By Rebecca BRYAN
The US Open returns to Los Angeles next week for the first time in 75 years, but the biggest uncertainty facing the world’s top golfers isn’t the unfamiliar Los Angeles Country Club North Course.
The bombshell announcement that the US PGA Tour and DP World Tour were throwing in with rebel LIV Golf’s Saudi backers has spawned at least as many questions as answers.
Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, who lent his voice to the PGA Tour as it navigated two years of turmoil, says he believes the deal will be better for the game of golf but that he can’t help feeling “somewhat like a sacrificial lamb.”
“I’ve put myself out there and this is what happens,” McIlroy said when the deal was sprung on unsuspecting players on Tuesday.
He’s certainly not the only PGA Tour loyalist to feel that way.
They and their LIV Golf counterparts — still for now barred from their former tours and the Ryder Cup — will come together to play a course many have never seen.
The exclusive club in posh Beverly Hills, a stone’s throw from Hollywood, did host a 2017 Walker Cup amateur match-play tournament — where two-time major champion Collin Morikawa and 2022 Masters champion Scottie Scheffler led the United States to victory over Britain and Ireland.
“I’ll first lay eyes on it when I get to LA,” McIlroy noted, although the intelligence he has received makes him think the classic par-70 layout could provide “one of the best US Opens there has been for awhile.”
– High quality –
Spain’s Jon Rahm, the 2021 US Open champion who won his second major title at the Masters in April, said he’s surprised the US Golf Association can squeeze all of the requisite hospitality and viewing areas into the refined confines of the venue.
But that, and concerns about notorious LA traffic aside, Rahm said, “Golf course-wise, the golf course is very high quality.”
High enough to bring the US Open back to Los Angeles for the first time since 1948, when Ben Hogan won at Riviera Country Club.
Riviera and LA Country Club, along with Bel-Air Country Club, are the trio of courses designed by George Thomas in the Southern California city in the 1920s.
But the stage was set for LACC to host this major championship with Gil Hanse’s restoration of the North Course that was completed in 2010.
It will offer an unfamiliar look for a US Open, long famed for nipped in fairways and dense rough.
Instead, golfers will see wide fairways and perhaps deceptively benign-looking Bermuda grass rough.
The test, however, is real, with demanding elevation changes and challenging slopes reminiscent of Augusta National.
Brooks Koepka, winner of back-to-back US Open titles in 2017 and 2018, arrives in Los Angeles on the heels of a fifth major title at the PGA Championship at Oak Hill — where he held off Scheffler to become the first player to win a major title while with LIV.
He, Scheffler and Rahm lead the early betting in a field that will be without 15-time major champion Tiger Woods, who is recovering from the latest surgery on his car crash-damaged right ankle in April.
It wouldn’t be a US Open without a look at six-time major winner Phil Mickelson, who has finished runner-up a record six times but never won his national open to complete a career Grand Slam.
Mickelson, 52, was tied for second at the Masters alongside Koepka and the two spearhead a LIV Golf US Open challenge that also features 2022 British Open champion Cameron Smith, former US Open champion Dustin Johnson and former Masters champion Sergio Garcia of Spain.
Garcia will be playing in his 24th straight US Open after coming through qualifying in Texas last month.
England’s Matt Fitzpatrick will defend the title he won last year at Brookline. — Agence France-Presse