World’s best braced for Major challenge at Torrey Pines

Just two Irishmen in action in California as De Chambeau defends his US Open crown

So, the men’s US Open – the third Major of the year – is on next week at Torrey Pines. What kind of course conditions can be expected?

Well, Xander Schauffele –a local boy – got in early in raising expectations of very thick rough in posting a video clip on his social media in attempting to play a pitch from behind the 18th green with his ball buried in the grass and invisible to the naked eye. The reality is the USGA, who run the championship, will gradually cut down the rough in the coming days although the association prides itself on presenting the toughest examination of the four Majors.

In what way does the USGA set up the typical examination for a US Open?

Let's go back to 2008, the last time that the US Open was played on the South Course and where Tiger Woods – effectively playing on one leg and who underwent knee surgery immediately afterwards – claimed the title with a play-off win over Rocco Mediate. On that occasion, the championship director Jim Hyler outlined the USGA's philosophy to be "the most rigorous examination of golfers at the highest level . . . . (to) test all aspects of a player's game, including shot making, mental tenacity and physical endurance". To achieve that, the USGA have a championship template (of 14 points), the main ones which decree "rough height, density and severity, and stages of severity" along with "hole locations" and "risk and reward options".

But no Tiger Woods this year?

Unfortunately not. Woods has a special affinity with Torrey Pines dating back to when his late father, Earl, took him as a 10-year-old to play the South Course for the first time. In his professional career, Woods has won seven regular PGA Tour events at the venue and, of course, captured that 2008 US Open title. Woods is still rehabilitating from the severe injuries he sustained in a car crash in February, with no date yet for a possible return to play.

Any other notable players missing this time around?

Someone is always liable to miss out, given that only the top-60 players in the world rankings at the cut-off date are exempt. Among the more notable absentees for this latest edition of the championship are Jason Day – a two-time runner-up – and Rickie Fowler, both missing the championship for the first time since 2011. Graeme McDowell, winner at Pebble Beach in 2010, is also on the missing list as his 10-year exemption is finished.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka were put in the same group for the first two rounds?

With the ongoing spat between the two Americans, it certainly would liven things up for television viewers. But it's unlikely to happen from the start as traditionally the USGA group the defending champion with the winner of the US Amateur and the reigning British Open champion. In which case, DeChambeau – the defending champion – would be grouped with Tyler Stafaci and our own Shane Lowry.

What is the name of the trophy awarded to the champion?

Plain and simple, it’s just called the US Open Trophy. While the winner of The Open receives the Claret Jug and the PGA champion is awarded the Wanamaker Trophy, while the Masters champion gets a green jacket (and trophy), there is no special name on the trophy which is actually a replica of the original (which was destroyed in a fire in 1946). The silver trophy is 18 inches high and the lid features a winged, female figure representing victory. In addition, the champion also receives a gold medal, a 10-year exemption into future championships . . . . oh, and a cheque for €1.85 million ($2.25m).

Will there be any spectators in attendance?

Short answer, yes! There were no fans allowed on-site at Winged Foot last September when Bryson DeChambeau powered his way to a breakthrough Major title but a limited number – estimated to be 10,000 daily (about half the usual figure) – will be allowed attend at Torrey Pines. Spectators, though, must produce evidence that they are fully vaccinated or in receipt of a recent negative test result.

What are the prospects of an Irish winner?

Well, only two Irish players – Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry – are in the 156 -man field. McIlroy already has a US Open title on his CV (he won at Congressional in 2011 and he has a total of five top-10 finishes in his 12 previous appearances in the championship), while Lowry was runner-up to Dustin Johnson in 2016 and is making his ninth appearance. McIlroy is 16/1 with the bookies, Lowry is 33/1. So, yes, both have good chances.

How many players are in the field?

Last year’s championship at Winged Foot had a reduced field of 144 players due to the lack of daylight in its revised September slot due to the pandemic. Next week’s tournament reverts back to a full 156-man field (including seven amateurs) with the top 60 players and ties through 36 holes making the cut into the final two rounds.