The mere mention of the words “United States Open” conjures images of narrow fairways and rough that seems to be as “high as an elephant’s eye.” Once again, the USGA hosts this “Major,” and boy, do we have a treat this year, as the Tourney heads back to Torrey Pines in La Jolla, California. The last time we all assembled along the shore, it was 2008 when Tiger Woods finally put away Rocco Mediate in an 18-hold playoff (U.S. Open rules …). Much has changed in the game as far as equipment and fitness. Let’s face it, we may not see Woods’ return to the PGA Tour, after a near-death car accident that put him in the hospital. But hope springs eternal.
As for this year’s contest, with over 150 entries competing, it will make this a wide-open contest. The reason is that all of the “top” golfers have major weaknesses. Jon Rahm (+1000) had to withdraw from the Memorial Tournament because of a positive COVID-19 test. That interrupted what would have been a “win” at Jack’s Place. Now, he will have to pick up the mental piece, and go to work. It will not be easy. Other supposed aces are struggling … former winners like Jordan Spieth (+1800), Dustin Johnson (+1400), Brooks Koepka (+1800), and Bryson DeChambeau (+1400) have had their share of troubles over the past month. Missed cuts, lost leads, and public spats (Koepka vs. DeChambeau) make me think that they are not coming into La Jolla with their “A” games.
Unrelenting course conditions, especially if it remains dry … should be the order of the day. How to describe the USGA’s approach, if you will, to their signature event? They are measured … with a tinge of practiced apathy, when it comes to temporarily remaking a golf course for the U.S. Open … They work hand-in-hand with the site, but they develop a wait-and-see approach as they sharpen the fairways and greens. Alongside the ballstrikers, we really will not know how Torrey will play until the tournament begins. It will be fast and furious; the fairways will narrow, and the greens will not be glass, but close. The South Course has some tricky spots … some Par 4s will not be drivable, and Sunday’s 18th Hole might have a very “close to the front” pin placement. If those conditions are dry … we might have a champion who scores at best -1 or -2 under.
The real “measured” stuff will be the difficult Kikuyu grass that will make up the bulk of the rough. Known to agrostologists as Pennisetum clandestinum, it is an invader weed who has thrived in the warm weather climates of Asia, Australia, South America, South Africa, and Southern California. Torrey Pines has Kikuyu all over the place, and it is nasty stuff. If your ball happens to end up in it, the rough can be tough going. Low trajectory specialists can “pick,” but it causes major headaches. Staying out of it, especially as players battle the coastal breezes, will make for a significant challenge. Be warned … How will the La Jolla course play beginning on Thursday? Stay tuned … In the meantime, let’s take a look at some of the entrants who should contend once “the Cut” is made on Friday. Should be another amazing U.S. Open.
SoCal vs. SoCal, low score comp … (Mickelson, +5000 vs. Schauffele, +1400)
I have waited patiently for this wager, and it should be a good one. Both from the area, Phil Mickelson and Xander Schauffele are well-schooled when it comes to Torrey Pines. They know the SoCal courses like the back of their glove, and I want to set up a wager that puts them head-to-head. Low score wins … Lefty was superb at the last Major, the PGA Championship at Kiawah, with precision shot-making, and an efficiency around the green that harkened back to his younger days. He had a giant mass of followers as he strode down 18 … most want to see him notch that elusive U.S. Open win. That would give him the career Grand Slam, ending a string of 2nd place finishes. Facing off against “Mick” is the San Diego State Aztec, Xander Schauffele, who has taken the Tour by storm over the past few years. Though he has not won a Major (yet …), his game continues to offer consistency. Both these guys have played rounds together during the Pandemic, and some friendly wagering took place. I am sure the competitive nature of both was on full display ... it will be at Torrey Pines. Who gets the edge? Xander wins by a whisker …
The Ancer weekend factor … (Ancer +4000)
Over the past couple of months, I have been bullish on Abe Ancer, and I am not about to stop now. His approach shots are magnificent, and when they aren’t, he finds ways to get up and down. I like his work around greens, and he has made some cuts and then some. His 8th place ending at Kiawah Island was stellar, and I like his chances in La Jolla. He might not win the whole thing, but I think he has a great chance to make the weekend and then some. In short amount of time, the young man from Reynosa, Mexico, who is a dual citizen has shaken up the rankings. Each week, whether it was the Valspar or the Wells Fargo, he did not let a string of miscues get him down. All of sudden, he would surge up the leaderboard, taking aim at pros that at one time, he only dreamed of matching up against. I wouldn’t sleep on this striker because it is only a matter of time before he scores his 1st PGA Tour victory. Not bad for a self-taught pro (his Dad was a major influence), who owns his own tequila and clothing brands!
Low Euro … (Hovland +2800)
The young Norwegian has become a hot commodity ever since he won in Puerto Rico. Outside of the 2 Majors, he had a pair of 2nd and 3rd place finishes that were pretty exciting. Coming into the U.S. Open he can use his driving and putting accuracy to his advantage. The question will be … can his nerves stand up under the pressure. He isn’t a newbie anymore, and the expectations continue to rise. In 2020 at Winged Foot, he finished in the Top 15, which was a magnificent accomplishment. With a high birdie rate and super scoring average, he easily could be the lowest European competition. It is a foregone conclusion that he will be added to the Ryder Cup Team. They will be looking to retain the trophy, as the scene shifts to the U.S. In the interim, Hovland has what it takes to be a Top Ten player at Torrey Pines. He already proved it at the Farmer’s on this very course—2nd to Patrick Reed. I like his chances, and I am bullish on his ability when it is all said and done.
Trophy time … (Reed +4000)
Most pickers and pundits will shy away from tabbing Patrick Reed as the possible winner at Torrey Pines—as he vies for his 2nd Major. The reason being is two-fold … on the one-hand, it is rare for a player to return to the scene of a victory earlier in the year and win one like the U.S. Open. That is precisely what The Woodlands, Texas native is attempting to do. He is certainly capable, but I think he needs to keep his head about him. Distractions tend to dog this ballstriker, but to his credit, he can tune everything out. I have always admired Reed’s ability, whether it be off the tee or his iron play. He has what we call, “the fire in the belly.” His accuracy, when it is clicking, can be spot on. The U.S. Open rewards pin-seeking, even though Bryson DeChambeau exploded that theory at last year’s event by hitting bombs out of the tee boxes. I have the feeling that will not be the case at Torrey South. As for repeating in the same year, Reed can do it. Yes, the course will setup differently, what with the tough rough, and lightning-fast greens. The difference in January and June isn’t massive though. Winds caused all sorts of issues at the Farmer’s … they will be back this week too. The former Masters Champion should be a square price at 22/1 or even higher once Thursday rolls around. He is a quality player, and my pick to win at Torrey Pines.