A glitzy U.S. Open arrives with a simple question: Who’s gonna win?

The battle for Los Angeles is on.

The battle for Los Angeles is on.

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The U.S. Open’s June return marks its first stop in Los Angeles in 75 years. But the U.S. Open isn’t just in Los Angeles. The U.S. Open is Los Angeles. This is the City of Dreams and the City of Broken Dreams, where starry-eyed hopefuls have flocked for decades, ignoring incredibly long odds to chase even the briefest moment in the spotlight.

It’s unlikely coincidental that this year’s Open set a record for entries. A remarkable 10,187 golfers signed up for a chance to compete in the national championship — this author included — thinking optimistic thoughts and visualizing pro-caliber golf shots, one after the next after the next, all the way to LACC.

“In Los Angeles,” Denzel Washington once said, “everyone is a star.” Jack Kerouac called it “the loneliest and most brutal of American cities.”

Maybe they’re both right. Incredibly, every scratch golfer is just an application and three good rounds from playing in the U.S. Open, which means it’s the tournament for those who dream. But once they’re there? Reality sets in. Competitors face a course pushed to its limit: the firmest greens, the longest rough, the narrowest fairways, the toughest test. Stay a dreamer too long and you’ll miss your chance at becoming a contender.

The lead-up to this year’s national championship has been confusing, to say the least. The future of the professional game feels like it’s in limbo; the PGA Tour’s joint announcement left the golf world with more questions than answers. But this is the U.S. Open, which means come Thursday the only merger that’ll matter is that between club and ball and the acquisition on our minds will be that of that shiny eight-and-a-half-pound trophy.

So who’s likely to emerge from this year’s brawl in Beverly Hills? Let’s run through the players with the most compelling cases to get you primed for the competition to start.


At the Masters, Jon Rahm re-established himself as the standard against which the rest of the golf world is measured. The 28-year-old Spaniard already owns a Southern California U.S. Open, thanks to a jaw-dropping birdie-birdie finish at the 2021 edition contested down I-5 at Torrey Pines. He owns another two SoCal wins in 2023 alone, after cruising to victory at the American Express in Palm Springs and the Genesis Invitational at Riviera, less than 10 miles from LACC.

Rahm enters this year’s U.S. Open as a champ in full; he’s now the new owner of a Masters green jacket and has a firm grasp on the World No. 1 ranking too. Many top pros have a superpower; they’ve made it because they’re elite irons players or big-time drivers or ridiculous putters. Rahm has simplified that process by becoming elite at every facet of the game. He’s top three on the PGA Tour in scoring average, in birdie average, in Total Strokes Gained. Rahm has grown accustomed to hot starts too — he’s second and first on the PGA Tour in first and second-round scoring average, respectively. He uses the weekend for bug-swatting, waving away anyone bold enough to still be hanging around. Assuming he doesn’t get stuck in L.A. traffic, he’ll walk onto the first tee among the tournament favorites.

But the bookmakers still have Rahm behind one man: Current World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler. In 2022, Scheffler won four times by mid-April and went on to earn more single-season money than any player in PGA Tour history. This year? The numbers tell you he’s been even better. He defended his title at golf ’s biggest party, the WM Phoenix Open. A month later he won the PGA Tour’s flagship event, the Players Championship, by five shots. A T10 at the Masters marked his 11th consecutive worldwide finish inside the top 12, cementing the idea that this guy just never plays poorly.

He’s played even better since then; Scheffler enters this week on the heels of four consecutive top-five finishes. In recent weeks the biggest question mark has been around his putting, which is fair — at the Memorial, for instance, he was last in the field on the greens. Early in U.S. Open week Scheffler was spotted tinkering with putters, with weights, with alternatives.

“I mean, sometimes you just got to bring another putter around there to make the original one scared,” he said afterwards.

But concerns about Scheffler’s putting distract from the fact that he’s on a preposterous run of ball-striking. Tee to green, he’s on a historic heater. Scheffler came up one shot shy last year at Brookline; the only surprising thing this year would be if he wasn’t in contention come Sunday afternoon.


At the time, the Tuesday afternoon Masters practice-round pairing of Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka was a shock to the system. The de facto PGA Tour spokesman getting chummy with arguably LIV’s greatest asset? On the surface, the cheery Ulsterman and surly Floridian made an odd couple. But their walk ’round Augusta National was a reminder that they’re a perfect match.

McIlroy and Koepka are the only two men younger than Tiger Woods to have won four or more major championships. They’re bonded by the pursuit of greatness and the loneliness that comes with achieving some measure of it. Their majors came in bunches, and when they were reeling ’em off it seemed like they’d never stop. But then they did.

At last year’s Masters Koepka seemed to bottom out, missing the cut and admitting he didn’t see how he could hang with the likes of Scheffler. Just days after a 55th-place finish at the 2022 U.S. Open — a tournament he’s won twice since 2017 — Koepka signed with LIV, signaling an unofficial end
to his stretch atop the game. As for this year?

“I feel like a new person,” Koepka said on Wednesday.

As for McIlroy? This year’s major season began just weeks removed from his latest stint at World No. 1 but the Masters marked a different sort of low point. He’d practically taken up residence at Augusta in the lead-up to the Masters, intent on a full preparation for his quest to secure the career Grand Slam. Instead his putter betrayed him; he missed the cut and spent the next several weeks safely out of the public eye. Upon his return he made it clear his focus going forward will be more on his golf game and less on the geopolitical landscape. He opted out of his pre-tournament media availability at LACC, preferring to let his game do the talking.

Koepka’s drought was far shorter than McIlroy’s, but when he won last month’s PGA Championship, McIlroy was there to dap him up. Koepka’s fifth major title put him in lofty company — and no doubt fueled McIlroy to keep pace. This week they’ll be in the same group for the first two rounds, bound by success and scar tissue, thoughts of their respective home tours and those tours’ future relationship set aside in favor of the task at hand.


It’s fitting that America’s national championship returns to SoCal just as its pro progeny are having a moment. Okay, it’s not exactly new for Golden Staters to populate the top of the World Ranking — you’ve likely heard of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson — but a new generation is in its prime. Four pros who grew up and attended college in California are among the legit contenders.

Collin Morikawa is the youngest but also most decorated of the bunch; the 26-year-old from L.A. County owns a PGA Championship (which he won in 2020 at San Francisco’s TPC Harding Park, closer to his alma mater Cal-Berkeley) and an Open Championship (which he secured in 2021, though slightly farther from home at Royal St. George’s in Kent, England). He called 2022 “frustrating” by his standards but contended in Hawaii, San Diego, L.A. and Augusta to begin his 2023, showing encouraging signs with a retooled
short game. He was in contention at Memorial but withdrew before the final round with an out-of-nowhere back injury. This week? He says he’s healthy, if teeing the ball up a little funny, in his pursuit of hometown history.

Like Morikawa, Max Homa grew up in L.A. County and went to Cal-Berkeley, but he predated his protégé by a half decade and took at least that long to find his footing on Tour before an incredible ascension to the top five in the world earlier this spring. The only knock on Homa is that he hasn’t quite done it in a major yet; he has no top 10s and just one finish better than T40. The counternarrative is that he hasn’t played in many majors since he became the new-and-improved version of himself; that Homa has been particularly unbeatable in California, where he’s claimed four of his six Tour wins, including the 2021 Genesis, where he received the winner’s trophy from Woods, his childhood hero. Need more good vibes? Homa owns L.A. Country Club’s course record, thanks to a nine-under 61 he fired as a Cal senior.

Then there’s the pair of Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele. They went to high school in neighboring counties — Cantlay in Orange County, Schauffele in San Diego — but have since moved east to Jupiter, Fla. They play together every Tuesday on Tour. They form a team at the Presidents Cup, the Ryder Cup and even the Zurich Classic. Cantlay has the slightest edge in World Ranking (No. 4 to Schauffele’s
No. 6), PGA Tour wins (eight to Schauffele’s seven) and career earnings (Cantlay’s No. 22 on the all-time money list with $37.5 million; Schauffele’s No. 27 with $34.6 mil), but he’s a year older too. Both players are bursting at the seams with talent, but neither has a major championship to show for it. This would be a fitting week for that to change.

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We sat down with Matt Fitzpatrick for a talk, and he thinks that U.S. Open tests were built for a player like him. “When the weather’s bad and the scoring’s not great, the bogeys start adding up if you don’t adjust your game plan, and a lot of guys don’t necessarily do that,” he says. This is L.A., so we’re not counting on bad weather. But we’re anticipating a tough test. Why not the guy who, at Brookline in ’22, proved he could ace it?


That was the moniker assigned to Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas in the first episode of Netflix’s PGA Tour docuseries Full Swing, and with good reason: While JT and Spieth remain close pals on and off the course, their résumés are starting to look remarkably similar as they stare down 30th birthdays
and the next decade of their professional careers.

Spieth owned two majors and six PGA Tour victories before Thomas had ever won on Tour. But in the years since securing his third major — the Open Championship in 2017 — Spieth has just two PGA Tour wins. Thomas has racked up two majors and 11 Tour wins in the same timeframe.

Still, Thomas has struggled to find his footing since last year’s PGA Championship triumph, while Spieth is playing his most consistent golf in a very long time. Thomas missed the cut at the Masters — albeit in horrific conditions — while Spieth notched a T4 and lost in a playoff at the following week’s RBC Heritage, surpassing his pal in the World Ranking in the process. If either of them wins at LACC, he’d regain the upper hand — and probably have to pick up the next dinner check.


There appears to be some sort of uneasy peace on the horizon. But until things get resolved the golf world remains divided by league, and the 15 LIV golfers at LACC will look to back up strong results from the first two majors.

There’s Koepka, this year’s best major golfer thus far, who prefers his identity transcend league.

“There’s four weeks a year I really care about and this is one of them, and I want to play well,” he said.

There’s Mickelson, who spent the week preceding the U.S. Open at LACC but skipped out on practice rounds Monday and Tuesday. He’ll hope to come in under the radar. He won’t. Not with, well, [gestures] everything that’s going on. Plus there’s the matter of his T2 at the Masters and the fact that we’re still only two years removed from his 2021 PGA Championship.

Don’t let the glitz of LACC distract you from the fact that it may demand some grit from contenders; Patrick Reed finished T4 at the Masters and T18 at the PGA, while Cameron Smith logged a top 10 at Oak Hill.

Bryson DeChambeau looked rejuvenated in a T4 finish at the PGA, too. And Dustin Johnson deserves attention at any U.S. Open; he hasn’t played well in a major this year but did win at LIV Tulsa in May. Joaquin Niemann blitzed the field at nearby Riviera Country Club last year. And his countryman Mito Pereira brings his top-tier iron game to Beverly Hills, too.

Some LIV guys, including Sergio Garcia, punched their tickets through Open qualifying. Others — Louis Oosthuizen, Charles Howell III, Ian Poulter, Bubba Watson, Lee Westwood and Matthew Wolff among them — didn’t bother.

LIV pros’ presence at the first two majors felt significant. Their presence as well as their absence at LACC will, too.


There’s a group of pros still defined by what we think they could do rather than what they’ve already done. Good news: Plenty of ’em are in proper form entering this year’s summer season.

After zero top 10s in his first 12 majors, Viktor Hovland finished T4 at the Open, T7 at the Masters and T2 at the PGA; the next step is winning a major. Tony Finau put a stop to any can’t-win chatter with three wins in seven starts to close out 2022; the next step is winning a major. Sam Burns has proven he can win
on tough courses (at the Valspar) and over top competition (at the WGC-Match Play); the next step is winning a major. Sungjae Im has established himself as a mainstay in the world top 20; the next step is winning a major. Cameron Young has yet to win on the PGA Tour, but he’s finished runner-up six different
times, and the U.S. Open is the only major in which he hasn’t contended. Why shouldn’t the next step be winning a major?


Name-checking this many players will make me look even dumber if I’ve left out the eventual winner, but that’s certainly a possibility. Why shouldn’t it be a British breakout victory from last week’s contenders,
Tyrrell Hatton or Tommy Fleetwood? They’d be foolish to overlook.

What about a return to glory for major champs Shane Lowry or Hideki Matsuyama? A comeback-completer for one of two resurgent stars: Rickie Fowler or Jason Day? A victory for another Californian like Sahith Theegala, who was born in Orange County, went to Pepperdine and still can’t believe he’s here?

Perhaps it’ll even be an open qualifier, propelled by good play and good timing and good fortune. One thing we do know is that by week’s end we’ll crown a champion. That’s the key to the U.S. Open — and to Los Angeles itself. Thousands will pursue but never fulfill their dreams. Still, there’s honor in trying, in walking a path of probable failure with the hope that you’ll be the one to succeed.

The thrill of it all is that someone will.

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier

Golf.com Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/GOLF.com. The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.

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