Monday Finish: 10 things you couldn’t have seen on the U.S. Open broadcast
Welcome back to the Monday Finish! This is where we tally up the scores from the week that was and start to warm up for the week ahead. Today’s edition will focus on some sights and sounds from Torrey Pines.
First, let’s shoutout this week’s winners.
This is going to be a U.S. Open-centric rundown, so first let’s take a moment to acknowledge Nelly Korda and the buzzsaw she brought with her to the Meijer LPGA Classic, her second victory of the year. On Saturday, Korda made 11 birdies en route to a round of 62. On Sunday she shot five-under 67 to hold off rising start Leona Maguire and post 25 under. That’s unfathomably good.
“I actually really enjoyed today,” Korda said after her win. “Honestly, there has been times where on Sundays I really haven’t enjoyed it, like the stress kind of ate me and I didn’t stay in the moment and enjoy playing golf on a Sunday in a final group.
“But today I really enjoyed it and it was actually a really good battle between Leona and I. She definitely kept me on my toes.”
Twenty-five under also suggests she’s in fine form heading to this week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Two wins in a row is tough, but so is 11 birdies in a round. Why not Nelly this week?
Then there’s Jon Rahm, whose U.S. Open week began in quarantine after a bizarre sequence of events at the Memorial in which he tested positive for Covid-19 during Saturday’s third round and was forced to withdraw while holding a six-shot lead. Plenty of pros would have pouted, stomped their feet, groused about the injustice of it all. Rahm insisted on a positive attitude, refused to cast blame in anyone’s direction but his own and seemed to channel the entire incident into directed positive energy.
After Sunday’s round he went out of his way to highlight the effect that Covid-19 has had on his own family and friends. He wanted to demonstrate that he understood the gravity of the pandemic. He succeeded.
Rahm’s win was about a whole bunch of things. A star golfer getting his first major. A Spaniard winning the U.S. Open for the first time in championship history. Two massive, big-breaking, must-have putts accompanied by a raucous, joyous celebration worthy of the moment. A new dad sharing a special victory with his child. The world’s current best male golfer cementing his status in that position. A passionate, hot-headed player channeling ultimate patience down the stretch. That patience began weeks before. It was rewarded.
10 SIGHTS AND SOUNDS FROM TORREY PINES
What didn’t the broadcast quite capture?
This isn’t a knock on the television coverage but rather an appreciation for golf in person. What minutiae did I pick up on the ground at Torrey Pines? Let’s buzz through 10 fun bits and pieces:
1. The pitch-black range session
This one’s from earlier in the week, but worth a note: Bryson DeChambeau hit balls on Thursday night until it was absolutely pitch-black. I don’t mean the ball was hard to see. I mean everything was hard to see. There were no lights. There was an illuminated leaderboard for a while, but then that flickered off, too. DeChambeau pounded balls into the darkness, searching for one tiny swing thought.
If you’re on Team Bryson, you’d argue that it’s the same indefatigable work ethic that propelled DeChambeau to victory at Winged Foot following a late-night range session after his Saturday round. If you’re anti-Bryson you’d call it a try-hard move that ultimately backfired and added unnecessary mental and physical strain to his week. I’m not here to tell you which side to take, but I will say the idea that DeChambeau does this as some sort of “look-at-me” gesture just doesn’t check out. He’s out there late every single time he plays a round, trying to fix whatever swing issue is weighing heavy on his mind. Solving riddles. That’s how he operates.
2. The family affair
Any time a tournament has on-site lodging it’s fun to see pros off the course in their non-competitive element. There was Matthew Wolff after one of his rounds, leaning casually on a fence, chatting up fellow phenom Collin Morikawa and his girlfriend Kat. There was Rory McIlroy, coming out of the player tent with one of those giant rubber golf balls, a gift for a young family member, en route to a room-service chicken sandwich. And there was Tony Finau and his son on the practice putting green an hour after Finau had missed the cut. Jraice was stroking putts. Dad was looking on. Tony’s agent Chris Armstrong was there, and his coach Boyd Summerhays, and his wife Alayna too. Summerhays pointed out that it’s weeks like this that remind him how spoiled they get with Finau’s typical torrent of top-10s. Team Finau is about as positive as they come.
3. The weekend practice
If you want a reminder that even after major championships, professional golf just kind of continues, head to the driving range on Saturday afternoon. That’s where you’ll find golfers without tee times who are taking advantage of the facilities to get in some practice. Max Homa had rallied Friday but missed the cut; he was at the short game area, working in the bunker with coach Mark Blackburn. Henrik Stenson shot 76-76 but on Sunday, after Brooks Koepka teed off, coach Pete Cowen went to work with the big Swede who was pummeling irons down at the end of the range. Viktor Hovland, who had withdrawn midway through Friday’s round after a strange sand-induced eye injury, spent more than two hours hitting balls beside Stenson. They’d occasionally pause to chat; the driving range is an inherently social place. Scandinavian social hour.
4. The bittersweet weekend
At a golf tournament’s halfway mark, it’s often hard to tell which stories are miraculous and which are too good to be true. Phil Mickelson fell into the former category at Kiawah Island last month. At the U.S. Open, Richard Bland satisfied the latter. On Sunday, there was a backup on No. 9 tee and Rory McIlroy and Russell Henley waited just off the 8th green for the group ahead to hit their drives. While they waited, a twosome teed off the adjacent 18th: Bland and Guido Migliozzi.
Migliozzi had hung around the edge of contention all week and was in the process of finishing off a final-round 68 that would catapult him into a share of fourth place — and a berth in the Masters — by day’s end. Bland, a 48-year-old European Tour vet playing just his second-ever tournament on U.S. soil, charged into the 36-hole lead before reality struck on the weekend, where he shot 77-78 to finish T50.
5. The “Brooksy!” Cheers
There’s something interesting about the dynamic in the Brooks-Bryson rivalry. On the internet, Koepka seems to have a higher approval rating. That may be true in person, too. But at tournaments, DeChambeau goes out of his way to engage with the fans. He likes being a showman. He’ll crack jokes he hopes people can hear and enjoys pulling driver knowing people will cheer and generally, when he’s outside the tunnel-vision focus of his shots, seeks the crowd’s approval. Koepka has no such intention; he coasts along, occasionally acknowledging the crowd but rarely interacting.
As a result, the in-person polling goes something like this: DeChambeau is beloved but polarizing. Koepka is admired but standoffish.
There’s no question that DeChambeau catches more snide comments from the spectators, though. All week, he seemed to do his best to embrace the “Let’s go Brooksy!” cheers. But I couldn’t help but think as he played the 18th hole on Sunday, fresh off a quadruple-bogey 8 at No. 17, it must have been a little tougher to hear them coming home. That’s going to be the enduring challenge of this rivalry — dealing with it when things aren’t going well on the course.
But, to borrow from Don Draper, that’s what the money’s for.
6. The Wolff Pack
Matthew Wolff admitted he was nervous to be back in front of the crowds competing after two months away. He shared extensive thoughts on the state of his mental health and opened up about how he’s been working to be a happier guy on the course. But if he was worried about being embraced by the fans, well, he shouldn’t have been. They literally howled for him.
Wolff played an absolutely electric style of golf all week, cycling between blitzes of birdies and bogeys, and wound up T15. After the round on Sunday, he seemed genuinely relieved and appreciative that the week had gone so well, big-picture.
“I was like, holy crap, these fans are so loud,” Wolff said after the round. “Just seeing the excitement of all the fans and more importantly, all them were saying, ‘Good to have you back’ and ‘Good to see you out here’ and stuff, and that made me happy.”
7. The fan on the field
I was up by the 13th green when a shirtless man appeared in the distance, jogging down the fairway. Even without the appearance of a pseudo-streaker the hole had been the nuttiest of the day, yielding birdies and doubles at seemingly equal rates down the stretch. After witnessing an impressive cart dismount and tackle from one nearby officer, I made it back to the scene of the crime, where one gentleman happily sent me the video he’d taken of the incident. Here it is:
8. The van on the course
That would be my van, the Dodge Rahm (originally known as Vaniel Berger, then known as Vander Schauffele, finally renamed in honor of the national champion) which I stayed in all week. Daily media parking was on Torrey Pines’ North Course, which is used for actual golf during the Farmers Insurance Open each year. I’ll have more on this subject but on a basic level it was absurd to pull in each day in a giant red Dave and Matt camper-van and park it on the fairway of a PGA Tour course and consider it “work.”
I’m happy to be here.
9. The star power
You know how when you’re at home watching golf, you root for certain guys and feel ambivalent about others? Well, you’re not alone. In person, the effect is even more exaggerated. When Rory McIlroy was putting on Sunday, thousands stood motionless, at attention. When playing partner Russell Henley stepped up to the ball it was an entirely different story; fans were already rushing to get to the next potential viewing site.
“Playing with Rory, everybody was just going crazy for him the whole time,” Henley said afterward. He was a good sport about the whole thing. “It was great to be a part of it, and he’s just such an impressive player, I really enjoy playing with him.”
Golf in person remains a sport of the haves and have-nots — that is, the players who have actual fans and the players who do not. It makes for a fascinating viewing dynamic. Speaking of which…
10. The radio buzz
This was easily the weirdest thing I noticed on Sunday. American Express was handing out free single-ear headsets, and as the drama unfolded on Sunday it seemed like every fan near the final groups had one in his or her ear. If you’re ever at an event where they’re offered I’d highly recommend it; knowing what the other roars mean really adds to the viewing experience.
Each individual radio was pretty quiet. But when a crowd of people gathered around and all listened to their pretty quiet radios at the same time? All of a sudden it wasn’t so quiet anymore.
There’s a scene in The Dark Knight where Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) taps into every cell phone in Gotham to essentially build a seamless picture of the city; a web of information. That’s what this felt like. As Louis Oosthuizen teed off on No. 16 and the fans all around him went silent, the only noise that remained was the surround-sound radio broadcast, impossible for him not to hear. It felt like it would be an intense distraction — but then, to a professional golfer, nearly everything is a distraction, and they’re ready to block ’em out.
Three things to watch this week.
1. Can Nelly Korda go back-to-back?
It’s major week — again! Rest up for a day or two and then shift back into golf-viewing gear for this weekend’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club. There are storylines abound we’ll have fully covered from GOLF.com but the obvious first order of business is whether Nelly Korda can chase down her first major just a week after crushing the field in Grand Rapids.
2. The Travelers and the travelers
I’m exhausted at the end of a major championship week and I was just typing, so it’s hard for me to believe that these guys have to ramp back up for this week’s Travelers in Connecticut — but that’s exactly what they’re doing. Life could be worse for them, I suppose. Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson open as your betting favorites, but there’s a solid field behind them, too, including Brooks Koepka, Paul Casey, Patrick Cantlay and Patrick Reed. Welcome to New England, chaps.
3. The endless summer day.
This isn’t about watching, actually. It’s about doing. It’s summertime! Today is the longest day of the year! Get out there and enjoy all this daylight, you animals. We’ll see you next week.