The toughest test in golf takes on several meanings for this U.S. Open.
Tough usually starts with the golf course, and the North course at Los Angeles Country Club figures to be every bit of that, even if it’s a mystery to most. It has never hosted anything of national significance except for the Walker Cup in 2017.
This will be the third time since 2015 the U.S. Open goes to a course for the first time.
Tough for this U.S. Open is also just getting there. The storied club is located between Wilshire and Sunset boulevards on the edge of Beverly Hills. And if that doesn’t suggest big traffic, it’s about 5 miles off the notorious 405 freeway.
“I’ve been to LA Country Club,” Masters champion Jon Rahm said. “I remember when we were there — I think it had already been announced that the U.S. Open would be there — and my first thought was, ‘How the heck are they going to fit anything around here?’ And second, ‘How are we going to get around the traffic in this place?’
“Golf course-wise, yeah, the golf course is high quality. The golf course could host any event you want,” he said. “It’s just logistically. To me, it was the hardest part to understand.”
And it’s tough on the USGA for personal reasons.
Instead of celebrating the first U.S. Open in Los Angeles in 75 years, it’s almost as though the USGA is having to remind everyone the 123rd edition of the U.S. Open starts Thursday.
All that seems to be on anyone’s mind is the shock announcement of a deal between the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabian wealth fund — bitter adversaries turned partners — and more specifically what it all means for rival upstart LIV Golf.
Chatter about the par-3 15th hole — it could play as short as 80 yards for one round — has given way to whether players felt betrayed by PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan and whether LIV defectors will be welcomed back.
It even overshadows the USGA proposal to roll back the golf ball. Maybe it’s not all bad.
The USGA was inundated with requests for media credentials over the last four days from outlets that ordinarily don’t cover golf (most were denied), mainly because the interest in sport goes beyond golf right now — even beyond the second-oldest championship in golf.
“We’re looking for a harmonious world of golf,” Justin Rose said. “That’s not going to be overnight. Obviously, there’s a lot of players that you guys want to watch — we all know who they are on LIV. They’ve got a lot to offer the game of golf. I think just because they made a certain decision doesn’t mean they’re outcasts forever.”
The Masters did so much in showing golfers can get along no matter where they play or who pays them. The same was true at Oak Hill for the PGA Championship, even with Brooks Koepka of LIV Golf winning his fifth major and restoring his reputation as a beast in the majors.
There are 14 players from Saudi-backed LIV Golf in the field, only slightly fewer than the previous two majors because of fewer exemptions to an Open. But there is palpable consternation from the PGA Tour side that LIV players took big Saudi money and might be able to return. No one knows how that will play out. Then again, no one knows much of anything about the deal among the PGA Tour, European tour and Saudi’s Public Investment Fund.
But there are hard feelings, as strong as ever.
“For the guys that did turn down significant amounts of money, then that’s probably a tough one to swallow and I feel for them,” defending U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick won his first major last year at The Country Club, one of the five founding clubs of the USGA that dates to 1882.
Los Angeles Country Club — commonly referred to as LACC — isn’t too far behind. The club dates to 1897, and the members were among those who shaped the economy in the city that became known for the stars. It moved to its current location in 1911.
The club is not big on celebrities, even though the property around it would suggest otherwise. Bing Crosby once had a house near the 14th fairway and was never invited to join. Lionel Ritchie has a mansion on the fourth hole. Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion is adjacent to the 14th tee.
“There’s some pretty expensive real estate there,” Scottie Scheffler said. “It’s like a country club in the middle of town. But it’s a world-class golf club, and it’s in Beverly Hills.”
And it kept largely to itself, a gem shown only to high-end members and their guests. LACC hosted the Los Angeles Open five times between 1926 and 1950. It also held the 1930 U.S. Women’s Amateur and the 1954 U.S. Junior Amateur.
But it otherwise wasn’t interested in showcasing the North course.
Gil Hanse oversaw the restoration of the North course with Jim Wagner and Geoff Shackelford, a modern touch while returning it to the original design of George Thomas Jr. from 1921. It has five par 3s and three par 5s, one more of each for a typical par 70 at a U.S. Open.
LACC held the Pac-12 Championship in 2013 — Max Homa opened with a 61 and led Cal to the title, a field that also included Rahm, an Arizona State freshman.
The U.S. easily won the Walker Cup — Scheffler was on that team with Collin Morikawa, who went 4-0 for the week — and now it’s time for the ultimate test.
This will be the first U.S. Open in Los Angeles since Ben Hogan won at Riviera in 1948. The last major championship in LA was also at Riviera, with Steve Elkington winning the 1995 PGA Championship.
Scheffler and Rahm have been battling for No. 1 all year. Rahm’s four wins include the Masters. Scheffler has two wins, including The Players Championship, but his consistency has been so remarkable that he has yet to finish out of the top 12 all year.
World ranking aside, Koepka is right there with them.
LIV Golf doesn’t get world ranking points except in the majors. Koepka had the 54-hole lead at the Masters (he tied for second) and won the PGA Championship. Another big week and he takes his place in the conversation, ranking or not, if he’s not already there.