The movie studios nearby would've insisted on Rory or Rickie. But sports are unscripted, and we're luckier for it.
Wyndham Clark emerged from a star-studded leaderboard to capture his first major championship, an even-par 70 good for a one-shot victory over Rory McIlroy, who could not hole a putt when he needed to. There is so, so much to discuss. Here are 18 Parting Thoughts from the Los Angeles Country Club.
1. Wyndham Clark wanted an early look at the course. So he called his good buddy P.J. Fielding, a two-time All-Ivy League college golfer at Penn and a member of the Los Angeles Country Club. They’ve been tight for years, having played a few boozy pro-scratch tournaments together. Fielding flew out to Clark’s home base, in Scottsdale, to celebrate his maiden PGA Tour victory at the Wells Fargo Championship.
And so Clark hit up Fielding asking to come a week before the tournament. A sneak-peek before the chaos begins. Pros taking out Joes for advice, it’s a tricky business. Sometimes they give super obvious information, or they talk about golf like a 10-handicap, and that’s not helpful to the best players in the world. But Fielding remains a better-than-scratch player and frequently rubs shoulders with the pros. He’s also a student of golf course architecture and knows this layout inside and out. Clark picked his brain clean.
“That 18 holes was the equivalent of probably playing 27 to 36 because I was able to—he was telling me how certain putts break, how this one is faster than this, this plays this way. If you're here, you want to go—he was spot on.S o when I left that practice round on Tuesday I felt like I could have come here and not even played a practice round. I felt like it was that in depth.
“A lot of times when you take out a local caddie, sometimes they give you the information that you can see and you already know, but he had some really good insights on putts and speeds of putts and also how the fairways when they get really firm they do this and you've got to be here and lines off the tee. He's helped a lot.”
They didn’t keep score, Fielding tells me, because he was tossing out those fake holes all over the greens and just betting a feel for the place. But Fielding liked what he saw.
“I told him afterwards that he could win this thing,” Fielding says. “The course sets up so well for him.”
They all do, when you have the game Clark does. He came into this week with a career-high best major finish of 75th, but those around the game have long marveled at his easy speed and natural ability. He’s paired that with a much improved short game—his up-and-downs on 9 and particularly on 11, where he went full flopper from a barren lie left of the green, kept the round afloat when he was wobbling—and has maintained the cockiness throughout it all. He’s got a moxie about him, and it doesn’t hurt to be able to groove power faded at 190+ mph ball speed and hit 3-woods off the ground at 180.
Cockiness, by the way? His words not ours. On Friday he said he had only three goals for the week.
“For me, it was: Enjoy myself at a beautiful golf course. It was: Be cocky out there. It was: Remind myself of the first two. Those were honestly my three goals, and I thought if I could do that and keep myself in the best mindset, that the golf would take care of itself.
It sure did. He’s your newest major champion and almost certainly will be part of the U.S. Ryder Cup team in Rome.
2. What a victory—not just for Clark, but for his caddie, John Ellis. Ellis is sompething of a mini-tour legend in California. He's known as maybe the best playing caddie on the PGA Tour. He qualified for two U.S. Opens, including the 2008 edition at Torrey Pines. It's not an easy thing to swallow your pride, accept that you're not going to make it as a player and take up caddieing. Ellis did exactly that, and he's been handsomely rewarded for his work this year. Between just the Wells Fargo and the U.S. Open, Clark has made $7.2 million, which means some serious cash for John Ellis. A golf lifer.
3. Rory McIlroy hit it more than good enough to win the U.S. Open. He hit 15/18 greens on Sunday, not including finishing just off the green on 5 and 17. He gave himself look after look after look…and missed them all. Like, all of them. The longest putt he made all day was six feet, and that was for par. The day looked eerily similar to his Sunday at last year's Open Championship, when he made 16 pars and 2 two-putt birdies and got leapfrogged by Cameron Smith.
His putts refusing to go in on major Sundays—it's reached cruel and unusual levels. He had pretty good speed all day. Hit a number of good putts. Missed some high, missed some low. Too much speed, not enough speed. Goldilocks. It's amazing none of them fell by accident.
It'll happen soon enough. It has to, right? This marked his 19th top-10 finish since his last major victory. Keep giving yourself a chance and eventually it'll happen. That's what logic says. The superstitious side of you says there's some black magic at play. How else do you explain all those near misses? The man himself is not overthinking it. He knows it's coming, and it's going to be incredible.
"When I do finally win this next major, it's going to be really, really sweet," McIlroy said. When, not if. "I would go through 100 Sundays like this to get my hands on another major championship."
4. A tweet outlining some of LA Country Club’s rather strict/old-school rules went semi-viral on Thursday. There are no phones allowed on the golf course. No shorts, either. Men must wear jackets in the clubhouse at night. All that jazz. Predictably, it drew the ire of social media. Are they living in 1950? Sounds like a fun place to hangout!
Here’s the thing, though. It’s not a place to just show up and hang out. I have no problem at all with private clubs dictating their own set of rules—so long as they’re not discriminatory, what’s the issue? It wasn’t always the case, but LACC now has members of all shapes and sizes, and those members clearly cherish their property and want it to have a certain gravitas. It’s the same principle as a couple not allowing shoes inside their house. Sure, it might not be your cup of tea, but it’s not your house. Nor is it really your business. Personally—it’s not really my jam, but I think having a wide range of courses and clubs and vibes—from the most uptight to places where you can play in a tee shirt and flip-flops—adds to the game. We absolutely need to continue making our sport more accessible, but that doesn’t need to come at the expense of the classic country clubs places. There’s room for everyone.
5. Which brings us to our next point—LACC is investing $1 million into the Maggie Hathaway golf course in South Los Angeles, which is a rough neighborhood. Gil Hanse will oversee the renovation of the executive track free of charge. This comes a few months after Augusta National announced its support for re-doing The Patch, a municipal track in downtown Augusta. This is a fantastic trend in our game and should be a blueprint for private clubs hosting big events in the future: how cool would it be if every private course that hosted a major, by tradition, started some initiative to improve access to public golf in the local community? These places can surely afford it with their well-monied memberships and the revenue hosting a major brings in.
6. Bunch of debate this week about the golf course—specifically, whether it was difficult enough. I fall on the side of wanting carnage and suffering at the United States Open. I get it; par is just a number, a social construct, it’s irrelevant, all that jazz. Yes, LACC is a world-class golf course and forced players to get creative, particularly around the greens. Yes, great play was rewarded and bad play punished.
Still…there is legitimately one week a year, one tournament on the schedule, that has a tried-and-true identity of being golf’s toughest test. You didn’t hear any players complain about the setup this week—which is a sign that it just wasn’t diabolical enough. That’s part of the appeal of the U.S. Open; it should be as much a mental test as a physical one. You should want to strangle a USGA official after putting a ball off the green. It seems player pushback has spooked the USGA, namely setup chief John Bodenhammer, so severely that they err on the side of caution. He talked on Wednesday about wanting to “identify, not embarrass” the best players in the world. Were they really that embarrassed if they shot a couple rounds in the mid 70s for one week a year? Should we care if they’re embarrassed or not? I can assure you any bruised egos recovered rather quickly. This is an entertainment product, and I can’t tell you how many texts I got from people disappointed because this U.S. Open didn’t provide the pros the dose of humility that this game gives the rest of us.
A setup like this fine 51 weeks a year. You won’t find me complaining about a winning score at any event besides the U.S. Open. But this was the U.S. Open. Slice it any way you want, but having the first two 62s in the 128-year history of this event and six scores of 65 or better on Thursday—that’s just not what we’re looking for in a U.S. Open. They should’ve narrowed the fairways a bit more. Pretty simple.
Sure, the golf cognoscenti might tell you differently, but if we truly want this game to grow, we have to appeal to those “casuals.” And they were pissed on Thursday, because they tune into the U.S. Open wanting to see guys shooting 80. Through the morning wave on Friday, there was not a single round in the 80s out of 234. Four of the seven lowest 36-hole gross scores—so, irrespective of par—in U.S. Open history happened this week. That just did not feed the U.S. Open beast.
7. Why, then, were the scores so low? A few reasons. LACC’s fairways are wider than you’re used to seeing at the U.S. Open. Yes, they’re undulating and play narrower than they measure, but they’re still easier to hit than your typical Open venue by far. If you miss them, you’re screwed. But if you hit them, because of how firm they were—Sahith Theegala, who said he’d played here probably 30 times before this week, said he think the course played significantly shorter than it does on a normal day.
“I genuinely think the course is playing 300 yards shorter (than normal from the back). I’ve played here so many times when it’s damp and you get 5 yards of roll. I’m getting 30 this week.”
So, if you’re driving it straight at this place, you’re going to have a ton of wedges in your hand. Scoring opportunities. Padraig Harrington also added another, very interesting potential reason for all the birdies (Rickie Fowler made 18 through two rounds, shattering the U.S. Open record).
“If you produce a golf course in good condition, like these are probably the best greens we've ever putted on in a major. I'm telling you, these are just a pure bent surface which is beautiful to putt on. If you produce good greens, you're going to get good scoring.”
Most big events in California—the Farmers, the U.S. Opens at Torrey Pines, the Genesis Invitational—are played on pod Anna greens, which are notoriously tricky, especially when they start to flower in the late afternoon and get really bumpy. These were carpet all week. Give these guys perfect conditions, they’re going to ball.
8. One other aspect of this U.S. Open felt off: man, was it corporate-ey. We knew this would be the case. The USGA limited GA tickets to 20,000 per day, which is extremely small for a major championship. And, per Matt Fitzpatrick, even that number is misleading.
“Very poor,” is how he described the on-site atmosphere. “It’s disappointing on the USGA side. They want a great tournament—from what I’ve heard a lot of members bought tickets and that’s why there’s so many less people. Hopefully it’s not the same for other U.S. Opens going forward.”
It’s true—while the weekend was a bit better, the entire week just didn’t pack the major buzz you’re looking for. Part of that is the layout of the golf course—a lot of it is very hilly, and there aren’t a lot of great viewing points. But the USGA/LACC took the best ones and planted big, expensive corporate hospitality tents. It makes sense from LACC’s perspective; they’re not big on the riff-raff, and they got the benefit/prestige of hosting a U.S. Open while keeping a bunch of control over how that Open played out. It also makes sense from an economics perspective. The course still looked great on TV, and the USGA uses this tournament to fund the rest of their initiatives. The lack of on-site buzz won’t hurt ratings/the TV Product that much, the thinking likely went, so they could afford to sacrifice some GA warriors for the financial benefit of selling hospitality to very rich people in Beverly Hills.
Still…we have four truly big weeks a year in this sport, and plenty of players were upset with how corporate this felt. A boutique U.S. Open of sorts. The first tee was a particularly bizarre scene. It’s behind the practice putting green, practically on the porch of the clubhouse, and fans were not allowed anywhere near. I’ve heard club championship matches get a louder first-tee applause than the supergroup of Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and Hideki Matsuyama on Friday morning. Max Homa noticed the eerie silence.
“It didn’t quite feel because you don’t have a lot of people around you on the first tee so it didn’t quite feel like a major and I was still nervous but it wasn’t quite as heightened. At oak hill, a few weeks ago at Oak Hill, you walk across that bridge and it’s a lot. “
As the last week in golf taught us, money rules all in the end, and it’s the reason this tournament lacked that oomph. It’s not that anyone’s getting rich off this—the USGA is a nonprofit organization, so there’s no shareholders wanting a return on investment—but money was absolutely a factor in this decision. It’s a fact of life, but still a bummer.
9. Alright, now let’s say something nice about the USGA. Two things, actually. First, they paid each player who missed the cut $10,000 for his effort to make it into the tournament. The big boys won’t even notice, but to grinders who played their way through qualifying, only to get paired with two other non-stars and miss the cut without fanfare—it’s a really nice bonus that should cover costs for the week.
Another cool perk the USGA set up for players: guys who missed the cut were given access to The Beach Club, a highly exclusive—you guessed it—beach club in Santa Monica. Guys who wanted to wait around for the Monday charter to the Travelers Championship could go there with their families, hang out, eat and be merry on Fathers Day. Good stuff.
10. Scottie Scheffler has become the absolute master of the “how the hell did he finish third” variation of the third-place finish. If he putted field average at the Nelson, he’d have won it. If he’d putted field average at the Memorial, where he was dead-last in putting, he’d have won by a half-dozen. The numbers say he actually gained ground on the field putting this week, thanks mostly to a hot day 1, but he missed a number of shorties on Sunday. The ball striking remains head-and-shoulders ahead of everyone else, and it’s gotta be so deeply frustrating to have to play through this pattern time and time again.
Still, he continues his remarkable run this year and now has 9 top 10 finishes in 17 career major starts. That's…that's pretty damn good.
11. Keith Mitchell wins the award for Player Who Dresses Most Like An LACC Member.
12. All the sudden, Justin Thomas is in semi-danger of missing the Ryder Cup team. His 81 on Friday was the nadir of the first real slump of his career. He beat just one player in this 156-man field. He missed the cut, badly, at the Memorial. He shot +12 for the week at the PGA Championship for a T65. He missed the cut at the Masters. Yeah, it just hasn’t been a good year at all.
Credit to Thomas for facing the music on Friday. He could’ve very easily dipped out of LACC through the back door.
“It’s definitely the lowest I’ve felt,” he said. “It’s pretty humiliating and embarrassing shooting scores like that at a golf course I really, really liked. I thought it was set up really well. I worked so hard after Memorial and I was swinging great and I was really, really hitting a lot of good shots and I felt like I could 100% win this golf tournament, and I didn’t and obviously just played really poorly. Yeah, I don’t know – just gotta figure it out.”
I reached out to Thomas’ agent to make sure he’s all good physically and was told he is. Just some tough times and a few swing tweaks. He’ll be back soon. But golf will serve humble pie any chance it gets, even to Hall-of-Fame level players. He and Max Homa, who also suffered a bitterly disappointing missed cut at his home U.S. Open—at a course where he holds the course record!—didn’t seem to be taking it too hard, having some drinks and firing up the social channels on Sunday afternoon. This, too, shall pass.
13. I’m sure some of you saw the clip of Tommy Fleetwood’s caddie, Ian Finnis, giving me a talking-to on Monday and I’m sure a bunch of you enjoyed it. Finno confronted me about my tweet from Sunday of the Canadian Open, when I made public my thoughts that Tommy made a mistake by laying up on the 72nd hole. I thought it was the wrong decision then, and I still think it’s the wrong decision. It was all in good fun, and after Fleetwood posted 63 on Sunday—becoming the first man ever to shoot two 63s in the U.S. Open—I raced to the interview area to congratulate Ian on a series of fantastic decisions.
“Did you see 14?” He asked.
“I’m assuming he laid up?”
“He hit it in the rough, went for it and made eagle.”
I laughed. So did he.
“I thought of you,” he said. “No, I’m not even winding you up. I thought, that twat…..”
So, so good. What a narrative arc. Two beauties, Tommy and Finno.
14. I had the pleasure of hosting Joel Dahmen at my parents house for the week. He’s as cool as he comes off on Netflix and social media. He’s care free as hell. On Friday morning, I received the following text from my wife:
“I can’t believe Joel is just playing tennis right now. Like, before his round.”
It’s true. Joel warmed up for Friday’s round with a decently intense tennis session. He likes to play, and it gets his body loose, so why not? He approaches his career with such a refreshing levity; he knows how lucky he is to be playing golf for a living, he knows how lucky he is to be No. 124 in the world and have the support he does, and he’s not about to let himself get old before he appreciates how sweet he has it. Is it the best possible outlook to produce peak performance? Probably not. But there’s no rule that you have to milk every single ounce of achievement out of your body. I’d wager to say he’s one of, if not the, happiest people on the PGA Tour. There’s something to be said for that.
I’ve hosted Matt Fitzpatrick a few times for the Genesis—go ahead, get your jokes in here—and it’s fascinating to see the two ends of the spectrum when it comes to routine. Joel is chill as hell, go-with-the-flow, nothing’s-too-serious. Matt approaches his profession like it’s brain surgery; every action is measured, every shot recorded, every minute accounted for. There’s no right way to do it, and different things make different people happy.
15. This is going to sound dangerously similar to a cantankerous old man, but I kind of miss the days where you could identify the amateurs in tournaments easily—they were the ones in clean apparel, logo-less except for perhaps their college team. These days, the big-time amateurs turn up to events with staff bags, their shirts and hats full of logos. I’m all for the NIL movement, and I’m all for these kids making more money. So I guess I have to stop complaining that my lazy ass might have to do a little more work. See what I did there? I realized I was contradicting myself and being lame, so I caught myself and changed course. Credit to me.
16. Speaking of college players…we pause this 18 Parting Thoughts to pay some attention to the Korn Ferry Tour, where the recent grads who got status through PGA Tour University are taking over. Last week, Adrien Dumont de Chassart of Belgium, who played collegiately at Illinois, won the BMW Pro-Am in his professional debut. He carried the 54-hole lead into this week’s Wichita Open only to get clipped by Ricky Castillo, another PGA Tour U grad who played at Florida.
We’ve known this for a while, but this is perhaps the most salient example yet of the quality of the collegiate game. Gordon Sargent, the top player in college golf, made the cut this week at the U.S. Open and the Vanderbilt rising junior has a very-real chance to become the first player to get his PGA Tour card through PGA Tour U Accelerated. He’ll make this year’s Walker Cup team, which will give him 2 points on that system, and one more big win should do the trick. One benefit of the chaos of the last few years has been the PGA Tour’s embrace of college golf, and these kids are proving they can hang.
17. On the fifth hole on Sunday, Rory McIlroy lipped out a putt from just off the green, over 100 fee away. It caught the high side and trickled out to just under three feet. A pretty simple par effort, straight up the hill…only it just barely snuck in the right side.
McIlroy couldn’t believe it. But instead of shaking his head, picking ups he ball and heading to the next tee, he went full Tyrrell Hatton. He took a step back, crouched and re-read the putt. It was one of the more tour moves I’ve seen in quite some time. It’s like, you’re so good at golf that you’re dumbfounded you made a putt in the side door rather than dead-center. And to do it on Sunday, when you know you’re not going to play that hole again for the rest of the week. (Or, in this case, unit the 2039 U.S. Open?) Chef’s kiss.
18. Another disappointing major championship performance from Patrick Cantlay. Sure, he made the cut (on the number) and pushed up the board steadily for a very backdoor top-15. It was a classic Wikipedia finish, the type that looks way better in 5 years than it does now. If you’re the No. 4 player in the world, sooner or later you have to plant yourself on the first page of the leaderboard on Thursday and stay there for the entirety. He’s yet to do that in his career.
I’ve got a problem with the OWGR that has nothing to do with LIV Golf. For my money, the algorithm doesn’t weight the major championships nearly enough. I get why; you’re playing against the same players at, say, the Wells Fargo Championship, so why wouldn’t you be rewarded the same?
Because it’s not the same. It’s just not. The courses are harder, the lights are brighter, the pressure more acute. Players are judged by how they perform in the major championships. You could argue that’s truer now than it’s ever been…and yet Cantlay came into this week ranked No. 4 in the world despite not doing anything of note in the majors. In tennis, always a good comparison start-point, major championships are worth double any other tournament in the world rankings. They’re worth four times an ATP 500, which is the equivalent of a non-elevated event on the PGA Tour. This feels more commensurate with how much the golfing public weights majors, and a better representation of the actual balance of power than the system we have.
So much fun, as always, needing our with you guys. I’m off to sleep for a few days.