Mystery is the name of the game early in the week at the 2023 U.S. Open. A few players made scouting trips to LACC earlier this year, but for many this week marks the first time they’ve stepped foot on property. Geoff Shackelford mentioned in our U.S. Open preview podcast that he believes that approach won’t be a prudent strategy. But given the modern game and the amount of prep work players and their teams do online, no one really knows how this week will play out.
What we do know is that LACC North isn’t your father’s U.S. Open venue. There is deep rough in spots, to be sure, but it is largely a wide landscape which allows players to explore the edges of the corridors. Conditions are relatively soft due to recent rain and a lack of wind. If the course firms up come the weekend, we’ll see a U.S. Open more similar to that of Shinnecock Hills or Chambers Bay, not Winged Foot or Torrey Pines.
Looking backwards up the par-5 1st hole at LACC North
It occurred to me yesterday that the last 15 years have given us a very wide range of U.S. Open venues. There has been everything from the tough test of distance control at a fiery Shinnecock to the long, sloppy driving contest at Congressional. On Monday, we sent out a tweet asking which kind of setup people liked to watch more often at U.S. Opens: the likes of Shinnecock and Pinehurst No.2 or more of the Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach, Merion types. Many sided with one over the other, but there was a good group that voiced approval for a mix of both. Those people are right.
The U.S. Open has long prided itself on being the toughest test in golf, but they’ve somewhat abandoned that philosophy in an era of data and distance. From my perspective, it seems clear that the U.S. Open can, and should, strive to be the most complete test of golf, not the most difficult. Rotating between different styles of venue should be a part of that. We don’t want boring driving tests like we saw at Winged Foot in 2020, but mowing lines were monkeyed with too much to be a deterrent for that style of golf course. There is a sweet spot for places like Winged Foot, Merion, and Pebble, even with modern technology, as long as the setup allows for the player with the most complete control of all aspects of their game to separate themselves from the field.
In professional golf, especially at major championships, there is a place for mystery and intrigue. There is also room for difficulty. But what’s most important for the U.S. Open is that it tests all areas of a player’s game, while giving both fans and players different looks on a yearly basis. If the USGA gets that part right, they can bring their future championships wherever they please. Maybe then Twitter will finally be happy.