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The 2023 U.S. Open sees a new venue in the form of Los Angeles Country Club, Los Angeles, California. Played on the North Course, which we haven’t seen in operation at Major Championships nor on the PGA Tour thus far, this course hosted the 2017 Walker Cup match where the winning USA side featured Major Champions Scottie Scheffler and Collin Morikawa. The Par 70 course is an unusual set-up and has been lovingly restored by Gill Hanse, whose previous work includes U.S. Open host sites Merion, Oakmont, Winged Foot and Brookline Country Club.
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Recent US Open history features a new breed of champions with first time Major winners galore. Indeed going back to 2009, 11 of the last 14 champions had never captured a Major title.
2022 saw Matt Fitzpatrick win at 25/1 at the same Brookline course where he’d won the US Amateur 9 years earlier. 2021 saw Jon Rahm win his maiden Major title as the 9/1 favourite on the course where he won his first PGA Tour title back in 2017. In 2020, Bryson DeChambeau bludgeoned his way around Winged Foot to capture his first Major title – in doing so becoming only the second ever winner to average over 320 yards off the tee when winning a Major. 2019 saw Gary Woodland capture his first Major victory at the iconic Pebble Beach. Off the back of consecutive PGA Championship top-8 finishes, Woodland delivered a masterclass of long, straight driving and elite-level ball-striking at Pebble, holding off modern-day US Open king Brooks Koepka.
Brooks triumphed at both the 2017 and 2018 renewals held at the contrived Erin Hills and the classical faux-links at Shinnecock Hills. He hits the ball a mile, but undoubtedly has the patience, approach play and short game to tame tough golf courses. Before Brooks, 2016 saw the buccaneering Dustin Johnson show huge mental resolve to capture his first Major, despite being told on the 12th tee of the final round that he was being assessed for a one-shot penalty, sustained for his ball moving on the 5th green as he was addressing his putt.
2015 saw 21 year-old Jordan Spieth win back-to-back Majors at a versatile Chambers Bay course which split the opinions of both players and the wider golfing public. 2014 saw Martin Kaymer in a class of his own as he made playing Pinehurst Number 2 look unnaturally easy on his way to winning his 2nd Major title. 2013 saw Justin Rose capture his first Major Championship with an emotional victory at Merion Golf Club. These victories followed on from first Major wins for Webb Simpson (Olympic Club 2012), Rory McIlroy (Congressional 2011), Graeme McDowell (Pebble Beach 2010) and Lucas Glover (Bethpage Black 2009).
So just who will be the 2023 U.S. Open champion at a classical, parkland test which is the North Course at LACC?
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It’s difficult to find out much detail online about the North Course at Los Angeles Country Club. A private club in the extreme, competition here in modern golfing times has been minimal. The United States Golf Association though have always wanted to bring their Open Championship here and that’s hardly surprising as some more sage than myself describe the North Course as the single finest example of parkland golf in the United States. What’s even more unique is that this most vaunted of courses is located on the bustling intersection of Wilshire and Beverly Hills. This inner Los Angeles location is best compared to say a golf course in Manhattan’s Central Park. The players are sure to love it off the course at the very least!
Statistically speaking, Los Angeles Country Club looks kind of similar to 2022 host venue The Country Club at Brookline. This 7,400 yard, Par 70 will be slightly longer than Brookline, but some 300 yards shorter than 2021 venue Torrey Pines. LACC is famous for both its location – the 13th green is close to the Playboy Mansion – but more pertinently for its distinctly hilly topography and its sheer variety which includes long and short hole yardages, severe up and downhill elevation changes, plus plenty of doglegs framed by severe bunkering, natural gorges and ravines.
North Course, Los Angeles Country Club, Los Angeles, California: Designer: George Thomas with William P. Bell 1928; Gil Hanse with Jim Wagner and Geoff Shackelford restoration 2010; Course Type: Classical, Technical, Long Length; Par: 70; Length: Circa 7,421 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 0; Fairways: Tifway Bermudagrass; Rough: Tifway + Bandera Bermudagrass, with Fescue and Buffalo Grass 3-4″; Greens: Pure Distinction Creeping Bentgrass. Stimpmeter: 13.
Course Designer Links: For research purposes, other Gil Hanse designs (including renovations/restorations) include:
The United States Open Championship returns to Los Angeles, California for the first time since 1948. The North Course at Los Angeles Country Club is the venue. It’s set in a unique landscape which takes advantage of numerous hilltops, valleys and ridges to create a series of distinctive holes that seem unique in world golf. The course is so revered that the United States Golf Association wooed the traditionally aloof LACC, hoping that membership would someday open its gates to the world. Whilst Riviera Country Club openly courted the USGA to hold a U.S. Open it’s ultimately too small to do so, whilst the 325 acres of the Los Angeles Country Club can manage to hold a Major Championship and all of its stands, tents and trailers.
The North Course’s championship history includes five Los Angeles Opens, the 1930 U.S. Women’s Amateur, the 1954 U.S. Junior Amateur, and the 2017 Walker Cup Match. So for our purposes we’ve only seen the course recently in the Walker Cup – a match which included Maverick McNealy, Collin Morikawa, Scottie Scheffler and Will Zalatoris (unfortunately out for the rest of 2023 following back surgery).
The North Course is a George Thomas original – the same designer who helped pen Riviera Country Club which hosts Tiger Woods’ Genesis Invitational every February on the PGA Tour. The much acclaimed Gil Hanse, who worked on recent U.S. Open venues Winged Foot (2020) and Brookline (2022), along with the Southern Hills which hosted the 2022 PGA Championship, renovated the North Course in 2009-2010. 2009 saw all fairway bunkering on the course renovated. 2010 saw greenside bunker restoration, new tees, re-grassing (Poa Annua to Bentgrass greens), irrigation, plus the mass removal of trees and accompanying shrubs. So successful was the project that the bunkering and use of hazards here on the North Course rivals those at the best parkland courses in the country including Merion (2013 U.S. Open) and Oakmont (2016 U.S.Open).
The North Course will be slightly wider off the tee than most U.S. Open courses, keeping with the Thomas design strategy that angles matter. The Par 70 course is an unusual set-up in that it features 5 par-3s and 3 par-5s. Most Par 70s feature 4 par-3s and just the 2 par-5s. The par-3s vary from a 290 yard downhill approach (11th), to the tricky 15th hole, listed at 124 yards on the scorecard, although it played as short as 78 yards during 2017 Walker Cup Match Play.
Key holes include the 6th hole, a 330-yard par-4, which is strategic with its risk-reward nature. A blind tee shot awaits, whether attempting to drive the green or to lay up to a comfortable yardage to attack the smallest putting surface at just 3,400 sq.ft. Bermudagrass rough, which is being employed at a U.S. Open for the first time since 2005, will be tightened here and in other places around the course to strike a balance between the architecture and a championship test.
Los Angeles Country Club’s signature hole is No. 11, one of 5 par-3s on the North Course. It will play at a punishing 290 yards. Although downhill, the design brilliantly allows for the ball to be played short of the green, where it will then bounce towards the putting surface.
I’ll leave it to the words of Gil Hanse to pick out what makes the North Course at Los Angeles Country Club so unique: “The characteristic that is most prominent in my mind is the barranca (steep-walled ravine or gorge) that runs predominantly through the front-9 and provides a significant amount of strategy. Thomas incorporated it in many ways – it fronts some of the greens and parallels some of the holes, while on other holes you have diagonal carries over it, so he used them dramatically.”
So the 2023 U.S. Open is visiting a pretty unique venue and let’s also think through the mid-June date. Southern California weather is likely to help the USGA when it comes to making the course more challenging for pros. “You know it’s going to be dry,” Hanse said. “We have the necessary length and the USGA will be able to dictate the firmness. That’s the most effective defence for modern-day Tour players.”
As the USGA did with previous Chambers Bay, Erin Hills and Brookline U.S. Open venues, they hosted an amateur competition here at Los Angeles Country Club back in 2017 to assess how the course plays and to see where improvements could be made to make it a sterner test for the U.S. Open. Of note for punters is that Denny McCarthy, Collin Morikawa and Scottie Scheffler (along with PGA Tour pros Cameron Champ and Doug Ghim) played for Team USA in the Walker Cup of that year.
Below are some revealing player and captain comments about the North Course at Los Angeles Country Club from the 2017 Walker Cup:
John “Spider” Miller – Team USA Captain: “Green speeds are probably about what they have for that. But anyway, that’s, I don’t have any input, but they do share what their target is for the speeds and the firmness and they’re trying to get the greens a little firmer each day and I think they’re at speed now. It’s going to be approaching 13.”
“But I’d probably say this week what’s come out most is that my short game has just been really, really top drawer. I’d say my weakest part of my game was into the greens, and really sort of over the past three years my strongest part of my game has always been good off the tee, and I hit quite a lot of greens in regulation. But it’s always harder to come to a course that’s 7,300, as well, and I’m not the longest hitter, and hitting 3‑irons in it’s harder to hit the greens, especially into those since they’re so small. But I’d probably say this week that what’s come out more than anything is I’ve just putted really well.”
Braden Thornberry – Team USA: “The thing with this course too is about the driving, there’s two or three tight tee shots, but they give you plenty of fairway most of the time, so it’s not a super demanding, as far as you have to put it on a string. But it just really penalizes the bigger miss. Like on 2, it’s a big fairway, but if you do miss you’re going to be wedging out, so it’s pretty important.”
Harvey Ellis – Team GB&I: “Length of the golf course. The length of the golf course could change that factor I think this week. Because if a guy’s putting himself in positions with shorter clubs it’s a huge benefit at LACC. Not saying it’s going to determine matches, but I think that the angles of the greens and the way they situate is not necessarily a good thing to go in with a 4-iron or 3-iron compared to people that may be going in with 6- or 7-irons. But again, with the greens as fast as they are and we have had to adapt to them, they’re pretty quick, some of the quickest I’ve ever putted on, there is going to be a huge putting element to it. But I think there’s also going to be an element of giving yourself chances for birdies or missing yourself in right spots to be able to make up-and-downs.”
Andy Ingram – Team GB&I Captain: “LACC has hole No. 6, most of us, everyone playing this week can probably get there if they wanted to. But we talked about it, hole 6 in the round, you’re building your match at that point, you’re not trying to take on shots on hole 6 typically. And the way the hole sits, it sits at you with the green and how shallow the green is, it’s not very, it’s not a hole that you can take on and get rewarded. And like the biggest thing there is more risk involved than reward. So you’re looking like just to play that hole left and then chip on, because of the way, but if that hole was possibly 15, 16 in the round, then I think you would see more people encouraged to go for it.”
“So I think that with the length of the golf course anyway you can’t get much more aggressive than you need to because most holes I think we, most of us will be hitting drivers off tees and you’re naturally playing it to your full capacity anyway. So I think the only way that it’s going to change this week is situation in the match and maybe if a player’s hit before you and they have hit one close, then you may have to tone up on a line that you want to take, rather than playing middle of the green which is not a bad spot to play over, out there. So it’s not your typical course where you can take over, hit some drives over trees or take on par-4s or whatever or go for par-5s in two, so it’s pretty much laid out how the golf course was designed.”
Los Angeles Country Club: A Major Championship Oasis In Central LA.
5 Major Championships have been played in the Western United States since the start of 2012. California has staged 4 Majors, with Washington holding the other, going back to the 2012 U.S. Open won by Webb Simpson at Olympic Club in San Francisco. Nationality-wise, Jon Rahm has been the only non-American to triumph with Jordan Spieth, Gary Woodland, Collin Morikawa alongside Simpson all being victorious for the home nation.
Below you’ll find the top 10 finishers across those 5 Majors held in the Western United States since 2012:
2021 U.S. Open – South Course, Torrey Pines, La Jolla, California
2020 PGA Championship – TPC Harding Park, San Francisco, California
2019 U.S. Open – Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, California
2015 U.S. Open – Chambers Bay, University Place, Washington
2012 U.S. Open – Olympic Club, San Francisco, California
Another intriguing aspect to the last 5 winners of Major Championships held in the Western United States is a proven track record in the area, prior to capturing their title. It’s irrefutable that every winner of a Major Championship held in this area since the start of 2012 had previous wins or top 10 finishes on the PGA Tour West Coast Swing, prior to lifting their respective trophy.
Even more revealing is that every winner also had a top 7 finish in a West Coast Swing PGA Tour event in the year previous to winning their Major Championship:
Jon Rahm – 2021 U.S. Open Winner
Collin Morikawa – 2020 PGA Championship Winner
Gary Woodland – 2019 U.S. Open Winner
Jordan Spieth – 2015 U.S. Open Winner
Webb Simpson – 2012 U.S. Open Winner
In this day and age of statistics, it’s interesting to look at what inbound player skill strengths, if any, are particularly shared by U.S. Open winners. Naturally this cannot be an exact science as the U.S. Open moves from course to course, with venues changing in terms of key requirements of the eventual winner. Nothing highlights that more than the difference between Erin Hills, Shinnecock Hills, Pebble Beach, Winged Foot, Torrey Pines and Brookline over the past 6 U.S. Open renewals. However there are clear patterns which are not exact, but definitely highlight trends.
For instance, 12 of the last 16 winners of the U.S. Open ranked in the top 13 in the All-Round skill category in their last appearance. It’s also fact that no U.S. Open winner over the same timescale has been outside the top 18 for Greens in Regulation in the week they won. Naturally hitting your irons and approaches well is a huge upside.
But if we’re looking for strong skillsets in a winner’s previous appearance, we actually need to look for top-level driving. In Matt Fitzpatrick, Brooks Koepka (twice), Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Martin Kaymer and Justin Rose we have 7 players who ranked 18th, 3rd, 25th, 1st, 1st, 16th, 1st and 8th for Total Driving in their previous appearance. For Martin Kaymer that happened to be at Wentworth, so he has to be excluded from the Strokes Gained stat angle, but that Total Driving number also translates very well to Strokes Gained Off the Tee.
Here Fitzpatrick (2nd), DeChambeau (16th), Koepka (5th), Koepka (2nd), Johnson (4th), Spieth (5th) and Rose (13th) clearly had real confidence with the driver when they arrived at Brookline, Torrey Pines, Winged Foot, Shinnecock Hills, Erin Hills, Oakmont, Chambers Bay and Merion respectively. If the European Tour had a consistent Strokes Gained Stat back in 2014, Kaymer would have been very close to the top of it at Wentworth as well.
If we go back to 2010 and look at Graeme McDowell’s lead-in to his U.S. Open victory, he played the Wales Open on the European Tour, which he won. That week he topped Greens in Regulation at 80.6%, was 15th for Total Driving and was 2nd in the All-Round category.
2019 U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland was 52nd in his previous appearance at the Memorial Tournament, which showed absolutely no hint of a Pebble Beach victory, but even with Woodland the All-Round, Total Driving and Strokes Gained Off The Tee angle works when you extrapolate a little. Prior to Muirfield Village, Gary had finished 8th at the PGA Championship – that was his second Major top 10 in his last 3 attempts. At Bethpage Black he’d ranked 4th for All-Round, 7th for Total Driving and 7th for Strokes Gained Off The Tee.
Now 2020 champion Bryson DeChambeau muddies the waters again, although in Covid times it’s worth noting it was played in mid-September. DeChambeau undoubtedly struggled with his All-Round came on his previous outing at East Lake. However both his Strokes Gained Off the Tee and Greens in Regulation numbers were in decent enough shape.
Covid again impacts the trend with Jon Rahm in 2021. Remember Rahm was leading the Memorial Tournament by 6 shots heading into Sunday when he tested positive for Covid-19 and had to withdraw. To say he was miffed was an understatement. Look at his numbers through 54 holes and, as you would expect, they were top drawer. 1st for Strokes Gained Off the Tee, 3rd for Total Driving and 1st for All-Round at the time of withdrawal, safe to say Jon was at the very peak of his powers and I’m inclined to use those numbers for U.S. Open research purposes ongoing.
And to bring this full circle, Matt Fitzpatrick last year played the week before the U.S. Open at the RBC Canadian Open at St George’s G&CC in Toronto, where he finished in 10th spot. 2nd for Strokes Gained Off the Tee, 18th for Total Driving and 7th for All-Round marked him as a top contender to capture his first Major Championship in Massachusetts a week later.
|Year||US Open Winner||GIR||Previous Event||All Round Rank||Total Driving||SG Off Tee|
|2022||Matt Fitzpatrick||68.1% 16th||St Georges - Canada||7th||18th||2nd|
|2021||Jon Rahm||68.5% (6th)||Memorial - 54 Hole WD||1st||3rd||1st|
|2020||Bryson DeChambeau||66.67% (13th)||East Lake||28th||25th||16th|
|2019||Gary Woodland||72.22% (2nd)||Memorial||40th||39th||66th|
|2018||Brooks Koepka||61.1% (33rd)||St Jude||25th||25th||5th|
|2017||Brooks Koepka||86.1% (1st)||St Jude||13th||1st||2nd|
|2016||Dustin Johnson||76.4% (1st)||St Jude||2nd||1st||4th|
|2015||Jordan Spieth||76.4% (6th)||Memorial||5th||16th||5th|
|2014||Martin Kaymer||62.5% (18th)||BMW PGA||1st||1st||N/A|
|2013||Justin Rose||69.4% (9th)||Memorial||8th||8th||13th|
|2012||Webb Simpson||58.8% (16th)||Memorial||MC||MC||MC|
|2011||Rory McIlroy||86.1% (1st)||St Jude||18th||16th||20th|
|2010||Graeme McDowell||80.6% (1st)||Wales Open||2nd||15th||N/A|
US Opens are all about the length of the rough. Every year, from the Monday of tournament week, we see videos on Social Media with balls disappearing into rough and never reappearing! In every player interview prior to the off, the mantra is “got to keep the ball in the fairway”, as it’s continually repeated. The time old discussion point prior to US Opens is how does the USGA’s policy of 4+ inch rough actually affect the outcome of the tournament. “Long and straight works” is something I utter on our US Open Golf Betting System Podcast every year, but is that actually true?
Well a perusal of the last 8 winner’s season-long statistics is quite revealing. Matt Fitzpatrick last year was by far the shortest off the tee, ranking 91st for Driving Distance All Drives. Worth noting though that Fitzpatrick was undoubtedly work in progress in terms of his driving power, as he was 13th for Driving Distance at the RBC Canadian Open the week before, averaging a lengthy 310 yards off the tee.
Taking 2015 through 2021 champions, Jordan Spieth was the shortest off the tee, although he ranked 43rd for Driving Distance All Drives – which is long enough. But from 2016 through 2021, it’s clear that brute power off the tee is a more than handy attribute to have. Dustin Johnson (2016), Brooks Koepka (2017/18), Gary Woodland (2019), Bryson DeChambeau (2020) and Jon Rahm (2021) all ranked in the top 17 for Driving Distance All Drives on the PGA Tour when arriving at their U.S. Open triumph.
|Year||US Open Winner||Driving Accuracy||Driving Distance||Driving Distance All Drives|