It’s almost time for the 2023 U.S. Open! We break down the upcoming major with a variety of roundtable questions.
Let’s start with a difficult question: will this be the best major championship of the year?
Andy Johnson: Yes, the primetime (American) television window (sorry European readers) and the allure of the golf course make this the event of the year. The latter should be the main story heading into this week. It’s America’s first look at Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course. The club has been notoriously private and protective of their golf course. Up until the leadup of this tournament, there was very little photography and information available on the course. Early in the week, it’s clear that the players have enjoyed their visit and that it will offer a different U.S. Open test. While bogeys and doubles lurk, there isn’t anything prohibiting players from a flurry of birdies. That’s what should make this tournament fun to watch: great play will be rewarded thanks to space off the tee and a design that rewards precise approach play.
Brendan Porath: It is set up to be the best major championship, but I tend to make this an after-the-fact determination dependent on what players contribute over the next four days. Is that a punt? Sure, but sometimes an underwhelming venue and low expectations—think Bellerive 2019—suddenly yield the most exciting days of the year.
Shane Bacon: Considering the first two majors felt inevitable on Sunday with Rahm and Brooks and the upcoming Open will be held at one of the lesser-anticipated courses in the rota, I’m going to say yes.
Garrett Morrison: What the hell, I’ll say no. Obviously I’ll be glued to the action throughout the week because L.A. North is the best new major venue we’ve seen in decades. But the overall quality of a major championship depends so, so much on 1) which players end up at the top, 2) how energetic the crowds are, and 3) dumb luck. There’s a chance that the limited-capacity galleries will be a touch sleepy at L.A., and that we could see a Kaymer-like runaway from, I don’t know, Patrick Cantlay or something. I don’t mean to be a downer. I’m stoked about this tournament. Just trying to manage expectations!
Will Knights: C’mon, Garrett. Of course it will! The Masters was great but was hampered by weather that softened the course on the weekend. The PGA was impressive but the Oak Hill just wasn’t very exciting. The 2023 U.S. Open appears set up to firm up throughout the weekend, allow the best players to separate themselves, and let a very intriguing golf course stunt on some people. Hoylake should be great, but it will be tough to top LACC.
Which hole or attribute of LACC are you most excited to watch this week?
Meg: I can’t wait to watch 15 this week, and I’ll be even more excited if we get to see it play under 90 yards with a front pin on the narrowest part of the green. The rest of the green is no slouch either with bunkers guarding almost every square inch and a large bump in the center that I think will lead to some frustrating three putts as players begin the difficult closing stretch.
Brendan: After consuming our excellent preview videos, and walking the course here for a few days, this feels like picking your favorite child when you have like 14 kids. Like Meg, I will throw out the shortie 15th, which can play as short as 80ish yards. Those have been some of the most fun holes in recent Opens – think 11 at Shinnecock or even 9th at Erin Hills. It’s not my favorite or the best hole here, necessarily, but I’m especially excited to watch it on Sunday.
Will: The par-5 8th hole. Players have to lay back slightly off the tee to avoid running into the barranca, and the ground slopes so hard left-to-right that they have to make sure to get far enough down the fairway to have a shot at the green. From there, players have a long iron or fairway metal into a green surrounded by unpredictable lies. It’s short on the scorecard for professional golf, but I can’t wait to see how No. 8 plays.
Andy: Long irons! Between the long par 3s (4, 7, 11) and a number of long par 4s (5, 13, 16, 17, 18) we are going to see pros grabbing for 5 iron or more to approach a handful of greens. We see pros hit these shots so rarely that it’s a spectacle when we do. So far, there have been some grumblings from players about the long par 3s and the long closing stretch. What they’re really grumbling about: having to use long irons and fairway woods.
Shane: I’m obsessed with 15. We talk about short par-3s all the time and how good design offsets the length, and I think this is as good of an example that we will see in major championship golf. Guys will make bogeys with sand wedges off the tee. We will see lob wedges hit and greens missed. The hole is awesome and the fact that it arrives late in the round makes it all the more exciting.
Garrett: None of you talked about 6, huh? What a bunch of hipster contrarians. Anyway, I can’t wait to see what the 13th hole does to guys. There’s a 20ish-yard-wide plateau on the left side of the fairway, and if you don’t hit it, your ball will roll to the bottom of a valley, leaving you a blind approach. Of course, you can go with fairway wood off the tee and stay short of the slope, but not many players will want to keep driver in the bag on a 500-yard par 4. According to No Laying Up, there have already been grumblings about the hole, which is music to my depraved ears. (Okay okay, if you want more on the sixth hole, check out our short video on it.)
Is there a hole or aspect of LACC or its setup for this week that could become controversial? Or generate some spicy good old-fashioned U.S. Open complaints?
Garrett: Aside from the Dikembe fairway on No. 13, the feature that I expect to generate the most angst is the thick fescue surrounding the bunkers. Pros don’t love it when being in a hazard is better than being just outside of one, and the grass around the bunkers at L.A. North is just brutal. I had a hard time even finding my ball in it on a couple of occasions during our media-day round.
Meg: An extra firm 6th green would be a wonderful spot to see some tempers flare up. Taking the aggressive route trying to drive the green and walking away with a bogey or worse is my kind of U.S. Open.
Brendan: I think the length of the 7th and 11th holes might trigger some pros, even though they all have to play it. As Brooks Koepka said on Tuesday about a past U.S. Open controversy, “Everybody was bitching, complaining,” the two-time winner said. “I just felt like it was — they were all so focused on the golf course they kind of forgot about what was going on, that they were there to play a major championship instead of, okay, the greens are pretty fast.”
The 11th at LACC especially seems to have raised eyebrows early in the week. Those who cut the ball (and they are many) seem extra-concerned about the kicker rocketing balls off into space on tee shots coming down the hill from 290ish yards away.
Shane: I could see some complaining about the setup around the green at the 14th. Pros think of par-5s as scoring holes but I don’t see the 14th as a real scoring opportunity. It’ll be nearly impossible to reach it in two for most of the field and even if you give it a go, you’ll need the perfect shot and perfect bounces to find the surface. It almost feels like the 14th hole at Oak Hill to me; a go-for-it opportunity in theory more than in actual execution.
Andy: The greens have a ton of pitch in them. With it being such a hilly site, the greens have a lot of inherent slope. If they get a little fast, a few could get dicey. One green to monitor in particular is the 3rd; it might be the most severe from back to front, and if things get a wee bit too fast it could lead to some problems.
Which celebrity would you most like to see show up to LACC this week?
Meg: Ed Herlihy.
Garrett: Michael Block.
Shane: Give me LeBron or give me nobody.
Will: If he’s up for it, we need Lionel Richie to play “All Night Long” on his back patio as players tee off on No. 4.
Brendan: I would like to see Nikola Jokic’s big goofy ass, still intoxicated from his recent title, making a scene in the very fancy Kroenke Sports hospitality they bought out near the first tee. But it’s more likely he’ll already be on his way to Serbia.
Andy: Personally, I would like to continue to develop my budding relationship with Rob Lowe.
Me and other influencers, reading your bad tweets… pic.twitter.com/8HGL4ZzZF4
— Kevin Van Valkenburg (@KVanValkenburg) February 18, 2023
What, if any, rollback news do you expect to come out of the USGA press conference on Wednesday?
Meg: I’m guessing we get mostly stock answers about still being in the comment period. After the merger news last week took all the attention away from the hype around the U.S. Open, the USGA will want all of the focus on the actual golf at their biggest tournament of the year.
Garrett: Is anyone in the press even going to ask that question?
Brendan: None. I expect, ironically, that the sanctity of the “comment period” (which runs through the summer) will produce a lot of no-comment answers that tell us nothing new.
Forced to pick just one, would you pick Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, or Brooks Koepka as the most likely to be in contention come Sunday?
Meg: I’ll go with Scottie. His putting can’t get much worse, right? Even if it stays historically awful, the rest of his game is so good he’ll still be in the mix.
Brendan: We are back to a moment when picking anyone but Brooks Koepka for a major like this seems silly.
Shane: I’m going to default to the guy that has lost to exactly one person in major championships this season in Brooks Koepka. Spin it another way: of those names, which would be the most surprising player to not be in contention over the weekend at a U.S. Open/PGA? That answer is, of course, Brooks.
Will: Scottie Scheffler is the best tee-to-green player on the planet right now. I know top-dog Brooks is back, but if Scottie can just be an average putter I think he has the ability to win by three or four shots this week.
Andy: Wouldn’t it be something if all four were in it on Sunday? With a gun to my head, I am taking Koepka. The obvious reason is how strong he’s been in the majors this year, finishing second at Augusta and winning at Oak Hill.
The winning score at the last three U.S. Opens has been -6. Do you expect this week’s winner to fare better or worse than that?
Shane: I think four under wins it. I asked Max Homa about the winning number on my podcast this week and he felt like scores would hover closer to par than to double digits under par. I’m going to go with the man that knows this place very well and lean into four under.
Andy: I think it is a bit lower. Scoring is going to be dependent on the wind, if it freshens for most of the day I think six under has a shot. I have been saying -8 to -12 is the number.
Garrett: I’m terrible at predicting this kind of stuff, but I expect a bit of a spread. I can see a few players walking the tightrope and getting to the high single digits or even low double digits under par, but behind them there could be a sizable gap, with several players clustered around even.
Will: Unless the USGA truly throws pace of play out the window, I don’t see them using the longest tees on the par 3s and par 4s all week. I think someone gets to -9 or -10.
Pick to win and why?
Meg: Spieth because 71-64-71-64 hits my winning score of -10 and would be quite fun to watch.
Brendan: We are back to a moment when picking anyone but Brooks Koepka for a major like this seems silly.
Garrett: Brooks. Because it’s gonna be Brooks.
Shane: I’m going with Cam Smith. This place will feel like the sandbelt of Australia. He’s due to find some form after a bit of a sleepy start to the year, and considering the short game questions LACC will ask I love going with the guy I feel has the most complete package around the greens of anyone in golf. Of all the U.S. Open courses, driving the ball well will be the least important skill at LACC. That’s the part of Cam’s game that can expose him the most.
Andy: I’m taking Brooks Koepka. I think he’s laser-focused on getting to double digit majors and we are at the start of another great major championship run from him. My next pick would be Scottie, but I don’t like how much time he’s spending on the putting green. I know he’s struggling there, but with putting sometimes the best recipe for improvement is to not think about it.
Will: Scottie grabs his second title and his ninth top-10 finish in his last 11 major starts. He’s too consistent.
This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.