Will familiarity matter?

2021 U.S. Open / Torrey Pines

US Open 2021 – Will familarity matter?

Estimated reading time: 12 minutes

SAN DIEGO, CA. The 121st U.S. Open commences today and the staging of the championship at Torrey Pines presents a clear familiarity to a number of players. The site is used annually for the Farmers Insurance Open — albeit in its regular winter time slot on the PGA Tour. The most recent other example of a PGA Tour stop hosting a major event is Pebble Beach during the 2019 U.S. Open.

US Open 2021 – Will familarity matter?

The event is being played on the South Course and the June time frame will present a different “feel” from the PGA Tour event played in the winter time frame.

Players will encounter a course providing more roll after tee shots have landed given the drier conditions in June when compared to January when the average roll of a tee shot amounted to ten yards. The kikuyu rough is also now in full bloom — denser than the rye grass that’s prevalent earlier in the year.

US Open 2021 – Will familarity matter?

Will those who have played well previously at the Farmers event translate into a quality performance at this week’s U.S. Open? The verdict is hard to say with total certainty. Those who have played well in the past are likely to have more of a comfort zone temperament given earlier success. However, the pressures of a U.S. Open are greatly intensified given the significance of the event and the impact on a player’s career.

The U.S. Open is generally considered the hardest of the four majors to win. The rigors of the event have a twin impact — both physically and mentally. Being able to grind through the more challenging situations is a needed ingredient. 

Major championships are the ultimate measuring stick in defining true greatness in golf. The 17 players listed below fully comprehend the task that lies ahead. That journey begins with today’s opening round.

US Open 2021 – Will familarity matter?

Dustin Johnson

The world ranked number one player resurrected his game at last week’s Palmetto Challenge event on the PGA Tour. Prior to his T10th finish at the South Carolina event Johnson had clearly been off form. For the first two majors in 2021 he missed the cut in both. That’s something that has not happened to a world number one player since Greg Norman did so in 1997.

Johnson is somewhat familiar with Torrey Pines — his last start at the Farmers event came in 2017 — missing the cut. He also played in the ’08 U.S. Open held there with a T48th position. His best outing came in 2011 when he T3rd.

Putting woes have been cited by Johnson and he has stated his game is rounding into form. Getting off to a good start may be essential for Dustin as he will be paired the first two rounds with Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose.

US Open 2021 - Will familarity matter?
(Robert Beck/USGA)

US Open 2021 – Will familarity matter?

Justin Thomas

Thomas is ranked number two in the world, however, since his victory this past March at The Players Championship his performance has been lackluster. T21st in the Masters and a missed cut at the PGA Championship. His familiarity with Torrey Pines is limited — in 2014 and 2015 respectively. In the former T3rd and in the latter a missed cut. 

If Jon Rahm had gone on to win the Memorial before being withdrawn because of covid protocols — Thomas would have moved down one slot in the world rankings.  Can JT turn things around at this week’s U.S. Open? Hard to say with real certainty.

Jon Rahm

Being forced to withdraw from the Memorial was a downer for the Spaniard as his play at Muirfield Village — for three rounds at -18 — was simply superlative. Rahm garnered his first PGA Tour victory at the Farmers in 2017 and has played well since at Torrey Pines with no less than a top seven finish the last three years. What does that all mean? 

Try a combined 51-under-par in five starts at Torrey Pines. To say he is comfortable at the setting is a massive understatement. The key will be whether Rahm can keep his volcano-like explosions under control. Possibly recent fatherhood will help guide him in the next phase of his blossoming career.

US Open 2021 - Will familarity matter?
(Jeff Haynes/USGA)

US Open 2021 – Will familarity matter?

Xander Schauffele

The tagline of “horses for certain courses” can apply to Xander Schauffele. Born in La Jolla, Xander played extensively at Torrey Pines during high school years and at nearby San Diego State University.  

Initially, he missed the cut in four of his five starts at the Farmers, yet, the most recent effort earlier this year produced a runner-up position.

Xander showed plenty of grit in making a late last round move at the Masters. Unfortunately, a pulled approach at the par-3 16th splashed down ending his green jacket hopes. The issue for the talented 27-year-old is can he finish off events when in the heat of battle.

Schauffele has 4 wins on the PGA Tour and is now primed to take his career to the next level. How transformative would it be for that elevation to happen at Torrey Pines.

Rory McIlroy

It is hard to comprehend that McIlroy has not moved the needle beyond four majors won since August of 2014. The gifted Ulsterman possesses a complete tee-to-green game but has been impacted by inconsistent putting often derailing key rounds from being maxed out.

Matters were not helped in the first two majors this year — missing the cut at Augusta and adding a disappointing T49 finish at the PGA Championship. McIlroy did win the Wells Fargo event last month at Quail Hollow — ending an 18-month drought from the winner’s circle. 

More importantly, he is quite familiar with Torrey Pines having finished T16 in this year’s event with a combined -32 under par for his last three starts. If Rory’s predictable solid driving is in full gear in concert with more consistent putting, he will be in the mix come late Sunday.

US Open 2021 - Will familarity matter?
(Jeff Haynes/USGA)

US Open 2021 – Will familarity matter?

Brooks Koepka

Few golfers have the wherewithal to raise the level of their play when major championships are played and Koepka is clearly one such player. The four-time major winner — also snared the title earlier this year at the WGC-Workday Championship. Brooks was right at the top of the leaderboard for much of the PGA Championship. Paired with Phil Mickelson the last round his play was uneven and he eventually finished T2nd.

Recent knee surgery this past March did not hinder Koepka at The Ocean Course but he has admitted there is still some lingering pain. A win this week at Torrey would elevate him to a 3-time U.S. Open champion — something only six players have accomplished and having him join the ranks with Tiger Woods and Hale Irwin.

Patrick Cantlay

Chalked up his 2nd win this season in claiming the Memorial tournament in a playoff over Colin Morikawa. He is also the leader in the Fed-Ex Cup standings. The downside is that Cantlay has only played twice in the Farmers — missing the cut once and finishing outside the top 50. 

In major championship play he has only two top ten finishes — the best coming at the 2019 PGA Championship when he finished 3rd.

US Open 2021 - Will familarity matter?
(Robert Beck/USGA)

US Open 2021 – Will familarity matter?

Bryson DeChambeau

The defending U.S. Open champion is trying to reassert himself as a prime contender. Bryson has 8 Tour wins but only two finishes in the top ten among the major championships. At the Masters he finished T46 and at the PGA Championship T38.

The conversation about Bryson is not about his supreme length but can he consistently find a runway for such shots. DeChambeau believes he can escape the perils of high rough time after time because the maximum length he achieves leaves him shorter clubs into the green. How well will the irresistible force — Bryson’s power — fare against the immovable object — the USGA set-up for Torrey Pines? The encore performance — post Winged Foot — will be one to watch.

The time to focus on his play rather than the banter with Brooks Koepka is at-hand this week at Torrey.

Jordan Spieth

After spending nearly four years in the winless world — Spieth emerged earlier this spring with a quality win at the Valero Texas Open. Hard for many to remember but Spieth had won three majors before turning 24 — something only Jack Nicklaus had done. 

The road back to relevancy has taken time and Spieth’s ascension bodes well for him in a U.S. Open where grit and resolve are center stage. The issue is whether Jordan can hit his driver consistently in play. Thus far, Spieth is 89th in total distance and a woeful 184th in finding fairways. Without meaningful improvement in both areas, it’s hard to imagine Spieth claiming his 4th major this week.

(Chris Keane/USGA)

US Open 2021 – Will familarity matter?

Collin Morikawa

Although he lost in a playoff to Cantlay at the Memorial, Morikawa has demonstrated a consistent level of play. He is a four-time winner on the PGA Tour — winning earlier this year and he claimed the ’20 PGA Championship at Harding Park. This will be Morikawa’s 8th major played and 3rd U.S. Open. 

Phil Mickelson

Winning the PGA Championship at the record age of 50 has resurrected Mickelson’s career. Although the USGA provided him a special exemption to play this week the win at Kiawah negated that need to secure a spot in the championship. Mickelson, who turned 51 Wednesday, is a three-time winner of the Farmers event and a record six-time runner-up in the Open. However, his last win at the San Diego event came in 2001 – prior to the overhaul the South Course went through via architect Rees Jones. Mickelson has publicly stated his lack of enthusiasm for the work Jones provided on the course he first played in childhood.

Lefty’s win at The Ocean Course was helped primarily by superb driving and focused mindset. For Phil to contend he will need that to happen again. Should Mickelson pull off the impossible he will be the oldest winner of the U.S. Open and become the 6th member of the career Grand Slam club.

US Open 2021 – Will familarity matter?

Tony Finau

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Without question, one of the most consistent performers on the PGA Tour. 39 top ten finishes but only one win to show for all that effort and that happened over five years ago. He has played equally consistently in the majors with ten top 10 finishes including a T10 at the Masters and T8 at the PGA Championship. The main question for Tony is can he successfully conclude an event with his name at the top of the leaderboard?

Hideki Matsuyama

The current Masters champion has played three events since donning the green jacket and each was hardly noteworthy — never finishing inside the top 20 and that included the PGA Championship. Going beyond his win at Augusta may prove to be a tough assignment for the Japanese star. We shall see.

(Jeff Haynes/USGA)

US Open 2021 – Will familarity matter?

Will Zalatoris

The young phenom put the golf world on notice with successive high finishes in the ’20 U.S. Open – T6th and at Augusta with a solo runner-up finish and a T8 at this year’s PGA Championship. The 24-year-old is quickly showcasing serious talent and he is quite familiar with Torrey Pines with a T7 earlier this year.

Few people knew of him prior to last year’s Open at Winged Foot — but he’s intent on making himself better known and this week at Torrey could be the liftoff.

Patrick Reed

Won the ’21 Farmers but the win was marred by a rule controversy in which Reed took relief from an embedded ball situation and television replay showed his ball landing and bouncing before settling in the rough. Upon review the PGA Tour rules Reed had proceeded correctly and no penalty was applied. Reed’s five shot win was his 9th.

Reed is a steady grinder and has a first-rate short game in concert with a quality putting stroke. If his tee game and approaches are working, he could very well be in contention come last Sunday.

(Robert Beck/USGA)

US Open 2021 – Will familarity matter?

Viktor Hovland

In a short time, the 23-year-old Norwegian has demonstrated the capacity to play at the highest of levels with two wins on the PGA Tour.  He tied for 2nd at the Farmers earlier this year and his steady equilibrium has clearly paid dividends. Hovland is part of the next generation of young players who are quickly asserting themselves.

Louis Oosthuizen

Although the South African only has one major title to his credit he has been a consistent performer in big time events. T2 at this year’s PGA Championship and secured 3rd place in last year’s Open at Winged Foot. The issue for Oosthuizen is being able to finally win professionally in the USA. 

At 38 years of age, Louis is ranked 18th in the world and has the all-around game to win. A victory at Torrey Pines would place his name alongside the likes of Gary Player and Ernie Els as the only South Africans to win a U.S. Open title.

(Kohjiro Kinno/USGA)

US Open 2021 – Will familarity matter?

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