Rickie, Rory, Wyndham, Playboy and L.A.: 50 observations from the U.S. Open
SITTING OUTSIDE THE PENMAR CAFE AT PENMAR MUNI, LOS ANGELES — This is sommmme scene.
The tee sheet is booked here at Penmar muni, a nine-holer on the west side of La La Land. There’s a foursome on the tee. There are a dozen or so folks on the practice green. One, an older gentleman, is wearing knee-high, lime-green socks. The kiddos are filing in for lessons. Me? I’m sitting at a wonderful outdoor cafe yards from it all. Ready or Not, by the Fugees, is playing over a speaker.
It’s also 9:30 a.m. On a Monday.
So, to begin this look back at the U.S. Open and the week that was at Los Angeles Country Club, let’s talk L.A. and L.A. golf, a subject that fired up the hot-take-smiths from coast to coast, from the first to 72nd holes. It was quiet at LACC! It was lifeless! It was empty! It was fanless! They weren’t totally wrong, though a good part of it had to do with the setup (largely corporate, and we’ll get to that) and the course (golfer friendly, but not so much fan, and we’ll get to that).
But I want observation No. 1 in this review to be this:
This is a golf city.
The man with one tattoo that covers his entire left arm, and the woman with the pink hat, and the man with the Mickey Mouse bag — the folks on the putting green in front of me now — can attest to that.
With that, let’s shoot for 49 more observations here at the Penmar, where I may try to get on.
If there’s a no-show.
2. Notably, L.A. hadn’t hosted a U.S. Open since 1948 (or any men’s major since 1995). That’s a lifetime. That’s too long. A quick word then on the USGA’s thought of a set rotation of courses. Yes, it develops familiarity with tracks, à la the Masters — but don’t forget a little flexibility. If the goal here is to get the game to everyone, then get the best in the game to everyone.
3. There’s a rumor that Riv will get the 2031 U.S. Open, and that will be great. And the Open is returning to LACC in 2039. Let’s hope ticket issues and viewing arrangements are solved by then.
4. Should we be concerned that the USGA was so tied to corporate hospitality, which was abundant and was where some of the crowd was?
5. That said, it was hard for a spectator to spectate. Tee boxes and greens didn’t include space for fans, though on some, there was no room. It was hard to keep up with groups due to how the holes were roped off. LACC wasn’t built to be an amphitheater. But it’s a golf course few see, and may never see again. So there was some thought that you take what you can get. Still, expect changes 16 years from now.
6. But man, you got to see some holes (or parts of them). I’ve purposely started this observation at No. 6 — because No. 6 was a beaut. Go for the green? Go for the easier pitch right, but hit the harder tee shot? Go for the safer drive but face the trickier second shot? Dope.
7. The monster par-3s — on Sunday, they played like this: 233 yards on No. 4; 272 yards on No. 7; 295 yards on No. 11 — were monstrous.
8. But I could watch shots into the shorty par-3 15th all day long.
9. You never felt like you were in L.A. at the course. Except for the office buildings all around. And the skyscrapers off in the distance. And the Playboy Mansion immediately to the right of the 14th tee.
10. The overall thought on LACC, which also had heard a few chirps during the week? I’m not an architecture junky, so I’ll keep things simple. It was more slopey than what TV showed. The greens were small. The long par-3s didn’t seem as long as the number. No. 15 seemed impossible to hit from the tee. The use of the barranca as a defense was fantastic. But the favorite thing I read? Someone tweeted (and I can’t find the tweet now) that if Augusta National were opened today, it, too, would be ripped.
11. I’ll leave this tweet here from Gary D’Amato and let you all discuss.
12. A word on Hef’s former place, which took up a chunk of my days over the past month. Here’s one nugget that didn’t make my story from last week — a group of pros were asking the nearby TV tower if they could see any girls.
13. Here’s another. In this video, I tried to look under the fence that separates the course from the mansion and walked down a path to look at monkeys. But I didn’t discover this on my own. Players and caddies were doing it, too.
14. Let’s talk about Wyndham Clark, your U.S. Open winner. The story of his mom’s influence was well circulated — you can read my version here — but this here will be the best thing you watch on the whole thing.
15. Who’s on the practice green now at Penmar? From left to right are a man with a fedora, a couple (the man’s hat is backward and the woman is wearing a visor) and an older man whose bag has a leather covering.
16. Clark plays without a swing coach. It’s not for everybody, though maybe it’s an option for players who constantly seek opinions and tinker, but continue to fall short.
“Yeah, a lot of people say I have a good swing,” he said Sunday night. “I believe I have a good swing. My first few years on Tour, it actually really bothered me because people would say, oh, you have such a great swing, and I didn’t know where the ball was going, and that was really frustrating for me. I worked with some great coaches and they were very good at what they do, but I didn’t know where the ball was going and I didn’t own it.
“So when I decided to go on my own — I do work a little bit with my caddie, but typically it’s on my own — I learned about my game and my swing, and that’s what I did when I was younger. I knew how to hit shots and I got away from that when I was with a coach. Now when I’m in practice, I’m always trying to get back to neutral. So if one day it’s really cutty, I’m hitting huge draws on the range. And then some days it gets kind of too dry, and I hit huge cuts and get it back to neutral, and honestly that’s what I’ve done for the last year and a half. And so I felt like I’ve kept my swing in those parameters to where regardless I can play good golf if I’m hitting a little draw or a little cut, and my stats have improved immensely by doing that.”
17. Clark plays with a mental coach. In the U.S. Open pressure cooker, Julie Elion kept things loose. Clark and Elion connected earlier this year.
“She has a great calmness and presence about her that just makes me calm and relaxed,” Clark said. “I’m just so glad that my caddie and agent in November said, hey, we’ve got this lady that we think you should work with. I was a little reluctant to do it, and I’m just so glad that she was brought into my life, and what these honestly six months, it’s crazy to see how much I’ve improved and how much she’s helped me. I wouldn’t have thought I’d be a major champion six, seven months ago.”
18. I’m actually a bit shocked Clark didn’t blow his lead after his bogeys on 15 and 16, and a second shot on 17 that he pulled left.
19. But man, did Clark go out and get it. To that point, I’ll remember his drive on 12 on Sunday, which we played aggressively, going left to right over trees. It’s not that it was risky, which it was. But he had tried the same play on Saturday, and his ball just stayed mostly left and in a bad spot.
20. Here’s saying Clark has the game to be a top five player in the world.
21. Let’s talk the runner-up, Rory McIlroy, who didn’t want to talk much this week — and our Dylan Dethier wonderfully summed that up here. What now? If he’s asking me — and don’t ever ask me — just keep on, keeping on. Stay the course. It’s there. I still believe he’s the best in the game.
22. And he’ll win the Open Championship next month. And that reaction on 18 could be … something.
23. With that, let’s talk the Saudis and the money and the golf. It remains impressive that McIlroy plays as well as he does with this in the background. And now he’s answering questions about betrayal.
24. It really was bizarre how little players said they knew, though that’s newsworthy, too.
25. Why did the Tour need to make the announcement about commissioner Jay Monahan’s health? Sure, he was expected to be at the U.S. Open, but all it led to was wild speculation.
26. Does any of this pass? Do the players vote it down? Do they revolt? Do they fall in line? Does Congress do anything? Nothing?
27. There’s a difference between taking money and having money forced on you.
28. We expected something on the matter from Phil Mickelson — and got nearly nothing. Here’s what he said Thursday, after his first round, when asked if he would like to talk about the PGA Tour-Saudi PIF agreement: “Not yet because I don’t want to detract right now from this tournament and where I’m at. I’m playing well. I want to get myself in contention. I’ll talk about it maybe after.”
29. It wouldn’t be out of the question to see a year where Scottie Scheffler wins all four majors, right? He’s course-proof at this point.
30. Who’s on the practice green now at Penmar? From left to right are a woman with her hair dyed gray, an older man in jeans shorts, and a man who looks a whole like Patrick Cantlay and is wearing a Masters hat.
31. Then there’s Scheffler’s putting. This was one of my favorite moments of the week. On Tuesday, ahead of the tournament, Scheffler had been asked nine questions about the subject that’s confounded him of late, and on Thursday, after his first round, while walking back to the clubhouse with him, I asked him about being asked about it. Only I couldn’t, at least for a second. His agent had told me I could get only one question and I had already asked one — but Scheffler said in response: “Oh, I can answer this one.”
32. Rickie Fowler’s back! Unofficially, 100 percent of people here wanted him to win.
33. Butch Harmon has done it again, hasn’t he? Fowler reunited with the legendary swing coach recently, and Fowler’s dad, Rod, in talking with our Alan Bastable at LACC, gave this memorable quote: ““Butch is the one who can tell Rickie how it is. If he thinks he’s playing like crap, he’ll tell him. I can’t tell him that. I don’t know golf like he does. Butch is the guy that gets to Rickie and makes him mentally stronger. He’s the guy. There’s nobody else. Whatever he says, Rickie’s going to listen to.”
34. Fowler shot a record-breaking 62 in the first round, then was tied moments later by Xander Schuaffele, and they were both set up beautifully to make a run at major No. 1. Here’s how they finished — Fowler went 68, 70 and 75, and Schauffele went 70, 73, 72. They faded. As did the thoughts that LACC was too easy.
35. Justin Thomas is in some kind of funk, but it’s good to see things were loose for him this weekend, as shown below.
36. Brooks Koepka was … OK. A top 20. Two rounds under par. But underwhelming.
37. Here are a few more stories you should go back and check out. Our Josh Berhow dug deep into the background of Clark here.
38. Here, our Sean Zak found that not everyone loved LACC.
39. Our James Colgan wrote here that the big winner of the golf wars may just be … Dustin Johnson.
40. Let’s talk quotes. I walked past a fan who said something about actress Tori Spelling, whose dad, Aaron, once lived alongside LACC.
41. I overheard another fan say: “It must be mental with him.” Your guess is as good as mine as to whom he was talking about.
42. I asked a police officer what the weirdest thing he heard week was — and he heard someone ask Fowler to sign their baby.
43. I laughed at this exchange between Jon Rahm and a reporter:
Said the reporter: “You always seem to find some fuel prior to a major. Is the chance of becoming the first Spaniard to win the U.S. Open twice your fuel for this week, or do you have something else in mind?”
Said Rahm: “Well, given I’m the only Spaniard to win this tournament, I am the only one who can do it twice.”
44. I laughed at this exchange between Brian Harman and a reporter.
Said the reporter: “That 6th hole is one everyone talks about. Does it favor righties or lefties, lefties over righties?”
Said Harman: “I wouldn’t know. I only played it left-handed today.”
45. Who’s on the practice green now at Penmar? From left to right are a man in a blue shirt holding a putter in one hand and a cellphone in the other, a man wearing running pants and a woman with a pink ball.
46. I liked this exchange between Sam Bennett and a reporter:
Said the reporter: “I overheard you on the driving range saying you’re not a big Trackman/numbers guy. Curious why that is and how you go about working on your swing and working on your game without some of the same knowledge that players use nowadays?”
Said Bennett: “Yeah, just see a shot and hit it. I like wedge numbers. They’re okay. But I don’t know, I’m just not numbers-based or anything. Yeah, I’m swinging the best when I’m not thinking of nothing.”
47. I saw only one celebrity-type, though it was the wife of Dustin Johnson: Paulina Gretzky, who was wearing a Los Angeles Dodgers varsity jacket.
48. At Penmar, you’re celebrity adjacent. In 2015, Harrison Ford crash-landed an airplane here — and in the cafe, they sell shirts with a drawing of an airplane on them.
49. Ahead of the third round, I took a few shots on the Venice Beach basketball courts, near where the movie White Men Can’t Jump was filmed. I shot 50 percent. No big deal.
50. We’ll end with one more Playboy Mansion story.
As part of the story I wrote, I had an idea to track down Kendra Wilkinson, who had lived at the mansion for five years as one of the stars of the Girls Next Door series from the 2000s — and is a golf nut. She is a real estate agent now — she’s on another TV series called Kendra Sells Hollywood — so I found her work email, messaged here — and got a note back from her agent in about five minutes. He wanted to talk. I called. Voice mail. I tried again a few times. Voice mails. I gave up.
Then, last Thursday, during the first round, he finally called back. He apologized.
Would I still be interested?
After a bit of back and forth, I said I was, and he said he’d set it up.
Then I never heard anything. I called back. Voice mail. I called again. Voice mail.
Editor’s note: I also compiled observations from the Masters and the PGA Championship. If you’re interested in the Masters story, please go here.
If you’re interested in the PGA Championship story, please go here.