When the U.S. Open golf tournament last was played in June, 2019 at Pebble Beach, winner Gary Woodland finished 13-under par, and 31 players broke par thanks to a shockingly playable setup by the USGA. But rest assured that won’t be the case at the 2020 edition of the U.S. Open, which was postponed from its original June date and will be played without spectators because of the COVID-19 pandemic, starting Thursday at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck.
By all accounts, the USGA has reverted to its traditional demanding Open setup at the 7,258-yard West Course, which has been the scene for some memorable train wrecks. Following his win two weeks ago at the BMW Championship, Jon Rahm dropped by Winged Foot for a practice round and came away believing it is unlikely anyone will break the 72-hole par of 280.
“It’s just a difficult course,” he said. “It’s long, it’s narrow, it’s undulating. You need to play really good golf. If it gets firm like some of the USGA guys told me they want it to be, I don’t see how any of us shoot under par. Or if we shoot under par, it would be somebody winning by a lot.”
Rahm’s sentiments were echoed by NBC television commentators Roger Maltbie and David Feherty in a conference call with reporters last week. “I expect a lot of whining,” Feherty said. “There always is when you’ve got a golf course that’s so penal off the tee.”
Maltbie said the players he has spoken to about Winged Foot “are fully expecting over par to win the championship. The golf course will be presented in a fashion that we would call maybe the traditional U.S. Open-type setup, and I think we’re all excited about that.”
Former 2017-18 U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, who finished as the runner-up to Woodland last year, will be missing after withdrawing because of knee and hip injuries. But since the PGA Tour resumed play in June after a four-month pause for COVID-19 concerns, the competition between Rahm, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas all dicing back and forth for the No. 1 world ranking has been thrilling.
Johnson, who won the season-ending Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup a week ago and who had three victories in the 13 events following the re-start, currently ranks No. 1 ahead of No. 2 Rahm, who has two wins since the re-start and No. 3 Thomas, who has one victory in that span.
Collin Morikawa, who turned pro slightly more than a year ago, has won twice since the re-start including the PGA Championship, which was the first major of the year in August at Harding Park in San Francisco. Long-hitting Bryson DeChambeau, Daniel Berger and 2012 U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson also have won recently. Another hot player is Xander Schauffele, who actually had the lowest score in relation to par at the Tour Championship but finished behind Johnson.
Of course, the sentimental favorites will be Tiger Woods, who has played just four times since the re-start, and Phil Mickelson, who famously blew his best chance to win the U.S. Open the last time it was played at Winged Foot in 2006. That Open is remembered more for who didn’t win than it is for champion Geoff Ogilvy, who parred the final four holes.
Mickelson, Colin Montgomerie and Jim Furyk all finished one stroke behind Ogilvy’s 5-over par score after failing to par the final hole. Furyk bogeyed by missing a 5-foot putt, and Montgomerie, who never won a major, drove in the fairway at the finishing hole but missed the green and three-putted for a double bogey
Mickelson was in the last group, and the lefthander sliced his drive far to the left, where it bounced off a hospitality tent. His second shot hit a tree, and when it was all over, he had double-bogeyed.
Following that disaster, the 50-year-old Mickelson, who has finished second in the U.S. Open a record six times and needs it to complete the career Grand Slam, famously lamented, “I am such an idiot.”
No doubt, more than a few competitors will leave Winged Foot next Sunday muttering words to that effect.