How a U.S. Open champion was crowned Sunday (at Bay Hill!)
ORLANDO — There’s water on one side and rough on the other and the bone-dry fairways are firmer than the roof of your courtesy car and about as wide. The sun is out, the wind is up and if you can shoot even you have flat-out golfed your ball. Arnold Palmer always wanted a U.S. Open at one of his courses, and on Sunday he got one, three months ahead of Father’s Day.
Sunday, Sunday at Bay Hill Speedway.
Jon Rahm, who won the National Open at Torrey Pines last year, needed three putts on 16 in the finale, and when he came off the green he raised his putter head high above his head as if readying to smash it into the rear bumper of a parked golf cart.
The great and large Spaniard held off that swing but not the swift kick he gave to the boom mic beside the left Mastercard tee marker on 18 after his last tee shot finished in the gnarly right rough. You have to like a man who cares, though he, of course, should have replaced the microphone himself. A tournament staffer did it for him, immediately and silently.
Rahm signed for 74 and the word was out even before his shirttails were: Rahm would not be doing media on this Sunday afternoon. His playing partner, Aaron Wise, returned 74, too, though his had fewer histrionics.
Pairings are a funny business and there was no hand-of-man influence that brought together two U.S. Open winners from the north of Ireland for Sunday’s 1 p.m. tee time, Graeme McDowell (2010, Pebble) and Rory McIlroy (2011, Congressional). Both men shot 76 — not too shabby on a day when six players shot 80 or worse — and lived to tell the tale. (Lucas Glover, winner of the 2009 U.S. Open, shot 81.) “I feel punch drunk, to be honest,” McIlroy said.
If you watched the golf on TV over the weekend, you likely saw the defending Arnold Palmer Invitational winner, Bryson DeChambeau, your 2020 U.S. Open winner at Winged Foot. You didn’t see him on the course this week — he withdrew as he recovers from who knows what exactly — but he came out of limbo again and again in a TV spot in heavy rotation for a shaft manufacturer called LA Golf. If you thought the company made sunglasses, it’s totally understandable.
Gary Woodland, stolid and solid and the winner of the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, played a superb round of golf on Sunday — for 16 holes. But he closed with 5-5 (double bogey, bogey) for 73, one over par and was more pointed than even McIlroy. “I’m glad I’m off that course,” he said. “I’m glad I’m done.
“The last two weeks, it’s just a mental grind.”
PGA National, Week I of the Florida Swing: water and wind and rough.
Bay Hill, Week II of the Florida Swing: water and wind and rough.
TPC Sawgrass, Week III of the Florida Swing: water and wind and rough.
Arnold Palmer was born and raised on the U.S. Open, U.S. Opens at Oakmont in Pittsburgh, down the road from his family’s home in Latrobe, Pa., most particularly. He once said that, as a golfer, he was never the same after winning the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills, in Denver, that he had checked off, at age 30, the single-biggest professional ambition in his life.
Bay Hill was Palmer’s crowning achievement as an architect. (It’s a Dick Wilson course in the club history but over the years Palmer shaped every green, every bunker, every tee, every square inch.) He wanted the course to play hard for his tournament and it did.
Scottie Scheffler, at 25, has now played in five U.S. Opens. He missed the cut in 2016 and ’19 but he was the low amateur in 2017, and last year at Torrey he had a T7 finish. Then came his fifth Open start, the 2022 Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
An hour after victory, he was still wearing his game-day shoes and still had his glove in his back left pocket but now he was wearing the red Arnold Palmer cardigan awarded to the winner here. Scheffler shot an even-par 72 on Sunday to win by a shot. As Johnny Miller (winner of the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont) used to say, “Pars are the good guys at U.S. Opens. They wear white hats.”
“Par is a pretty good score on every hole out here,” Scheffler said in victory. “I’m never upset with par.”
Your new U.S. Open winner is lanky, easy-going, unpretentious. He doesn’t make things harder than they are, especially when they’re hard enough on their own.
“This course is a total beatdown,” he said.
U.S. Open II, at The Country Club, begins June 16.
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Michael.Bamberger@Golf.com.