Bryson's Coronation, Rory's Heartbreak and 16 More Parting Thoughts From The U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2

Tracy Wilcox. Getty Images.

PINEHURST — An incredible Sunday of golf that we're all lucky to have witnessed. There is so, so much to discuss. Here are 18 Parting Thoughts from the grounds of Pinehurst No. 2. 

1. Bryson earned this, thoroughly. His romp at Winged Foot was a bit one-dimensional in nature. That’s not a knock on him; it’s what the golf course called for. Hit it nine miles and then figure it out from the rough. Pinehurst was an entirely different test. It asked him to control the distance with his irons, no matter how far he might hit an 8-iron. It forced him to hit high and soft bunker shots even with that extra-long lob wedge. On Sunday, he had to scramble all damn day as he just could not find a fairway. 

Fitting that he closed it with, considering the circumstances, what can only be described as an all-time up-and-down. This was anything but bomb-and-gouge. 

This was a generational talent—he’s been incredible at every level, and his ability to add all that speed even after he was a world-class player and keep it after the lost all the bloat—in the prime of his career, at the height of his powers. 

2. I’ve never seen a player leave a golf course as fast as Rory McIlroy jetted out from Pinehurst No. 2. He must be crestfallen. That was as brutal a loss as you’ll ever see. The easy takeaway here is that Rory blew it, that he’s cursed, that he may never win a major again. I kinda see it the other way. 

That old parable Max Homa comes to mind. “When nothing seems to help I go back and look at the stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”

Rory continues to hammer away at the rock. This was the closest he’s been since 2014. If he makes a 30-inch putt on 16 or a four-footer on 18 he’s in a playoff. Make both and he’s your winner. Strangely I’m leaving this week more sure that he’ll win one soon than I was before. No matter all the stuff going on in his life—and there’s plenty—he finds a way year after year to give himself opportunities. It’s going to happen soon, and all these losses will make it that much sweeter once it does.  

3. Bryson DeChambeau is the face of golf’s next generation. Golf outside of the pro game has exploded in recent years and Bryson is the nexus between that ecosystem and the best players in the world. Your dad watching NBC knows all about him and so does the 15-year-old on YouTube. He’s the guy. Outside of Tiger I’d guess he’s the most popular player on the planet. 


I walked a bunch with Bryson’s group on Saturday as he plotted his way around Pinehurst en route to a 67. It was really, really electric. I’ve never seen a player of his caliber engage with fans more directly or more frequently. We’re not just talking about polite tips of the cap. He was making chopping up with them on tees, making jokes, raising the roof. 

People change, man. I saw some cynical chatter online about how we “shouldn’t fall” for this, how it’s just an act. That could be true. I’d just hate to view the world that way, to reflexively assume that some positive development must have some sinister motivation. Golf’s unique in that careers last decades. We see these guys mature and change as they age. Some for the better and some for the worse. Those close to Bryson believe his turnaround is the result of combination of natural maturation, the passing of his father, his online community and peers on LIV holding him accountable. If it’s some orchestrated campaign, they’re doing a great job of hiding it. 

4. The U.S. Open is officially my favorite major championship. I’ve been letting this marinate in my head for quite a while now and I’m finally ready to go public with it. I know, I know, the Masters. It’s not like I don’t love the Masters. It’s kind of like when you ask a parent who their favorite child is. They have one, but they also love the others. 

I love so many things about this event. I love the mental, physical and emotional tolls it takes on players. I love that nearly half the field qualified their way in through a single-day 36-hole qualifier. Doesn’t matter who you are or what tour play on or if you play on a tour at all; if your game’s good enough on that day, you’re in. I love how there are a few courses that routinely host these but the courses are a little different each time the guys come back. Sometimes the changes are subtle, sometimes they’re as significant as changing the grass on the greens, like at Pinehurst. I love how they’ll also throw in a wildcard host every now and then. Sometimes it goes great, like at Brookline, and sometimes it goes awfully, like at Chambers Bay. You never really know what you’re going to get. There’s an element of chaos, while the Masters is pretty much perfect every year. There’s a certain comfort in that, in its timeless traditions. But I’m drawn to a little bit of crazy. Feels good to be a U.S. Open guy. 

5. Being drawn to a little crazy might be the reason Sean Foley is one of my favorite people in this traveling Tour circus. He’s coached some of the best players in the world in the past—Tiger Woods, Justin Rose, Lydia Ko—and currently works with Erik Van Rooyen, Byeong Hun An and others. I always make an effort to pick his brain when I can, but not about the golf swing. He’s an endless supply of little axioms that make your go hmmmm. 

One of my favorites I’ve gotten from him—and forgive me if someone else said this, but a quick Google search yielded no results—is the following: “Confidence is not I’m great, he sucks. Confidence is I’m great, and so is he.” This came to mind during Rory McIlroy’s press conference on Tuesday. Rory’s one of the guys who’s been on one of those runs, where he’s clearly the best player on the planet. In the post-Tiger era it’s been him, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and now Scottie Scheffler. Not thinking much of the relative differences between the runs, I started a question to Rory about Scottie like this:


Q. Another win for Scottie at the Memorial. You've been on runs like this, seen it -- 

RORY McILROY: I haven't been on a run like this (smiling).

One of the great parts of our game is how much respect (most of) the top players all have for one another. Rory, Rahm and Viktor Hovland all went into detail about Scheffler’s greatness. 

“It's quite incredible to see what he's been able to accomplish,” Rahm said. “ Every year or every so years, there's been great ball strikers that come up. But when you start getting compared to Tiger and things that Tiger has done, that's when you know you are in a level that is quite special. To win five times in a season… That was his fifth win. And winning the tournaments he's winning. To win Bay Hill, PLAYERS, Masters, RBC and then Memorial, you're basically replicating a Tiger Woods season. It's fantastic to see. 

“He's been playing fantastic golf and doing what he needs to do. As a competitor, obviously it's an added motivation to see somebody do so well because that's what we all strive for. And as a golf fan, it's just absolutely incredible to watch.”

There wasn’t even a hint of jealousy or bitterness. I’m great, and so is he.

6. Another Rory quote perfectly illustrated why Pinehurst was such an exacting test and gave an insight into just how minute the details are at this level. 

“Even though I hit a great drive up the 8th hole,” he said Friday, “I had 151 adjusted to the hole. I'm trying to land it 146. I can't land it 144 because it's not going to get up there. I can't land it 148 because it's going to go over the back of the green.”

That wasn’t the case at Valhalla. A 144 shot would’ve plopped down on the green and sat still. So would a 146 or a 148 shot. But not here. At Valhalla you’d see guys react to well-struck shots like Bryson DeChambeau did on the 16th hole that Sunday; he hit it, it was right at the flag, and he knew it’d be a good look whether it landed 207 or 211. There weren’t really any of those instant reactions this week because hitting it perfect and hitting it online is only half the battle. They’d wait patiently to see if they hit that 146 number, and if the bounce happened the way they thought it might. Then, they’d listen for the applause as a final reassurance. Then, finally, they’d start the post-good-shot routine of tapping down the divot and handing the club back to the caddie. 

7. Pete Dye courses have a very unique form of torture. Because there’s bulkheads bordering the water hazards, a ball that’s rolling toward the piss will take a little hop on the wood before splashing. In that moment the emotion is pure and utter dejection. You’re watching it and you hope it stops and then it pops up in the air and your round might be ruined. 

Donald Ross courses have a similar signature “oh shit” moments. It’s when the ball starts rolling toward a slope and the claps start to dry up and oh crap, now they’re moaning and the player’s game morphs into a grimace and he cries out, always in vain, “sit. Sit, sit, sit.”

It never sits. No matter how hard you plead, it just never sits. Those futile “sits” will be one of my enduring memories of this U.S. Open.

8. So Neal Shipley was runner-up in the U.S. Amateur, took Low Am at the Masters and now Low Amateur at the U.S. Open. He played a fun mano-y-mano match with Luke Clanton on Sunday for that honor, and Clanton missed a four-footer on 18 for the tie. 

All this to say how wild it is that Shipley finished 48th(!) in the PGA Tour University rankings, which only ranks seniors. Three takeaways. One, he's a late bloomer. That's a still a very real thing in golf. Two, college golf is just ridiculously deep. Three, the PGA Tour U rankings are pretty incomplete. They don't count the U.S. Amateur which is the biggest tournament on the amateur schedule. I understand why, it's an NCAA-PGA Tour partnership thing so it only includes college and pro events. But for a ranking that’s so important now—the winner of PGA TOUR U goes right to the PGA TOUR, the next 9 to the Korn Ferry Tour and 10-20 to PGA TOUR Americas—to not include the most important tournament in Amateur golf, the one that determines which amateurs get exemptions into the majors…that seems silly. As for Shipley, he just barely got through PGA Tour Americas Q-School last week so he'll be playing there unless something special happens/he gets some more invites. I suspect he will get some invites based on his performance in the Masters and U.S. Open. 


9. Brendan Valdes is the No. 20 amateur in the world a rising senior on the Auburn team that just won the national championship. He qualified into the field and missed the cut this week—“I’ve played better,” he said with a wry smile—but was out watching Tiger’s group on Friday afternoon. Our conversation veered toward his game, naturally. (I can’t help myself). I asked him to describe himself as a player. Great ball striker, putting has historically been the weakness. He mentioned he armlocks. He’s been doing it since the beginning of college after what was a dark period for him on the greens. 

“I legit couldn’t make a 1 footer.”


“Oh yeah.”

The solution? For a full year, he woke up at 3:45 in the morning. First, 100 push-ups and 100 sit-ups to wake himself up. Then he’d meditate for a full hour(!) and be done in time to make 5:45 team workouts. 

I asked him, do you do that still?

“Nope, don’t need to anymore.” 

Mission accomplished. In addition to their natural gifts, it’s stories like that which illustrate why those guys are professional athletes and we’re the ones watching them. Discipline is a skill. 

10. Mixed in among Ludvig Aberg’s myriad strengths is his pace-of-play. It’s delightful. Probably the quickest player this side of Matt Fitzpatrick. 

11. Watch Tyrrell Hatton for the first time and you’re incensed. Watch him for the second time and you’re mildly entertained. Watch a third time and you’re laughing out loud. He’s managed the rare double of simultaneously being the angriest golfer in the world and one of golf’s most universally well-liked. 

You’re not supposed to be able to have that much going on in your head and still play at an elite level. The people with those attitudes are supposed to fade out or never fulfill their potential. You gotta reign it in if you wanna win tournaments and play Ryder Cups. 

Not the case, obviously, with Tyrrell Hatton. He said it’s always been like this, this is how it is, and I don’t really know why. 

“Half the stuff I say on the golf course—I don't even know where it comes from. There are some times where I sort of -- like oh, I probably shouldn't have said that or cringe out a little bit inside at some of the stuff. But it's just a reaction. I honestly don't know where -- it's not like I'm thinking, I've hit a bad shot, I'm going to let it rip. It just comes out. I don't know where from. But sometimes people find it amusing. Other times it's maybe not amusing, and as I said, that's probably more of the times when I think to myself, yeah, I probably shouldn't have said that.”

He’s genuinely a very funny guy and doesn’t take himself too seriously. You know the drill: Our game needs more characters, not less.

12. A personal fuck you to whichever singular human approved the new caps on the aluminum water bottles—you know, the ones that don’t open unless you have bone-dry hands and then, when you do get it open, slice the inside of your middle finger. 

I want to make it clear that my ire is directed only at that single person and not the fine folks at Dasani or Smart Water or, for that matter, anyone at The Coca-Cola Company at large. And it’s not a malicious fuck you. It’s the kind of fuck you that comes out after you, a full-grown adult, have your finger sliced by a water bottle for the second time in six days. I don’t really mean it and I'll regret saying it very soon. 


I’m dead serious, however, when I say that I cannot fathom how the whole slicing-fingers issue never came up in research and/or development of these horrendous products. Either that, or I am the worst water bottle-opener in the lower 48. 

13. I walked 28 holes with Tiger’s group over the first two days this week. It was hot as balls, and I haven’t done that since that was my job with Golf Digest. I’m not really sure why, but I had this gut feeling that I should be out there.

He’s looked physically better this week—like, much better—but his game just isn’t sharp. It can’t be when you’re not playing tournaments. When he came back from his back surgery he played 18 events in 2018 and 5 in 2019 before he won the Masters. It’s impossible to simulate the adrenaline rush that is tournament golf at home.

His good shots are as good as anyone’s good shots. The driver’s pretty one-dimensional but he still works his irons all over the place. It’s a joy to watch, especially on a layout like a crispy Pinehurst No. 2. And to see and feel the energy from the fans trying to will his ball into the hole. It’s a special experience.

He grinded his ass off Friday and actually hit it pretty solidly today but could not buy a putt. “It was the highest score I could’ve shot” was how he described it. The entire time I kept thinking man, if he can just play more, the tools are there. Billy Foster, a legendary caddie out here who has a great relationship with Tiger, had a front-row seat for the first two rounds as he worked for Matt Fitzpatrick. He posted to his IG story afterwards that he still has another one in him. I asked him about it after the round. 

"His good shots are as good as anyone's. He just needs to play more. That's what I told him."

But he can’t play more. Otherwise he would be. Then something he said after the round bummed me out but also made me extra grateful that I walked all those holes. He was asked whether that would be his last U.S. Open. And he didn’t say no.

14. Every major we highlight something the pros do that you and your buddies also do. Golf is a participatory sport; we love watching because we play the game and know the emotions they’re going through. We’re familiar with the weird quirks we all indulge in. 

This week’s example came via an apparent slip-up from Brad Faxon on the NBC broadcast. Fax has been Rory McIlroy’s putting coach for years and the two spend plenty of time together. Fax reported live on-air that Rory had “fixed” his swing during a flight on his private jet. He apparently don’t Sean O’Flaherty, his manager, that he “figured it out” while rehearsing moves in the aisle. Kira Dixon relayed this to McIlroy and he was not pleased that Faxon went public, but also outed himself as a swing-in-places-outside-the-golf-course guy. 

“We spend a lot of time on planes and I spend a lot of time thinking about my game when I’m in the air,” he said. “And sometimes things come to me.” Been there, baby. Been there. 


15. I’ve watched thousands of golf shots in person. There are very few that leave my mouth agape. Ludvig Aberg’s into the par-5 10th was one of the  5 greatest shots these two eyes have ever seen in person. 

He had 286 to a back-left pin on a plateau right over a bunker. Wind straight down. Going at the flag is a total no-go. He pulled 7-wood and tried to hit it at the center of the green and deal with wherever it would trickle out to. Only he pulled it directly on line with the flag. Still, with it being a 275-yard shot in the air and how bouncy the greens were and how small the effective area of that plateau was, there was virtually no chance the ball would stay on that little area. It would need to pitch directly in the upslope to kill all the momentum. 

That’s exactly the bounce it got. You could tell by their reactions that Aberg and his caddie, Joe Skovron, had zero intention of going at that flag. But, results wise, that shot was 1 in 50 or more. I was just off the right side of fairway, halfway between Aberg and the hole, and caught a perfect view of it. When it quit rolling and stayed on that tier I looked around with my jaw fully open. Won’t be forgetting that one. 

(For those curious the other 4…in no particular order…)

1. Phil Mickelson, 2020 Memorial, no fans there. Downhill lie, 78 yards to pin, playing 5 yards downhill wind pumping down. Full-swing cut flop from the fairway that pitched front edge and somehow spun back uphill and into the wind. I’ll never forget the sound. I kinda loved those 2020 tournaments because you could hear everything. 
2. Matt Fitzpatrick’s 9-iron at Brookline 2022. That shot, in that moment…
3. Tiger Woods, sky-high banana slice 5-wood from kikuyu rough to a front-right pin on 11 at Riviera. 5 feet. Probably 2020, right before the pandemic? 
4. Still thinking. I’ll get back to you. 

16. Dustin Johnson’s last four major finishes: CUT, CUT, T43, CUT. He did, it should be noted, win the LIV Las Vegas event to start the year. But DJ’s never hidden the fact that golf is a profession for him and that he wants to gradually play less and spend more time with his family. LIV Golf, then, made perfect sense for him. He turns 40 this Saturday, and it’s fair to wonder if he’s as motivated to grind on practice on those hot days in the summer like he was at 30. It’s not necessarily a bad thing—I get the sense he’s as happy as he’s been, so “worried’ probably isn’t the best descriptor—and he’s a Hall of Fame level player, so he could absolutely make me look very stupid. But it’s been a rough stretch. 

17. Scottie Scheffler’s comments Saturday afternoon will surely catch the attention of some folks in Ponte Vedra Beach. After signing for his third consecutive over-par round in the U.S. open on Saturday he was asked whether fatigue has played a roll this week. 

“I thought about that a bit yesterday afternoon. I think in terms of prep work for a week that I know is going to be as tough as this, I'm leaning going forward to maybe not playing the week before. I think especially going around Jack's place, which is going to be pretty close. I did most of my damage under par there at the beginning of the week, so… I think going into the major championships, especially the ones we know are going to be really challenging, it may be in my best interest not to play the week before.”

The Memorial can’t be directly before the U.S. Open going forward. It’s good for no one. Jack Nicklaus made it clear that he liked a week break in between, how it was before. I was there, and so many of the questions to players at Memorial were about Pinehurst. The tournament was a bit overshadowed. And, because Muirfield Village is so difficult and Jack wants a stern test of golf, it’s just two grueling weeks in a row. I’d be surprised if it doesn’t move back next year. 


Oh, and there’s another signature event next week…Wish the majors had some time to breathe. 

18. Just a quick shoutout to Patrick Cantlay. I've hammered him for not ever properly being in contention at a major championship. He was this week. The entire week, too. Shot 65 on Thursday and hung around all week. It hasn't been an easy season for him—he's been in the news for his role in the PGA Tour-PIF negotiations—but this was a definite step in the right direction. 

That's all for now. Electric, electric week. We'll see you at Royal Troon.