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Dawg Sports: Devil’s Golf In City of Angels

123rd U.S. Open Championship - Practice Day 1 Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Tournament: The 123rd United States Open, June 15-18, 2023

Course: Los Angeles Country Club (North Course), 7,421 yards, par 70. A scant dozen blocks from Rodeo Drive and Beverly Hills.

Purse: I’m having trouble finding the exact numbers. 2022 US Open had a total purse of $17.5 million, with $3.15 million to the winner. Expect it to be the same or higher.

Defending Champ: Matt Fitzpatrick. The UK born and Northwestern educated golfer had himself a weekend, shooting 68-68 (and the only one in the top 5 to be under par both days). Tied with Will Zalatoris going into Sunday’s final round, they went back and forth with Fitz grabbing a late 1 stroke lead. He then proceeds to nail a clutch approach from a fairway bunker on 18 to save par and preserve the victory. It was pretty clutch, considering the next 5 players chasing him were Zalatoris, Scheffler, Morikawa, Matsuyama, and McIlroy.

Fun Fact: Though the course is surrounded by Beverly Hills to the east, Century City to the south, Westwood/Brentwood to the west, and Bel-Air to the north, the membership is famously bereft of entertainers. That tradition seemingly goes back a long way, with actors being denied as a matter of course. Bel-Air and Riviera country clubs are both in the area, and both welcome Hollywood-types with open arms.

TV Times: Get ready to stream. Thursday-Friday, 9:40 a.m.-1 p.m. ET (Peacock), 1 p.m.-8 p.m. (USA), 8 p.m.-11 p.m. (NBC). Saturday, 1 p.m.-11 p.m. ET. Sunday, 12 p.m.-1 p.m. (Peacock), 1 p.m.-11 p.m. (NBC). Since it is being played on West Coast time, us Right Coasters get some evening viewing.

‘Dawgs in the Field: 7. Harris English, Brian Harman, Russell Henley, Chris Kirk, Keith Mitchell, Sepp Straka, Davis Thompson. And here’s how they gained entrance plus their Round 1 and Round 2 tee times:

Harris English: invited due to Top 60 in the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR). Has made the cut in all 7 of his appearances, with a 3rd in 2021 (Torrey Pines) and a 4th in 2020 at Winged Foot. He tees off 3:59 pm ET Thursday, and 10:29 am Friday.

Brian Harman: also invited due to Top 60 in OWGR but also for playing in the 2022 Tour Championship. Has also played 7 previous years, making the cut his last 5 attempts. His best finish was a tie for 2nd at the very weird US Open at Erin Hills in 2017. Harman gets it going at 4:43 pm ET Thursday, and 11:13 am Friday.

Russell Henley: Top 60 in OWGR; 9 previous entries with 3 missed cuts. Henley had the lead in 2021 at Torrey Pines, but a final round 76 dropped him to T-13. His Thursday tee time is 4:21 pm ET and 10:51 am Friday.

Chris Kirk: Top 60 in OWGR; has played 5 previous Opens. Kirk placed T28 at the 2014 US Open at Pinehurst, when fellow Bulldog Erik Compton came in 2nd (but is not qualified this year). Chris is paired with Brian Harman - 4:43 pm ET Thursday, and 11:13 am Friday.

Keith Mitchell: Top 60 in OWGR; only qualified once previously: a missed cut at the 2019 US Open. Cashmere Keith starts his day at 4:32 pm ET Thursday and 11:02 am Friday.

Sepp Straka: Top 60 in OWGR and playing in 2022 Tour Championship. He missed the cut at last year’s Open and T28 at the 2019 US Open at Pebble Beach. Sepp will tee off at 10:51 am ET Thursday and 4:21 pm Friday.

Davis Thompson: A Tour rookie, Thompson shot 71-63 on the “longest day in golf”. Which is Final Qualifying tournaments held across the country, a few US Open slots are available at each site, and the lowest scores snag the slot. Thompson played in the very competitive Columbus, OH tournament which included many top pros. Davis puts ball on peg Thursday at 4:54 pm ET, and Friday at 11:24 am.

Course Preview

When on the grounds of LACC, it really is quite remarkable to realize exactly where you are. Especially in relation to downtown LA. It’s a big property, seemingly more so when you see high rises and expensive commercial real estate in the distance. Not to mention residential. Or maybe even a hybrid of the two - after all, the old Playboy Mansion is just off the 13th hole property. I know we have some LA and SoCal Dawgs out there and I’d love to hear more about the area.

And you see those vistas because it is a fairly open golf course. Instead of using tight fairways leading immediately into thick rough, think generous but rolling and undulating fairways that can repel a ball not hit to the right landing spot. The topography allowed for slopes, maybe more easily seen with the barrancas running through the course. Those who will be vying for the title will be those who can control ball flight into those slopes, and who can control the ball on the ground.

There is also balance. The first hole is a likely birdie hole for most of the field (similar to #1 at nearby Riviera), but the 2nd hole is a beast of a par 4. Players will take even par for that quick opening. #5 is another monster 4-par, yet #6 is a “technically driveable” par 4. That should be another birdie chance, yet the green is blind from the tee box. I imagine most will lay up, and have a short wedge to the extremely well-protected green surface.

There are five par 3s: a very short one, a medium length one, and then three others that can stretch to way over 200 yards (and one that can measure almost 300). Needless to say that players will be tested throughout the bag - not just on their driving and putting.

You’ve probably already seen some social media footage of someone dropping a ball in the rough to have it disappear. Yes, the USGA (who runs the US Open) famously grows up the rough each year to make it truly an obstacle. The greens will get faster and faster through the week. These conditions tend to bring out the tired old cliche’ that the “USGA is protecting par” - such a tough setup makes an even par round extremely hard.

Yet this course, far more than most, doesn’t really conform to a notion of “par”. There are 18 holes, they have a par assigned, as does the total 18 holes. But as I’ve shown above, the short par 5 is more of a “par 4.5”. The long par 4’s are also more like “par 4.5”. The long par 3 is really “par 3.5”. Many of the holes are much shorter than a typical course, but the yardage in total is inline with a US Open par 70. So don’t put too much stock in any particular birdie or bogey - there are going to be plenty of both and they likely won’t be relevant at any given point. Instead just look for who is where at the end of the day. And hopefully there will be plenty of Bulldogs high on that final leaderboard. As always...