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UCLA’s Omar Morales, who will kick off this U.S. Open, might be most familiar with LACC


LOS ANGELES – It’s no secret that few players in this U.S. Open field have any measure of experience around Los Angeles Country Club.

Max Homa shot 61 here at the 2013 Pac-12 Championship, a tournament that included a few other current competitors, including Jon Rahm.

Collin Morikawa and Scottie Scheffler were members of the 2017 U.S. Walker Cup team, with Morikawa going 4-0 to lead the Americans to a dominant victory around the George Thomas gem.

And then there’s UCLA sophomore Omar Morales, a final qualifier who estimates he’s played LACC nearly two dozen times in the past two years. The Bruins get access to the ultra-private layout about two Mondays a month, and Morales once fired a team-best 66.

Full-field tee times from U.S. Open

Morales will take a couple of those rounds this week in his major-championship debut, which kicks off Thursday at 6:45 a.m. local time. Morales, a native of Puebla, Mexico, will strike the championship’s opening tee ball off No. 1 in the shadows of LACC’s sprawling, white clubhouse and as his parents, brother and cousin watch from just outside the rope line.

“It’s a great honor,” said Morales, who is paired with South Africa’s Deon Germishuys and Auburn product Jacob Solomon. “I feel very grateful for the opportunity that I have.”

Nine months ago, Morales might not have imagined himself in this spot. After arriving in Los Angeles as Mexico’s top-ranked junior and posting just one top-10 finish as a freshman, Morales finished dead last in the Bruins’ season opener, the Maui Jim Intercollegiate, last September in Scottsdale, Arizona. The fact that Morales lost to 88 players and beat none was even more shocking considering in qualifying the week prior he’d posted a bogey-free 65 at Desert Forest in aptly named Carefree, Arizona.

“To watch him play in that tournament and see that, it was kind of revealing of what he needed to work on,” said UCLA head coach Armen Kirakossian, who is on Morales’ bag this week at LACC. “And it wasn’t that he needed better skills or didn’t have the shots or didn’t have the game, he just needed to work on some composure, sticking to his game plan, being accepting of poor shots and mistakes.”

“Omar is a perfectionist, that’s obviously what’s gotten him this far, but he needed to learn how to control, and to his credit he did.”

Added Morales: “I feel like I owned it. … If I didn’t have that tournament, I probably wouldn’t be standing here.”

Morales’ sophomore season was far from perfect, but he finished strong, winning the team’s regular-season finale, the El Macero Classic, and then capturing a 36-hole event in Mexico to qualify for his first PGA Tour event, the Mexico Open, in April. He ended up missing the cut by a single shot in that debut, but more importantly, he further proved to himself that he doesn’t have to play his best golf to shoot a good score and compete.

He also learned, however, that he needed to look at leaderboards less.

“That first day, I looked too many times,” Morales said. “I was 1 over through seven holes, nine back of the lead, and I was getting mad at myself and didn’t realize I was playing all the hard holes. Just focusing on what I can do is most important.”

Morales’ home course back in Mexico, Club Campestre de Puebla, is a tight, tree-line layout with soft greens that sits at about 6,000 feet above sea level. In most ways, it’s nothing like LACC.

But then again, even in his major debut, Morales will at least have some comfort.