Check out what has been happening in Utah Golf.
The U.S. Open & U.S. Women’s Open head to California
USGA Championship Season is underway with local and sectional qualifying for the U. S. Open Championship to be contested at famed Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course. A record number of over 10,200 contestants are vying for a chance to tee it up alongside the world’s greatest in June. While my GHIN says I’m eligible, I am not among those with the dream. My U. S. Open experience is more of the fantasy kind. Bob Casper and I along with others in the golf media were privileged to attend U. S. Open Media Day at LACC on Monday, May 1st. These are days when I feel like I’m treated better than I deserve. A locker with my name on it, gifts, food and of course a chance to play a one of the most revered courses in the country. Think of it like a tour pro for a day experience.
The USGA held a press conference where we heard from USGA executives, LACC representatives and local government officials including the mayor of Los Angeles. With the Open coming to LA for the first time in 75 years, there is a real excitement among all represented parties. A couple of noteworthy items this year include expanded media coverage with 49 total hours dedicated to covering the championship across NBC, Peacock, Golf Channel and the all new USGA App. Golf fans will celebrate this: The USGA announced fewer commercial interruptions and promos which will make for an improved viewing experience.
With limited space and wanting to showcase the North Course in its most natural state, there will be fewer grandstands and corporate hospitality structures protecting the natural beauty and sight-lines of the grounds. With this will come a limited number of fans onsite each day with a max of 22,000 which is significantly less than the 40-50,000 onsite at other larger venues.
LACC’s North Course will arguably be the toughest walk on tour as players traverse the steep slopes around the barranca that weaves in and through the George C. Thomas Jr design. For this 49-year-old, the walk wore me out! The course went through a restoration process by architect Gil Hanse and team which opened the current layout in 2010. USGA Chief Championships Officer and former BYU golfer John Bodenhamer says he wants a course that requires players to get every club in their bag dirty. The North Course is certainly that. Very few flat lies, well-positioned bunkers with gnarly deep fescue waiting to swallow errant shots, sticky Bermuda fairways and fluffy rough and we haven’t even made it to the greens yet. The golf course will play long at over 7,400 yards, but will feature the widest fairways you’ll see at a U. S. Open.
The North Course keeps you entertained with a variety of holes from long uphill par 4s like the 18th hole framed by the stately clubhouse, to a rare setup of 3 par 5s and five par 3s on the par 70 layout. The par 3s can play from 300 yards to just 80 yards. There’s even a drivable par 4 where Your’s Truly managed to find the putting surface off the tee.
At the end of the day I was equally thrilled and worn out by the challenge of one of the greatest courses I’ve ever played. I can’t wait to see how the best players attack a course most will be seeing for the first time in June. I’d say those few tour players who competed on the Walker Cup team back in 2017 at LA North (Colin Morikawa, Scottie Scheffler, Cameron Champ) may have a significant advantage with some prior course knowledge. I had a chance after the round to shake hands and get a picture with one of my childhood sports heros, Laker’s star James Worthy. He was playing with USGA President Fred Perpall and ESPN anchor Stan Verrett. President Perpall said it best that the game of golf brings together people from all backgrounds and inevitably creates new friendships.
If you’re curious, or care, I shot 79 and edged my cohost by a shot on the par 70. It truly was a golf experience of a lifetime.
Day two of our fantasy golf trip took us to Pebble Beach, site of this year’s U. S. Women’s Open. Pebble Beach is one of my favorite places to play golf. USGA CEO Mike Whan called it “America’s Scotland where God just intended golf to be played.” It’s Pebble. It’s iconic. It’s a national treasure. And now, for the first time in U. S. Women’s Open history, it will host the national championship.
This media day felt different. Gathering in the Visitors Center just above the lodge, I was taken back as some of the greats in women’s sports entered the room. Brandi Chastain of U. S. World Cup and Olympic soccer fame, Kristi Yamaguchi, two-time Olympic gold medal figure skater and Morgan Pressel who qualified for the U. S. Women’s Open at the age of 12, went on to a major championship career and now is the lead golf analyst for NBC’s women’s coverage. The program featured a roundtable discussion with these three champions commenting on the significance of the Women’s Open being held at a venue like Pebble Beach. The whole room felt the power of Chastain’s emotional recall of her days at “The Crosby” with her grandfather and how much it will mean to take her own grandchildren to the same course to watch the best women in the world this July.
Nick Price was quoted as saying “it matters to the players where they win their championships.” The USGA has made it their recent focus to provide iconic venues for the women’s game as they have done for the men’s. Pebble Beach has signed on for four Opens including this year’s which will be contested July 6-9.
If you’ve never been to a Women’s Open, go. If you’ve never seen Pebble Beach, go. Take your daughters, your family and enjoy the 4th of July week at Pebble Beach and witness this historic occasion. Presell said “A legacy win at a venue like Pebble Beach will transcend time.” You can be there and witness it. Annika Sorenstam will play on a special exemption as will So Yeon Ryu, the 2011 champion from the Republic of Korea. Paula Creamer and Christi Kerr are both trying to qualify. Everyone wants to be a part of this historic Open.
Of much lesser import, Bob got the better of me at Pebble. The extremely windy conditions favored a better shot maker like Casper. We hit everything from pitching wedge to 8 iron on the 100-yard par-3 seventh hole directly in the strong, cold wind. Its always a thrill to go around what I consider the most beautiful property in America. Not even a disappointing 85 could dampen the thrill of playing Pebble Beach. The scores were the only reality in this golf fantasy.
I’ll be comfortably back behind a microphone in June and July watching the pros turn their dream into reality chasing a national championship.
Story and photos courtesy of Brian Taylor, host of Utah’s Real Golf Radio.