So, you’re not a fan of LACC and its low U.S. Open scores? Don’t fret
LOS ANGELES – Min Woo Lee may be, pound for pound, the longest hitter in this week’s U.S. Open field. But such context was likely ignored after the young Aussie made the longest par-4 in championship history look more like a pitch-and-putt, launching a 407-yard drive and wedging to 13 feet for his birdie at Los Angeles Country Club’s 555-yard 16th hole.
A few of the Twitter replies confirmed as much:
The venue is horrendous.
Almost like he is just playing a local country club course.
This is what the USGA asked for.
Yes, LACC isn’t winning over every fan this week after it yielded the lowest scoring average in a single U.S. Open round (71.3) by nearly a full stroke and allowed not one but two players – Rickie Fowler and Xander Schauffele – to break Johnny Miller’s longstanding record of 63 by shooting 8-under 62. But what do the competitors think about George Thomas’ iconic layout so far?
At least some of them call the early wave of criticism unwarranted.
“I couldn’t disagree more honestly,” said Nick Hardy, who is playing his fifth U.S. Open. “I think the USGA deserves a ton of credit for the setup. I think they killed it with this one because they rewarded players who are playing great, and that’s what we want to see as players. … Obviously, it should be tough, and everyone wants to see carnage, but the setup is amazing.”
Added Harris English: “I like how they’re not setting it up to force us to a score. It’s just kind of setting it up as it is, and whatever you shoot, you shoot. I think the players are really liking the setup.”
That’s not to ignore the fact that LACC was historically gettable in Round 1. And appreciation for golf architecture is, after all, in the eye of the beholder. Not to mention the club itself doesn’t have the most welcoming reputation, and the starting-tee atmosphere is, to put it kindly, isolated. All that is fine. All opinions are welcomed here. But to disparage the course after 18 holes is to ignore many of the variables. A light rain fell on the property in the morning, and a thick marine layer remained overhead for the entire day, widening the already inviting fairways and keeping the greens soft. There was little to no wind. The pair of behemoth par-3s, Nos. 7 and 11, played up and both shorter than 260 yards.
And let’s not get into a modern equipment debate.
“When the best players in the world have optimal scoring conditions like we had this morning, we knew scores were going to be good,” said John Bodenhamer, the USGA’s senior managing director of championships. “We didn’t know how good.”
Plus, the USGA had to err on the side of caution considering its history with going over the line with its setup, or as Zach Johnson said in 2018 at Shinnecock, losing the golf course. Sure, LACC could’ve been set up for the opening round with length and trickier pins. But what if it was, and then that marine layer lifted, and the course baked out unexpectedly? Round 2 may just be starting, and players would certainly be complaining. (OK, maybe a lot of viewers would prefer that; fair enough.)
“I’m sure yesterday they didn’t know what they had,” Padraig Harrington said. “Because it’s the first time here in a long time, I think they were a bit afraid that they could set it up too difficult.”
Hardy poses the question, “Who cares what the score is?” Charley Hoffman adds when recalling past U.S. Opens, “I don’t think winning score ... it’s always names.” And some argue that even with a slew of players deep into red numbers, many of them are headline names in elite form — and playing much faster than everyone expected.
But not every player is running to LACC’s defense.
“I’m not a huge fan of this place,” Brooks Koepka said Friday after a 71-69 start. “I’m not a huge fan of blind tee shots, and then I think there’s just some spots that no matter what you hit, the ball just ends up in the same spot. I think it would be more fun to play on just like a regular round than it would be a U.S. Open. I mean, there’s, what, two 8 [unders] yesterday. That doesn’t happen.”
Added Rory McIlroy, who is 8 under overall: “I’m surprised.”
Appearing Thursday night on Golf Channel, Bodenhamer hoped for a “spicier” golf course on Friday. But he added that the USGA wouldn’t force anything despite having the ability to “do things that would make it stupid hard.”
For Round 2, the USGA double cut and rolled the greens while applying water in limited places. It also stretched LACC out by almost 200 yards, to 7,423, with Nos. 7 and 11 playing at 299 and 297, respectively.
“I hit full 3-woods and was just praying that they get on,” Andrew Putnam said.
With the marine layer lifting, the sun shining and some wind finally arriving, the conditions firmed up by the afternoon. Friday’s morning wave certainly – and perhaps unfairly – lucked out, though at least the scoring average for Round 2 hiked up to a more respectable 72.9, and Fowler could only manage to gain two more shots (on eight birdies and six bogeys!), tying the U.S. Open record with a 10-under 130 mark through two rounds.
Still no brute is LACC, but its variety and design mixed with the best players in the world will continue to make for a fun weekend. And for those who enjoy carnage, there’s a chance of that, too. No moisture is on the horizon, and while Bodehamer was adamant that he would not be upset if the leaders continued their assault on par, a 20-under winner “wouldn’t be ideal for me.”
Expect the USGA to turn off the hoses and let those greens harden. (Bake, baby! Bake!)
And even if the winner still ends up in double digits, at least it won’t be a cake walk.
“The course has played maybe a little easier than everyone thought it would,” McIlroy said, “but I wouldn’t be surprised on Saturday/Sunday to see it bite back.”
Added English: “They can get them as firm and fast as they want and put those pins in some tough spots. It’s going to be fun. The rough is still going to be penal, and I’m excited…
“I think everybody is going to get the U.S. Open they’ve been wanting to see.”