma State to the University of Oregon for the 2016-17 year. He went on to win the Pacific-12 Conference title in Boulder, Colo., near his hometown, and was named Golfweek’s player of the year. Clark told reporters this week that his mother’s advice to him before every tournament was to “play big.”
He heeded that mantra this week, especially on the weekend when he found himself in the final pairing with Fowler each of the last two days. While Sunday’s round wasn’t perfect, his up-and-downs on Nos. 8, 9, 11 and 17 eventually won him the championship. The bogey on the par-5 eighth when he barely moved the ball on his third shot in thick greenside rough was reminiscent of his bogey save late Saturday on the 17th hole.
Most observers were expecting McIlroy, Fowler or Scheffler – three of the biggest names in golf – to hoist the trophy at day’s end. They received the most boisterous roars on Sunday, but all three failed to match the adulation on the 7,359-yard George C. Thomas Jr. design that underwent a restoration by Gil Hanse in preparation for the first U.S. Open in Los Angeles since 1948.
McIlroy, who claimed the last of his four majors at the PGA Championship in 2014, birdied the opening par 5 but didn’t make another birdie the rest of the day despite a number of golden opportunities. He three-putted the par-5 eighth for a par and bogeyed the par-5 14th when his 117-yard approach shot came up short of the green.
This was his second major disappointment in the last year; he came up just short to Cam Smith in the 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews. This week, McIlroy hit 59 of 72 greens in regulation, which ties for the most by any player who did not go on to win the U.S. Open.
“The last real two chances I’ve had at majors I feel like have been pretty similar performances,” said McIlroy, referring to last July on the Old Course. “Not doing a lot wrong, but I didn’t make a birdie since the first hole today. Just trying to be a little more, I guess, efficient with my opportunities and my looks.”
Fowler was trying to be the feel-good story of the championship. He didn’t qualify for the last two U.S. Opens – a year ago at The Country Club he was the odd man out as an alternate – and slipped to as low as No. 185 in the Official World Golf Ranking. But since returning to instructor Butch Harmon, the 2015 Players champion who finished in the top five of all four majors in 2014, had slowly regained his confidence and form. He even said after Round 3 on Saturday that he wasn’t afraid to fail because of what he’s endured the past two years.
After shattering the 36-hole birdie mark with 18, he could only muster five on the weekend, including two in the final round against seven bogeys.
“I just didn’t have it today,” said the 34-year-old Fowler, whose engaging personality makes him one of the most-liked players in the game. “Iron play was very below average and didn’t make anything. That’s a big thing in majors, especially on a Sunday.”
Meanwhile, Scheffler just couldn’t get hot with his putter. The 2022 Masters champion, who had an eagle-birdie finish on Saturday, carded an even-par 70 with three birdies and three bogeys. That’s normally a recipe for success in a U.S. Open, but the 2022 runner-up needed more fireworks to overcome a three-stroke deficit to start the day on a course that yielded 10 rounds of 65 or better this week.
Clark carded a first-round 64 that was only two strokes off the record-setting performances of Fowler and Xander Schauffele. He followed with rounds of 67, 69 and 70 to become the fifth consecutive champion to make the U.S. Open his first major title. To find a longer streak one has to go back 50 years (1973-78).
Now he’s a major champion in a town that loves its stars.
“It's been a pretty amazing week because my mom lived in LA for a few years and I’ve had some people come up to me and show pictures of my mom when they knew her back in her 20s and early 30s. That just happened this week, so it was kind of a special vibe being here in LA. My parents got married at Riviera Country Club.” – Wyndham Clark
“I told him obviously congrats and proud of him, him being a guy who was at Oklahoma State. He went to Oregon to finish up, but he's still a Cowboy.” – Rickie Fowler
“Wyndham was pretty much rock solid all day, and that was a great two-putt at the last.” – Rory McIlroy on the new U.S. Open champion
“I don't think I found anything. I think it was probably just less mistakes. All in all, if you had given me 3-under  at the start of the day, I think I would have taken it.” – Cam Smith
“Missed a 6-footer on the first, missed a 5-footer on the last, and then everything in between was really, really good. I just need to be higher up the leader board coming into Sunday and then have another day like today. It’s a nice little piece of history.” – Tommy Fleetwood after shooting a 63 in a U.S. Open final round for a second time
“It’s awesome. Every time someone gets off to a good start at a U.S. Open from now on, they’ll put on the nine-hole scoring record, and my name will be up there. That's pretty cool. Obviously I’ll share it with other guys. A 28 would have been pretty sweet.” – Austin Eckroat
“It’s cool. It’s your goal as an amateur to be the low am, especially with so many (19) here this week. It means a lot and gives me a lot of confidence.” – Gordon Sargent
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.