124th U.S. Open: 3 Things to Know, Round 1

By Ron Driscoll, USGA

| Jun 12, 2024 | Village of Pinehurst, N.C.

124th U.S. Open: 3 Things to Know, Round 1

Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2 is making history this week. It becomes just the second venue to host the U.S. Open as many as four times over a span of 25 years, joining Myopia Hunt Club in South Hamilton, Mass., which hosted the championship four times in 11 years in its early days (1898, 1901, 1905 and 1908).

In its three previous editions here, Donald Ross’ masterpiece has produced a classic for the ages (Payne Stewart’s iconic winning par putt in 1999), an underdog story (Michael Campbell holding off Tiger Woods in 2005) and a runaway victory (Martin Kaymer’s eight-stroke triumph in 2014).

What’s in store for 2024? Here are 3 Things to Know as the latest chapter begins to unfold:

Scottie vs. History

Scottie Scheffler comes into the championship as the strong favorite to capture his second major of 2024, and his fellow competitors have said nothing that would refute that notion.

“The word that I describe it as is ‘relentless,’” said four-time major champion Rory McIlroy of Scheffler’s five wins in his last eight starts. “Undoubtedly the best player in the world at the minute by a long way. It’s up to us to try to get to his level.”

Scheffler has held down the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking for 64 weeks. However, world No. 1 players have a lackluster U.S. Open record since the OWGR was introduced in 1986. Only three times over those 38 editions has the No. 1 golfer captured the U.S. Open, and each time it happened, that player was Tiger Woods – his victories came in 2000, 2002 and 2008. With Scheffler’s recent dominance drawing comparisons to Woods, it seems fitting that he might emulate Tiger this week, in which case the winning percentage for OWGR No. 1s would creep up to .102 (4 for 39).

Rory, Xander in the Mix

Rory McIlroy, who finished a stroke behind Wyndham Clark last year at The Los Angeles Country Club, has five consecutive top-10 finishes in this championship (T-9 in 2019, T-8 in 2020, T-7 in 2021, T-5 in 2022 and 2nd in 2023). It matches Xander Schauffele’s streak from 2017-2021 as the longest in the past 40 years of the U.S. Open. Schauffele, who won last month’s PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky.,for his first major, hasn’t exactly fallen off since 2021, with a T-14 and a T-10 the past two years.

How rare is such consistency? Since 1920, only three players have had more than five consecutive top-10 finishes: Ben Hogan (12, 1940-1956), Bob Jones (7, 1920-1926) and Jack Nicklaus (6, 1977-1982).

To note: McIlroy’s finishes have improved in each of those five years, and he can pinpoint the reason for the turnaround after he missed the cut three straight times from 2016-18: “I would say embracing the difficult conditions, embracing the style of golf needed to contend at a U.S. Open, embracing patience,” said the 2011 champion. “Honestly, embracing what I would have called ‘boring’ back in the day. Explosiveness isn’t going to win a U.S. Open. It’s methodically building your score over the course of four days and being OK with that. It’s just more of a reframing of a mindset than anything else.”

Precise Play Required

There has been plenty of discussion in the run-up to Round 1 about the expected firm and fast conditions and the strategy the playing surface will dictate.

“Pinehurst plays its best when it’s firm,” said Jeff Hall, USGA managing director of Rules and Championships, who helps with course setup. “In 2014, players hit the fairway 70 percent of the time, and we think that’s unlikely to go down this year. However, when you have a fairway that's pitched just a bit, it doesn’t take much for the ball to start running the wrong way and just not stop.”

One example in which just hitting a wide fairway may not be enough is on Hole 2, a 500-yard par 4 with a putting surface that, in typical Course No. 2 fashion, falls off on all sides.

 “The angle is important because of the way the green sits,” said Hall. “The farther left that you hit it off the tee, the better look you get at the putting green. You need to play close to the bunkers on that side to get that better look, though. Hit it farther to the right, and OK, you’ve hit the fairway, but now there is much less depth to play into, so the level of precision required for your second shot is much higher. And there are a number of examples like that around the golf course.”

The 381-yard, par-4 13th is another hole where precision will be preeminent.

“If you look at it simply by yardage, No. 13 is gettable,” said Hall. “But it’s a pretty demanding second shot, blind and uphill, even though it’s with a short club. You really want to keep the ball below the hole on this green, because any putt from above the hole is a very defensive one. The problem with leaving it below the hole is that if you miss it short, it could roll back down the fairway 30 yards. The margin of error there could be as small as a yard or two, depending on the hole location.”

Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.