Nine storylines at the Country Club

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122nd U.S. Open starts today
Posted on
June 16, 2022
M. James Ward in , ,
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
US Open - Nine storylines
(James Gilbert/USGA)

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes


BROOKLINE, MA. The championship of American golf commences today. 156 players competing to win the third major event for 2022. The venue is steeped in history and while its name may appear pretentious to many, The Country Club welcomes back to New England the U.S. Open for the first time since 1988.

This week's event brings to the forefront a number of key storylines worth watching.

McIlroy's Moment 

Last week at the Canadian Open, Rory McIlroy looked poised to give away the title but he showed fine form with two concluding birdies to defend the title he won in 2019. The 33-year-old has not won a major since 2014 and when he stormed out of the gates with an opening round 65 at the PGA Championship it looked like he was headed in the right direction. That did not happen in Tulsa. The Irish fan base in Boston is ready to cheer on McIlroy and a win this week would mean his second U.S. Open title.

(James Gilbert/USGA)

Can McIlroy handle the key putts he will surely face on the small greens at The Country Club? At times a balky putter has betrayed him. When on form the Ulsterman is fully capable of doing what he did in 2011 at Congressional when he won wire-to-wire. With each passing major the pressure cooker will only intensify for him to snap a streak he would like to finally place in his rear-view mirror.

Can Justin Thomas keep Tulsa momentum growing?

When Justin Thomas won his second major event at last month's PGA Championship at Southern Hills, he showed real grit in overcoming a final round deficit of seven strokes. At last week's Canadian Open he was on the doorstep of another win before being outplayed on the final two holes by McIlroy. 

For too long Thomas has played second fiddle to the amount of fanfare paid to a number of his contemporaries such as McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson. A win at The Country Club would jettison him ahead of them all. The 29-year-old has all the key attributes needed for ultra-high superstardom. He has finished in the top ten twice but really never truly competed for the title during the final holes.

Is Thomas ready to assert himself to an even higher level. That will be answered this week at Brookline.

(Jeff Haynes/USGA)

Does Mickelson Matter?

Finally resurfacing back in the USA after competing for the first-time last week in London as a member of the LIV Tour -- Phil Mickelson returns to play in an event in which he has finished a record six times in the runner-up slot. The USGA smartly had Mickelson's press meeting on Monday to keep the sideshow truly on the side and not allow it to dominate the event.

Nonetheless, the simple presence of Mickelson has raised eyebrows given his reported package of $200 million from the Saudis for being connected to LIV. Mickelson's self-assured bravado was clearly measured in tone during his time with the press and Lefty is fully aware that the optics of him being a part of the Saudi Arabia effort to "sports wash" the Kingdom as an entry vehicle for their global aspirations has impacted his overall legacy. 

The best way for him to change that narrative is to show he is still relevant in championship golf. His win at Kiawah last year seems far longer than just a year ago. Phil has a clear fan base but without a quality golf game to show this week the pushback he is receiving will only grow more intense and louder.

(Kathryn Riley/USGA)

Can one count on Koepka?

When the words "major championships" are uttered the player most associated with being the one to watch in the last several years has been Brooks Koepka. 

Between 2017 and 2021 -- Koepka won four majors and had no less than twelve top tens. No player won more and had more consistent placements.

But that luster has dimmed recently. He missed the cut at this year's Masters and was not remotely in contention at the PGA Championship. Nagging injuries have played a role and there was also the recent marriage to long-time partner Jena Sims. 

Is Koepka ready to re-emerge at his favorite event? The two-time champion brings plenty of nerve to the table and his re-emergence could signal the start of a new phase of dominance for the 32-year-old Floridian.

US Open - Nine storylines
(Jeff Haynes/USGA)

How will USGA fare this week?

In years past, the USGA has had to endure major pushback in how it has set-up various venues for their flagship event. The desire to protect par at all costs has meant a number of contrived outcomes -- see the last two times ('04 and '18) when the event was hosted at Shinnecock Hills as a good example. 

A new man -- John Bodenhamer -- is the central figure in preparing the test the world's best players face at The Country Club.

Making sure the storyline is about the players and not about themselves -- will be a big plus for the USGA as it brings to the forefront one of the most tradition-oriented clubs in the USA. 

The stakes are high. Getting it right -- is an even higher priority.

John Bodenhamer (Robert Beck/USGA)

Is Patrick Cantlay ready to join the major club?

The 30-year-old emerged in 2021 as one of the most talented players on the planet winning the FedEx Cup and playing a key role in the USA win in the Ryder Cup matches. He was also the PGA Tour Player-of-the-Year. His quiet demeanor masks a fierce desire to win when it matters the most.

However, in major championships Cantlay has been more in the shadows than the bright sunshine. He has never finished in the top ten in a U.S. Open and has only two top ten placements in all the majors. That's more than a disappointment and needs to be changed.

Doing it this week at the U.S. Open can be the springboard for Cantlay to really emerge as player of the highest caliber. 

(Jeff Haynes/USGA)

Can the young stars emerge with a win this week?

Players such as Will Zalatoris and Cameron Young played prime roles in the PGA Championship and are just a part of the next wave of young and emerging stars on the PGA Tour. There are others who are chomping at that bit to demonstrate their golf skills. The caliber of players 25 and under is growing rapidly and the presence on the leaderboards means the only thing missing is a win in a major event.

This week's U.S. Open can mark a coming out party for the next generation of talented stars.

Will Zalatoris (Jeff Haynes/USGA)

How will Scottie Scheffler handle the hot seat?

This year has marked a clear breakout for Scottie Scheffler. He has won four times and claimed the green jacket earlier this year at Augusta. But now the spotlight is upon him. He has shown the capacity to play top tier golf at big moments -- witness his dusting of Jon Rahm in last year's single matches at the Ryder Cup. 

In 2021 he tied for seventh when the event was played at Torrey Pines. Can Scheffler showcase his skills on an old-time classic layout like The Country Club. Undoubtedly, the 25-year-old has shown great results -- the key is can he keep it going and be the true top force in professional golf. A win at Brookline would provide a mega leap beyond what's been done to date. Is he prepared to do just that?

US Open - Nine storylines
(James Gilbert/USGA)

Is DJ still able to play the music?

Hard to imagine but in early 2021 Dustin Johnson was the top player in the world. Today he ranks 15th and his form has been anything but stellar. DJ prior to his recent falloff was known for his steadiness. This year he finally wed his long-time fiancée Paulina Gretzky and it's likely there have been distractions for him to truly concentrate on getting back to peak form.

Now 37, Johnson has been embroiled in the LIV Tour and has resigned his membership with the PGA Tour. Playing for the first time in the USA since that decision was reached will be a clear test for him to showcase what kind of golf game he has. 

DJ has always led the way via the scores he has shot at big time events. He has never showed a desire to talk -- but act with his clubs. The two-time major champion has not been seen as a main contender for this week but it would be seriously premature to count him out just yet. A man of a few words -- DJ needs to show he is fully capable of playing some strong music this week. 

US Open - Nine storylines
(Kathryn Riley/USGA)
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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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