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Wyndham Clark Wins US Open

by | Jun 22, 2023


Clark nails the 2nd shot on 18 to the green

Clark nails the 2nd shot on 18 to the green

Wyndham Clark persevered through the late afternoon sun at the North Course of Los Angeles Country Club to claim an unlikely victory over some of the biggest names in the game including Rory McIlroy and Scottie Scheffler.  Clark’s performance was true grit as the pressure mounted on the way to the house. His birdie on the difficult 14th hole gave him a three shot lead with 4 holes to play.  The lead would be squandered as he fell prey to bogies on 15 and 16.  McIlroy was pressing but failed to  convert the required birdie and finished his round at 9 under par.  Clark faced the final two holes with a one shot lead but kept his focus and composure to power through.  He had a 197 yard approach shot to get the ball on the green and two putt for victory.  His approach shot was true and safely on the green but 60 feet away from the hole.  Most of us would be 3 putting in a $5 nassau from 60 feet but Clark calmly and carefully nailed the putt on line to a little over a foot for the victory. The USGA allowed the crowd to surround the 18th green from the fairway so it seemed that this putt was being witnessed by the entire city of Los Angeles.  Tuning out the crowd noise for a major championship win induces geometric pressure on the putt and that skill and focus is what differentiates the professional player.

For McIlroy it was another close call.  McIlroy played an outstanding round of golf from tee to green.  You simply can’t play much better from tee to green that he played on Sunday.  The driver was spectacular, majestic and consistent for most of the 72 holes  On Sunday, his performance was to be almost a complete repeat of the 2022 Open Championship at St Andrews.  McIlroy simply didn’t make a putt that mattered and would only birdie the first hole, which almost everybody did at some or more points in the competition.   He needed Clark to falter and that simply didn’t happen.  McIlroy would be hard pressed to fault this performance on Sunday, and he is going to have to climb that mountain with the putter without losing the rest of his game.  In prior events in 2023, McIlroy’s iron play, especially short irons, hasn’t been good enough to convert that driver distance into easier birdie putts  At LACC, his iron play improved quite a bit so it’s the putter that has to be the breakthrough implement for his ability to take another major championship.   McIlroy is determined to win another major and you have to like his chances at Royal Liverpool next month.

You have to feel for Rickie Fowler who led the event through 3 rounds playing with Clark on Saturday and Sunday.  The resurgence of Fowler’s game is a good feeling story from a player who qualified for the 2022 US Open as an alternate.  His game had hit the skids and it is taken a him an incredible effort to return to the game as a star player from the abyss.  The magic of the first three days left Fowler on Sunday.  He simply did not put himself into position to attack the pins and make some birdies and the putter simply did not cooperate.  He was just a bit off in his distances and angles into some difficult pin placements and the birdies would not come as he slumped to a 75 on Sunday.  His game continues to improve and it should not be long  before he finds himself in the winner’s circle again.

The marine layer over Los Angeles played a major scoring role in the event.  The USGA could set up the golf course as tough as it wanted to but it could not control the clouds above.  Golf fans seem to have different expectations for the US Open golf venue and the set up by the USGA.  The fans want to see “par” as the winning score and watch the professionals struggle with narrow fairways, ankle length rough, penal bunkers, tough pin placements and super fast greens.  The marine layer blankets LA and much of California all the way up to at least Napa Valley every morning with cloud and mist and cool temperatures to start the day.  The layer  usually burns off by mid-morning giving away to brilliant sunshine and a temperature rise of  20 or more degrees.  In the first round, the marine layer hardly burned off at all allowing the players to attack the pins with moisture from the clouds slowing down the greens.  The fairway setup by the USGA for LACC North was more generous than normal with some fairways as wide as 50 yards.  As a result, records were falling, Rickie Fowler and Xander Schauffle both shot US Open records of 62 and there were two holes in one on the short par 3, 15th hole.  The second round weather started in the same fashion but the marine layer burned off by noon and second round scoring started to balloon in the afternoon.  The third round saw the marine layer burn off very quickly and the field came back to a golf course where par would be the standard.  On Sunday, the marine layer persisted to just about the time when the final six leaders would be teeing off.  Tommy Fleetwood took full advantage of the situation and he proceeded to shoot 63 and finish 5th in the event.  The golf course was tough on the final five twosomes as the protective marine layer had disappeared and the course started to bare its teeth.  Fleetwood could have done a little better but he couldn’t generate any more birdies in the last three holes.

LACC showed well as a US Open venue as the prestigious private club put on a good show.  Golf fans are fickle and had some criticism of the setup but it was a fair test for the field.  I’ve played the North Course at LACC many times and enjoyed the course immensely.  A funny tale about club rules–LACC does not allow men to wear short pants on the premises for golf or anything else.  At one outing, we showed up as two foursomes courtesy of the Los Angeles Athletic Club as part of our mutual sponsorship of college basketball’s John Wooden Awards  One of our players was Frank Nunley (Fudgehammer) who played for the San Francisco 49’ers and collegiately at the University of Michigan.  Frank was a mean middle linebacker known for his intensity but off the field, he was a gentle giant.  I had told him of the LACC rule about shorts but he didn’t remember and showed up in ……yes-shorts.  We went into the clubhouse and were informed that this was a non negotiable situation.  Frank was about 6′ 3″ and 250 pounds at that time.  The clubhouse manager looked at Frank and said he would see if he could find some pants that would fit Frank.  It wasn’t looking good, and Frank sheepishly said, “Can somebody give me a ride back to the hotel?”  The clubhouse manager returned with a pair of pants that at best covered Frank’s ankles and off we went to tee off.  Frank looked like he was wearing women’s “petal pushers” but it got the job done.  As we completed our round, we ran into Sylvester Stallone wearing pink trousers–I couldn’t help think that this was something wrong with some of these rules  We always tried to sneak a peek at the Playboy Mansion way right of the 14th hole, where no one should hit a golf ball but I’m willing to bet that there was a quite a collection of severely sliced tee shots there.



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