72 U.S. Open takeaways: hidden moments, lobster rolls and ‘big sexy’
THE SAMUEL ADAMS TAPROOM, HAPPY TO BE ALIVE, Mass. — You ain’t livin until 2,000 rowdies and 50 cops collapse onto you. If that’s not a saying already, I’m making it one.
It’s the day after another memorable U.S. Open, we’re toasting the week that was, and takeaway one has to be how I was almost buried into the 18th fairway at The Country Club. Let’s set the scene. Your winner, Matt Fitzpatrick, had just hit his final tee shot, he and Will Zalatoris started their walk up, with me about 20 yards to their right, and as we crossed the forward tees, about 100 yards up, the damn dam broke.
A fan came from the right. Then another 10. A dozen rushed from the left, and police officers and volunteers slowed them. But that just green-lighted everyone else. At this point, in order, your feelings are: cool, crap, run. A new rope was being established about a football field away, and I was at my own goal line.
Of course, we all know Fitz, Zalatoris and I survived; they finished their tournament, I’m typing about it. I was through first, though I weaved through about 50 fans and an officer stiff-armed me in the chest. Zalatoris was next. Then out popped from the masses Fitzpatrick, who stunningly hit the shot of the tournament about 2 minutes later, the fairway bunker dart that covered the greenside sand and put him in position for his win.
Wild. With that, let’s rewind. Our goal is to play 72, and we have 71 more to go.
2. One of the officers I saw in the melee was one I talked to earlier in the week, on the 5th, the shorter, risk-reward par-4. He was as interested as you were in whether the pros would go for it or lay up. He also told me that officers annually play The Country Club in April.
3. Another officer told me that working the course beat traffic duty. I can imagine.
4. I almost got involved in the story on Saturday, too. I mentioned this in our Inside Golf newsletter — which you can subscribe to here! — so my apologies if you’ve read it already. I was following Scottie Scheffler and Matthew NeSmith, and as they teed off on 14, I waited along the right side of the fairway, which shares rough with the right side of 13, which is where Nick Hardy dropped his tee shot.
Someone shouted. I didn’t pay it much attention. More shouted. I perked up but didn’t still move. Everyone shouted, and when I turned around, there were about 100 folks, including Hardy and his caddie, trying to shoo me out of the way. I ran here, too.
5. Some thoughts on the players. There’s something endearing to the Fitzpatrick win. He’s soft-spoken, but if you listen carefully, he sat down, figured out where he was missing and went about fixing it. There’s a lot to say about that. You have to be willing to put in the time, yes. But you have to admit your weaknesses; you have to check your ego. Lesser players may just continue to press on.
6. I’m not sure what TV showed for the shot on 18, but here’s what Fitzpatrick saw — bunker and more bunker. He was in one after his tee shot, and the one greenside fronts most of the green and is nearly as deep; you can’t see the hole and maybe a fraction of the flag. The plays were lay up, which I’m betting some pros would have done in that situation; hit it deep and hope for a drop; or go “ballsy” — Zalatoris’ words — and pin-hunt.
7. If you’re a bettor and didn’t invest in Fitzpatrick, you’re probably ruing it upon some reflection. Everything was lined up — in form, course knowledge, a track where iron play is a necessity. Shoot, you could have picked the top five if you would have thought hard about it — Scottie Scheffler, Zalatoris, Hideki Matsuyama, Collin Morikawa, all strong ball-strikers, all grinders.
8. Good for Billy Foster, Fitz’s caddie, who won his first major, too, after a long career of looping. The caddie role can never be overstated. After his man went left on 18, Foster was immediately in his man’s ear. Fitzpatrick’s head was no doubt spinning, but to hear a friendly voice had to have been calming.
9. Fitz will win another major.
10. After Zalatoris hit his second shot into 18, Fitzpatrick turned to him and said, “Nice shot.” Classy.
11. Zalatoris will win three majors.
12. Scheffler will win four.
13. I watched a lot of Scheffler. I’m admittedly fascinated by the fact that his game is mostly course-proof and his head is mostly emotionally so. Speaking to the latter, I’m thinking of the moment that proved costly, his double bogey on the short par-3 11th on Saturday. He knocked his iron over the green, nearly into the penalty area, chunked a chip, chipped long and two-putted — and walked off and was talking with partner Matthew NeSmith after their tee shots on 12.
14. McIlroy wins one more major. If you say no more, I won’t argue. If you say five more, I won’t argue.
15. Jordan Spieth wins no more, though. There are too many good players. There are too many moving parts.
16. The most awkward moment of the week came as I watched Spieth on Thursday on the 17th tee, where he turned around and stared at me for two seconds. No, this has nothing to do with the prediction above.
17. To me, the week’s biggest surprise is Justin Thomas. I thought this course would have fit him perfectly. I think I’d still pick him if they ran it back this week.
18. OK, let’s talk Phil. Part of me wants to end it right there and move on to No. 19. The story was actually no story, and expert-level crisis management at its best. The question I have then is, do you care about him if he doesn’t talk, he’s mostly subdued on the course and his play begins to slide? Is he just another guy at that point?
19. Even a wacky moment on the 3rd hole on Friday was mostly vanilla — Mickelson thought he hit a fan with a ball (Sam Horsfield had, from an adjacent hole), cracked that he would “normally think it’s me,” called over an official for a rules clarification, didn’t move his ball in the end, hit over a TV crane and walked away. There were no cheers.
20. Beer break. I’m a beer nut, so I had to stop at Sam Adams. It’s on the Freedom Trail, and a half-hour ago, I saw a man dressed in revolutionary dress outside.
21. Mickelson gave no post-round press conferences, though reporters twice cornered him in the players parking lot. Mickelson remains a story, but he may become irrelevant quickly. And I think he’s fine with that.
22. OK, let’s talk LIV. No, I have no new insights on who’s jumping ship. But I’ve received more than one email asking why we keep writing about it — one emailer told me that if we ignored it, LIV would go away like Paris Hilton, so there’s that — and I got a more clear indication this week that it’s on a lot of folks’ minds. I mean, someone wrote on a plain black shirt, in white letters, “I live for LIV.” Neat.
23. Two men alongside the 12th fairway on Thursday were talking about whether LIV would get world-ranking points. An important part of the puzzle, no doubt, but just didn’t see that one coming at a U.S. Open.
24. Brooks Koepka was mad at it all. Justin Thomas was sad. But amateur Travis Vick needed to study up on this LIV thing. “I don’t really know anything. I don’t know a lot about it. I know there’s a lot of controversy that’s going along with that so, I probably need to educate myself a little bit more on kind of all the logistics to it, but it definitely seems that it’s a pretty big deal just based on what I’ve seen on TV.”
25. Let’s move on. Let’s talk The Country Club, as seen through my eyes and some fans.
26. There’s a curling building on the grounds. If you were curious of the grounds’ expansiveness, there’s your answer.
27. The practice green was a yard off the 1st hole here this week. It made for a cool scene on Sunday, when players rolled a few putts, then stopped to watch the groups ahead of them tee off.
28. About 20 yards behind the 3rd green sits a lengthy pond, and the 1956 Olympic gold medalist in figure skating, Tenley Albright, got good there.
29. On 4, during Monday’s practice round, Jim Furyk hit a punch shot about 30 yards short of the green — but a kid was impressed he just made contact and twice shouted, “Nice hit.” Furyk didn’t look, but the boy’s dad and I laughed.
30. We mentioned the risk-reward 5th earlier, but we should also note that it was impossible to drive; the fairway bottle-necked near the green, it sloped down and the rough around the green was bushy. Couldn’t someone build a nine-hole course with nine holes like this?
31. You’ll never know what you’ll hear on the grounds. A conversation between two fans along 6 started this way: “When I had Lyme disease …” OK.
32. The uphill-8-to-the-downhill-9 sequence was cool. A volunteer along the ropes described the incline to the green on 8 as wicked. Boston!
33. No. 10 is where I, the 14-handicap, would blow up, whereas the pros mostly didn’t. There’s water maybe 50 yards off the tee; a good collection area for the nervous top. There’s a 100-foot-tall rock on the left side of the fairway; very hittable with a snap hook. There’s a small creek in the middle of the fairway; I would find that with a chunk.
34. No. 11, the short par-3, gave me another thought: Why hasn’t someone taken a property and made 18 holes like this? Shoot, you could build grandstands around every hole on this course.
35. No. 14 was a legit par-5 for the pros — 550-plus yards, up a fescue-grass filled hill, small green. If players missed the fairway, they’d lay up short of the hill and have a longer iron in. The hole wasn’t an automatic birdie.
36. You’d watch a course with nine holes of this, too, wouldn’t you?
37. No. 15! Not the most difficult hole — but the most talked about from the gallery. From the tee, all you could see were the bleachers by the green, and that led to this comment from a fan: “Where the f**k are you hitting this ball?”
38. No. 17 was a fun chance to bite off yards on a dogleg left, which Spieth tried on Thursday, before hitting in the junk, then making birdie anyways, because Spieth.
39. My favorite holes, in order, were 14, 11, 18, 5, 3, 15, 17, 8, 9 and 10. That’s a lot, ain’t it?
40. Beer break. A couple at the table next to me are complaining they can’t get a Bud Light at the Sam Adams taproom.
41. The U.S. Open must return here soon. Put TCC on the rota, USGA.
42. A man asked me on Wednesday outside of the players lounge, a building about 50 yards to the left of the clubhouse, how I thought the course would hold up. I said I thought the winning score would be seven-under. Not bad!
43. Then he told me that he was a member, so I quickly asked him for his number. He was worried the pros would chew up his home. I get this; I would imagine most club members don’t want to see their course, where they struggle, reduced to a putt-putt.
44. Outside of the players lounge — shh, I don’t think I was supposed to be up there — I saw Erik van Rooyen playing cornhole. And Thomas eating a donut. And Ted Scott, Scheffler’s caddie, eating sunflower seeds.
45. I also saw Mickelson stretching in the parking lot behind the lounge.
47. On Sunday, after congratulating Fitzpatrick on his victory, McIlroy pulled out of the parking lot and was stopped. Jimmy Dunne, business and president of Seminole Country Club, wanted a word. “Hey, I was f***ing rooting for you to do it out there.” He then asked McIlroy about a future round together and wished him a happy Father’s Day.
48. And McIlroy wished it to him back and jabbed Dunne with a “Happy Grandfather’s Day, too.”
49. Grayson Murray, who snapped an iron and threw his putter on Sunday, threw two other items when he was finished — a ball to one kid and a hat to another.
50. On Saturday, Cameron Tringale grabbed two balls from his bag to hand out, only there were no kids around, so he kept walking to scoring.
51. The house of Francis Ouimet, the winner of the 1913 Open at The Country Club and the subject of the movie The Greatest Game Ever Played, was maybe a long iron to the left of the 17th fairway.
52. A few homes overlook most of the 4th hole, though I never saw anyone watching the golf.
53. Food review! The lobster roll, from the stand to the right of 14, was buttery and salty and flavorful, with a nice toasted roll.
54. The Sam Adams out there — their summer beer — was smooth.
55. My favorite was the crab cake sandwich, from the stand to the left of 18. I’ve had crab cakes as only appetizers in the past, but here it gloriously was, on a hamburger bun, with some sort of seafood sauce.
56. The merch tent was pretty standard tourney fare — hats, shirts, golf stuff. But I asked my cashier — I bought golf balls, a bag tag, a coffee mug and a coaster — what was the most he had rung up during the week. “$1,400,” he said. “And I could have put some stuff in there for me, and they wouldn’t have batted an eye.”
57. The clubhouse is yellow, classic looking and stately, and rather lengthy and a couple stories tall. Its lights were on when I left each night. I imagine it has hosted hundreds of weddings.
58. Jon Rahm delivered one of my favorite moments, when, on Sunday on 17, he kicked his bag after missing a 5-footer for birdie, only for the bag to start to roll into a greenside bunker. Rahm grabbed it before it did, placed his putter back in and made sure his caddie had it secured.
59. Two of the players I talked to for stories this week had some of the best quotes. Here’s Ben Silverman, playing in his first major championship at the age of 34, on what he thought when he pulled into TCC: “Holy s**t, they set up a lot for this place.”
60. Beer break! In the public square just outside, there’s a statue of Benjamin Franklin, and some street dancers are earning a buck.
61. Here’s Matthew NeSmith on his mental game: “My mantra, it’s been, it’s OK to suck.”
62. NeSmith also maybe had one of the wildest shots of the tournament. On Saturday on 10, he knocked his tee shot right, it didn’t clear a rocky hill, and so he played the shot with his feet at about a 15-degree angle, then sprinted down after he hit. He was able to play his ball straight and back into the fairway.
63. On Sunday on 10, I saw three sizable wild turkeys.
64. Though, of course, the quote of the week comes from Joel Dahmen, in describing his plans for Thursday night: “Fortunate, I’m going to call him a newly best friend, Ben Rector, he is a musician. I got to meet him in Pebble this year, and he is in town tonight. We’re going to go to his concert. It will be difficult to go to that one and not have 100 beers like we typically do at the concerts.”
65. Shane Lowry, a native of Ireland, was called at constantly by fans about the Celtics.
66. Lowry, a beer lover, was also called at constantly by fans to have a beer.
67. On Sunday, a fan — just one — shouted at Scheffler, during every shot, “Hey, big sexy, you big, tanned sexy man, hit it faaah.”
68. Another fan yelled at Scheffler after he missed a 6-footer on 14, “My mother could have made that!”
69. He was roundly booed.
70. The fans along the left side of the 14th hole cheered for the standard bearers to “raise their sign!”
71. The box to the right of the 6 tee asked a standard bearer if they could see his socks.
72. We’re going to end this with an observation, a thought of what could have been and a story of my hero. I’m selling you a lot here, I know.
On the way back from the course a few nights, we drove past Fenway. I’m a baseball guy, too, so it was a moment. But the story here in talking about the home of the Red Sox is of a player who, I believe, could have made it but never did only because he stopped his journey himself.
In the 1940s, they didn’t pay you a lot to play minor league baseball, and it took you far from home, too. And since his dad had died at a younger age, my grandpa turned down a Double A contract with the Sox and chose to stay home to help out his mom. He would teach his one grandson how to play baseball and golf before passing away himself.
Happy belated Father’s Day, grandpa. Miss you.