LOS ANGELES — Rickie Fowler was walking toward his golf ball in the 18th fairway on a cool, cloudy Sunday afternoon when he looked to his right and to his left and asked a most unusual question for any U.S. Open but this one.
“Are these the widest fairways for a U.S. Open?” he said.
There’s a lot different about a U.S. Open at Los Angeles Country Club, and that goes beyond the second-oldest championship in golf being held on the edge of Beverly Hills.
The U.S. Open hasn’t had Bermuda rough in play off the fairways since 2005 at Pinehurst No. 2, and yet the greens on the North course are bentgrass.
As for the fairways? True, this is one of the widest U.S. Open courses. But it might help to put a notice several tee boxes that says, “Targets are smaller than they appear.”
“Looks big,” Fowler said. “Plays small.”
Another big change for this U.S. Open is the topic of conversation. The U.S. Open comes one week after the PGA Tour announced the Saudi Arabian wealth fund it had been battling in court over LIV Golf is now its partner in a new for-profit commercial company. No one knows what this means for LIV Golf and the players that defected, or the PGA Tour and how to appease players who chose to stay.
“I know the same amount of information you do. It’s very tough to make any kind of comment or decision because I don’t have enough information,” Justin Thomas said. “There’s still a lot of things that have to play out.”
Thomas joined Fowler and Jordan Spieth for a casual game over 18 holes, a perfect day to beat the crowd and get a good look at the course in U.S. Open conditions. It was cool and dry, and the course was fast. Given the dry forecast, this would appear to be a week where the USGA can control conditions to its liking.
Thomas was among several players who came over to LACC during the West Coast swing, either after Torrey Pines or before Riviera. It’s not entirely a blind date.
This will be the third time in the last nine years the U.S. Open goes to a course for the first time. The difference is that Erin Hills (2017) and Chambers Bay (2015) had only opened about 10 years before getting a U.S. Open, and neither is on the list for another one.
LACC has history — a lot of it — and already is assured of another U.S. Open in 2039.
Gil Hanse oversaw a restoration to the George Thomas Jr. design a dozen years ago to a course that first moved to this property in 1911. It offers just about everything.
“It’s cool, very unique,” Thomas said. “It has a wide variety of holes very short and very long. Hitting the fairway and getting it in the fairway is a premium. But you have a lot of wedges in your hand, and then you’ve got holes where you’re trying to figure out how to make par.”
And after all that, Thomas concluded, “I have absolutely no idea what the scores are going to be like.”
The par 3s will get plenty of attention, and that was another first for Thomas — the first time he has ever hit a 3-wood into a par 3 twice in one round. The first was at the 284-yard seventh. The other was at the 290-yard 11th hole.
Thomas mentioned the importance of hitting the fairway and getting it in the fairway, and that’s not always the same thing. On the 380-yard 12th hole, Thomas and Fowler each hit a long iron into the fairway, leaving a wedge or short iron. Spieth hit driver over the edge of a bunker on the left side. The shot was perfect — or looked that way.
The turf is fast enough that the ball rolled out and didn’t stop until it was in the right rough. It took him a while to find it. He had a lob wedge into the green without being able to control it, and control is everything in a U.S. Open.
The rough doesn’t need to be thick to be penal with Bermuda grass. Even at 3 inches, golf balls sink to the bottom. This being a Sunday before U.S. Open week begins, the volunteer marshals had yet to show up.
“Every time we missed the fairway, it took more than one to find a ball,” Thomas said. “It sits down. It’s very odd for California, let alone a U.S. Open. I don’t know if I’ve played a U.S. Open on Bermuda. But it’s very, very nasty.”
There was Bermuda grass at Pinehurst in 2014, but by then, the Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw project had eliminated most of the Bermuda rough in favor of expansive waste areas.