The USGA returns to host the 121st playing of the United States Open Championship.
The 2020 U.S. Open was played in September but returns to its usual slot on Father’s Day weekend.
Will the new dad Jon Rahm bounce back from the forced WD in his last start to give himself a nice Father’s Day gift?
Or will Phil Mickelson steal the show and finally secure the last piece of the career grand slam?
Those are just two of the potential storylines this week, with so many more in play, thanks to a very strong field of 156 golfers lining up to play this week. Of those 156 golfers, only the top 60 and ties will make it through the cut line, making it one of the toughest cuts to crack all season.
The South Course at Torrey Pines needs no introduction. It’s used annually at the Farmers Insurance Open (54 holes) and it was also the host of the 2008 U.S. Open which saw a one-legged Tiger Woods limp to a 19-hole playoff victory over Rocco Mediate.
Known for favoring the big hitters, this par 71 stretches out to 7,652 yards and it plays even longer due to the sea-level coastal climate that restricts the ball from flying as far. That is nearly 100 yards longer than the 2008 U.S. Open scorecard but it’s more than 100 yards shorter than the 2021 Farmers Insurance Open setup. However, the Farmers uses par-72 setup while the sixth hole will play as a par 4 this week instead of a par 5.
The course was designed by William P. Bell and William F. Bell in the 1950s. Rees Jones has put his fingerprints on it a few times since then. His most recent changes came in a 2019 renovation that upgraded bunkers and irrigation while adding a few tee-box options.
Golfers will see eucalyptus trees littered across the property but the number of trees on site continues to dwindle as most were planted back in the 1950s and they are reaching their end of life. The course itself was named after the torrey pine tree, which is critically endangered. Other than that, (82) bunkers are the primary concern to deal with, as there aren’t many doglegs to trick you up. A grip-it and rip-it mentality goes a long way here.
The USGA always tries to prevent that strategy, but it’s going to be tough to combat at a course like Torrey Pines. They will grow the rough up but they generally try to narrow the fairways, as well. That combination is perfect for big hitters because gives everyone in the field more shots from the rough but the big hitters will be closer to the hole when playing from that thick stuff.
Looking at the hole-by-hole yardages, there are five par 4s that play over 460 yards. On the short side, there is just one par 4 under 430 yards, the 387-yard second. Again, everything points to the bombers have the upper hand.
What about the grasses they will see? The rough is kikuyu and ryegrass with kikuyu being the dominant strain this time of year. During the Farmers, it is predominantly ryegrass.
The combination of length (3 to 5 inches) combined with kikuyu dominating should make the rough a bit tougher to handle compared to the annual Farmers tests. During the Farmers, the field generally lands 77 percent of greens in regulation from the fairways and 55 percent GIR when missing the fairway. Not an extreme split, but the 2008 U.S. Open saw 67 percent GIR from the fairway but just 38 percent GIR when missing the fairway. That is a much tougher test and it would be closer in line with what I would expect this week.
As for the greens, golfers will see poa annua putting surfaces. The greens are relatively small targets (5,000 square feet) and can get quite speedy. During the Farmers, they usually run from 12 to 12.5 feet on the stimp so we should expect that at a minimum with a good chance they speed them up even more.
Overall, we should expect a very tough test. It should test all facets of a player’s game, as the U.S. Open generally does. In the end, a bump should be given to the big hitters due to the course length and expected course setup that we just talked about above.
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Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:
Augusta National Golf Club
Riviera Country Club
Quail Hollow Club
Bay Hill Club and Lodge
The theme of the list this week is green speeds (fast) and courses that favor big hitters.
Thursday: Sunny with a high of 79 degrees. Wind at 6 to 10 MPH.
Friday: Sunny with a high of 81 degrees. Winds at 5 to 8 MPH.
It’s a beautiful forecast. Not a drop of precipitation in the forecast and we also get a break from the heat that we’ve seen recently.
Golfers to Watch
He arrives off a gut-wrenching WD where he was forced to exit the Memorial when running away from the field thru 54 holes. Now he heads to a course where he has loads of success, including his first PGA TOUR title back in 2017. Will the bout with COVID-19 slow him down? Or will he pick up right where he left off?
The local product played plenty of rounds at Torrey Pines during his high-school days but didn’t have loads of success at Torrey Pines early in his TOUR career. However, he now arrives having gained at least a shot over the field average in six of his last seven rounds at Torrey South. As for the state of his game right now, he has collected top 15s in seven of his 10 stroke-play events in 2021. His recent form combined with local ties to the course should make him a popular selection.
The Texan is the most recent winner at Torrey Pines, taking home the hardware at the Farmers Insurance Open in January. He’s also posted top 20s in six straight majors so his game plan for the biggest events appears to be working well. He has missed the cut in two of his last four starts in the lead-up to this event but he collected top 20s in the other four events.
Sticking to the Texas theme, this Dallas native has found his game again in 2021 but will really be tested this week at Torrey Pines, a course that has not treated him kindly over the years. The poa annua greens appear to trip him up because he has lost strokes putting in 8-of-12 rounds recorded at Torrey South and his SG:Total has been +0.3 or worse in 10-of-12 rounds at the beefy layout.
Did someone say beef? The big-hitting scientist enters the week with some off-the-course beef going on with Brooks Koepka. It seems like part of that feud is real and part of it is just trying to collect click for the new PIP rankings. As for DeChambeau’s game, he is the defending champ and on paper this week’s course really does favor big hitters. He will likely be a popular target at the top of the board.
Lefty is still searching for the final piece of the career grand slam. Most fans probably thought his chances to completed it were over, based on his play in the last few seasons. Then, he goes and wins the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, just last month. What a story that would be if he finally plugged in the last piece of the puzzle while playing in his hometown.
He was likely an afterthought for many gamers until last week’s strong showing at the Palmetto Championship at Congaree. Before last week’s top 10 he had finished outside of the top 40 in five of his last six stroke-play events. On the flip side, we can now say he’s posted top 15s in two of his last four starts. DJ usually plays well out West but his record at Torrey Pines is surprisingly poor. He has just one top 15 in nine appearances at the Farmers Insurance Open and hasn’t played since the 2017 edition.
Ranking the Field
1. Jon Rahm
2. Bryson DeChambeau
3. Xander Schauffele
4. Dustin Johnson
5. Justin Thomas
6. Patrick Cantlay
7. Collin Morikawa
8. Viktor Hovland
9. Tony Finau
10. Rory McIlroy
11. Will Zalatoris
12. Hideki Matsuyama
13. Patrick Reed
14. Brooks Koepka
15. Jordan Spieth
16. Scottie Scheffler
17. Webb Simpson
18. Daniel Berger
19. Paul Casey
20. Joaquin Niemann