After a less-than-stellar performance from our picks down the stretch of the FedEx Cup playoffs (congrats, Dustin Johnson), we are going to take a break from the gambling corner this week and focus on a little history lesson. The Safeway Open odds are being led by recent Champions Tour winner Phil Mickelson (20-1), so who knows what could happen this week in Napa, Calif.
We now arrive at the official start of the 2020-21 PGA Tour season, during which a record six major championships will be contested. The first one is the rescheduled 120th U.S. Open, next week at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y. It will be the sixth time the storied Westchester County club will host our national championship, with the most recent one in 2006. The course was designed by famed architect A.W. Tillinghast, the sculptor of many other major-championship sites, notably Baltusrol and Bethpage Black.
The tournament itself is considered to be the hardest test in golf. It is run by the U.S. Golf Association (USGA) and, in any other year, is open to every professional and amateur (with a USGA Handicap Index not exceeding 1.4) in the world. The USGA puts an emphasis each year on setting up the golf course in a way to penalize golfers who do not drive the ball accurately. With the customary thick rough and difficult routing, the U.S. Open becomes a war of attrition and a mental test.
The inaugural U.S. Open was played in 1895 at Newport (R.I.) Country Club. The American championship was dominated by seasoned Britons in the early years. Since 1911, when John McDermott won his first of two consecutive titles, the tournament has been won mainly by Americans. In the past 92 years, only 14 players from seven nations other than the U.S. have won the title. The field of 144 players this year, down from the usual 156 because of reduced daylight in September, is entirely exempt because the global coronavirus pandemic prompted cancellation of qualifying.
This year, the U.S. Open will be an old-school test. In recent years, host sites such as Erin Hills in Wisconsin and Pebble Beach in California have been beaten up by the field. However, many of the world’s top players have played practice rounds at Winged Foot in recent weeks and expect par to be a lofty goal. Jon Rahm said the course reminded him of Oakmont, which is widely considered to be the hardest course in America. At the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, Geoff Ogilvy won with a score of 5-over-par.
The U.S. Open brings out all of the emotion and inner battles that a golfer can handle. In such a setting, the elite players often rise to the top. So, look for one of the top players in the world to raise the trophy and then, just nine months later, have to defend his title at Torrey Pines.