2022 U.S. Open: Champions, Cutmakers And (Point) Missers
Wrapping up the best and worst from a busy week in Brookline.
Andy North strutted into the media center Saturday night. The only thing missing was a little Travolta swagger set to Stayin’ Alive.
“That was the U.S. Open today,” the two-time champ said. He’s tired of setups gone awry, shaved grass where it did not belong and too much setup overthinking. Like a lot of former USGA champs, North has longed for that old school blend of tough-but-fair with a healthy side order of creamed bluegrass rough.
Saturday’s electric third round and the entire 2022 U.S. Open restored order. The USGA hit a three-run homer at Brookline that would have been a Grand Slam if not for NBC’s commercialization of an event they once treated with reverence until Comcast moved in. But at least Mike Whan’s on that case.
Matthew Fitzpatrick. Revenge For Ouimet! Now with two huge wins at The Country Club, the 27-year-old has picked off one USGA championship each for countrymen Harry Vardon and Ted Ray. Fitzpatrick’s 9-iron out of a fairway bunker at 18 will rank with the greatest in U.S. Open history. He took the destiny factor and finished off another chapter in TCC’s rich history. For such a thoughtful guy who had this on his radar for years, the accomplishment is that much more impressive.
Will Zalatoris. Another near-miss reaffirmed his status as a major player on big time courses. He’s -13 in three majors this year, 14 clear of Justin Thomas. One more second place in The Open and he has the career runner-up Grand Slam. Lost in the blur of Sunday’s whirlwind back nine was the impressive response to Fitzpatrick’s 15th hole birdie with a 2 on the 16th hole. The putts at 17 and 18 could not have been hit much better.
Scottie Scheffler. Losing by one sroke hitting some of the worst shots he’s ever hit—in his words—reinforces how confidently he’s playing. He’s going to love the Old Course.
The Country Club. How could the week have gone any better for a place viewed post-Ryder Cup as too short and cramped? Any doubts about TCC’s ability to host a modern major were answered. Deft restoration work opened up picturesque views across the property. Adding the short 11th made the composite course flow. The setup freed players to attack however they’d like while still maintaining the U.S. Open’s identity as a test of patience and accuracy. Jon Rahm paid TCC the best compliment:
“The more I play it, the more I like it. It's such a unique design to where you have options off the tee, and you can really pretty much choose whatever you want, and that's why you have on the leaderboard so many players that hit it kind of a bit of a difference in length off the tee.”
Setup and conditioning. Managing the potentially toxic brew of wicked gusts, fast poa annua greens and U.S. Open intensity, the setup crew of John Bodenhamer, Jeff Hall and Jason Gore kept the place just moist enough. Play never needed pausing because Championship agronomist Daren Bevard and the data gatherers know what they’re doing. Some players groveled about watering greens during Friday play, not aware that crew simply moistened the turf enough to keep it alive and the greens even. Superintendent Dave Johnson’s team presented some of the best fairways and approaches I’ve ever seen. Rory McIlroy noted how the approach presentation “lengthened” the greens to encourage a run-up shot instead of acting like sponges. Just imagine what Augusta National would play like with TCC’s tight turf!
4th hole. I’m not sure there are many better looking approach shots. At least to a rigth hander. Simple, subtle and wicked if you aren’t careful.
Rory McIlroy. In his joint role as top golfer and Vice Commissioner, he continues to balance his duties amazingly well. While it’s unfortunate McIlroy has to be the leading voice of moral clarity, the last few weeks have shown there is a distinct shortage of those values within the OWGR upper echelons. Hopefully Rory doesn’t get caught on too many Zoom calls with Jay that impede his Old Course prep. More pressing is finding a 3-wood he trusts.
USGA. Instead of stamping their logo on everything but the toilet paper, “US Open” returned as the prominent branding at the…U.S. Open. Mitzvah! Gone are the days of fans spending good money on a golf shirt to become a billboard for the USGA. The organization again felt comfortable in their skin and seem focused on a great championship. Mike Whan has already made the USGA a better and happier organization in less than a year officially on top. Novel concept: run a great event and people will organically want to know more about what you do. I couldn’t be happier for all of the people working there who genuinely love the sport and want to make it better. If last week is any indication, we’re in for a fun next decade watching the USGA parlay a resurgent U.S. Open into a healthier place atop the sport.
USGA Logistics Team. In my random survey of fans, all spoke glowingly of the shuttle system and ease of access to a difficult venue. While corporate hospitality was too close to play throughout the course we were spared any excess noise or play interruptions.
Boston Fans and volunteer marshals. An incredible 3700-strong force had another 1000 on the waiting list. Local clubs handled most of the holes. Outside of an Open Championship or Masters, I can’t recall a more knowledgeable, engaged or efficient volunteer operation. Fans? There were the inevitable Comedy Store rejects, but overall the players seemed to feed off the weekend energy and golf savvy attendees.
Rolex. Thank you for Sunday’s last hour on NBC going commercial free.
Golf History. Sure, cynics got tired of hearing about Francis Ouimet or Curtis Strange. But for a new generation of fan it’s important to hear why returning to Brookline is so special. Or to not picture Shia LeBouf when they hear the name Ouimet. Thanks to the USGA’s outreach work and remote museum at the 2nd tee, some fans on site got to see the tools of their trade. And with the recent restoration of 246 Clyde Street highlighted by NBC, there was even more reason to celebrate the golf’s rich history at a place where it all changed.
Blind tee shots. I didn’t hear one gripe from players about not being able to see landing areas at The Country Club. Hopefully this enlightened thinking continues next month in Fife.