The Model for an Entertaining U.S. Open

Wyndham Clark on Day 2 of the 2023 U.S. Open.

Aside from Wyndham Clark, his friends, family, and his fans, I think it is certainly safe to say that Sunday of 2023’s US Open at LA Country Club was rather disappointing. That’s not to take anything away from the gutsy and classy performance from Clark on Sunday. I just think it didn’t feel like Clark went out there and won the tournament on Sunday. I understand that’s a lot to say about someone who kept their composure and did arguably one of the hardest things to do in sports—winning a major championship in golf. However, there were three big-time names that could have easily snatched that trophy from Clark on Sunday that just couldn’t. Rickie Fowler—who Clark shared the 54-hole lead with—has been in similar situations and has won a Players Championship. Rory McIlroy—who was only one stroke behind Clark entering Sunday—is a former US Open champion and a four-time major champion. And Scottie Scheffler—who trailed Clark by three shots entering Sunday’s final round—is a Masters Champion and the number one player in the world. The point is that the stage was set for a fun, entertaining Father’s Day on Sunday, and all we got was a dull, firework-less display of golf from the last two groups. But why is that? Is it because we were not watching the best golfers in the world? No. Is it because Rickie, Rory, and Scottie didn’t have their best game? Maybe. But I’m pointing the finger at LACC and the USGA.

Although we love birdies, we as fans love the US Open because it makes the best players in the world look human for a week. So, when Rickie Fowler and Xander Schauffele opened with 62s on Thursday, fans were certainly worried it was going to be nothing but birdies throughout the week. However, the superintendent of LACC set up the course to get progressively more difficult over the duration of the week. Which is just the wrong way to set up a course if you are looking to put out an entertaining product and make your course look good.

Since the pandemic, which is certainly when the game of golf began to explode and widen its fan base, there have only been two US Opens that put out an entertaining product on Sunday. In 2020, Matthew Wolff and Bryson DeChambeau were in a two-man race on the front nine until Wolff began to fall apart on the back. DeChambeau finished with a six-shot victory on a rather dull Sunday for fans. In 2021, Jon Rahm made an exciting comeback in a star-studded Sunday that certainly left most fans pleased. The 2022 US Open was a wire-to-wire battle between Matthew Fitzpatrick, Will Zalatoris, and Scottie Scheffler that resulted in an exciting Fitzpatrick one-stroke victory. And we all know how 2023’s US Open Sunday looked—rather dull.

I obviously understand every major championship can’t be as exciting as the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park, but it can’t hurt to take a page out of their book. J.K. Rowling took a page out of J.R.R. Tolkien’s book and look what tat did for her. Harding Park took the riskier route of hoping the fans would stay patient. The course was a slug fest for the first three days and players struggled to score. However, by the time Sunday came around the greens were a little less firm than the previous days and the fairways began to dry out—perfect scoring conditions for the best players in the world. The results were amazing. There were just enough fireworks to make things entertaining, yet not too many to make it seem like the course was playing too easy for a major championship. It is without a doubt the most entertaining Sunday at a major championship I can remember. Right up until Colin Morikawa hit one of the best shots in the history of golf and made an eagle on the drivable par 4 16th hole, there was a legit eight players who could have won that tournament. Not to mention all eight of those players were or still are extremely relevant in the game of golf today. Morikawa ultimately pulled off the win with a two-stroke victory, but it was a wildly entertaining day of golf. But what made it so entertaining and what caused such a jam-packed leaderboard? You could argue it was the fact that 11 of the top 12 finishers shot under par on Sunday.

When I saw that stat, it made me wonder what percentage of the top finishers have shot under par on Sunday in the last four US Opens. In 2020, Bryson DeChambeau, who won the championship, was the only player in the field to shoot under par on Sunday. In 2021, 8 of the top 12 finishers shot under par on Sunday. In 2022, all top 6 finishers shot under par on Sunday. And in 2023, no one in the last two groups shot under par and only 6 of the top 13 finishers overall shot under par—none of which had any realistic chance of winning when the back nine came around.

There seems to be an obvious pattern here. When the players score well on Sunday, we get a very fun, entertaining day of golf. When the players do not score well on Sunday, we get a somewhat boring and lackluster day of golf. I am not putting any of this on the players. Whether they play well or not is not just in their hands. Its hard to score well when every approach shot is bouncing 20 feet from where it lands on the green. It’s obviously harder to make birdie when you’re putting from 25 feet rather than 5 or 10 feet—unless your name is Scottie Scheffler. The blame belongs to LACC and the USGA for choosing a rather unique spot for a US Open. Many players were not happy with the layout of the course due to its absurd number of blind shots and its haunting slope. Many players were also not happy with the USGA’s ability to get fans there. Many of the tickets were given out to the members—who presumably seemed to not use them. “Very poor. It’s disappointing on the USGA side,” defending champion Matt Fitzpatrick told Dan Rapoport of Barstool Sports.

Obviously, a huge congratulations goes out to Wyndham Clark and the incredible week he had. No one can ever take away from him that he is a US Open Champion. But it goes without saying that from an entertainment aspect, this certainly was not the best week for golf or the USGA and certainly not LACC. At least now we know what not to do moving forward and remember that the majority of fans out there want to see some fireworks on Sundays. They’re going to remember the 12-foot birdie putt that Tiger Woods holed to go to a playoff at the 2008 US Open. They’re going to remember the drive that Colin Morikawa hit on the 16th hole to set up an eagle putt that ultimately led to him winning the 2020 PGA Championship. They’re going to remember Roy McAvoy’s 12 on the 18th hole of the US Open. Unfortunately for Wyndham Clark, no one is going to remember his two-putt on 18 to win the US Open.

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