US Open 2021 golf preview: Everything you need to know as the year's third men's Major Championship is played at Torrey Pines South Course.
Today's Golfer's 2021 Major coverage is brought to you in association with TaylorMade
Date June 17-20, 2021
Course Torrey Pines (South), San Diego, California
Par 71 (35-36), 7,652 yards
Purse $12.5 million
Defending champion Bryson DeChambeau
If Augusta is Bryson DeChambeau’s Kryptonite, US Open courses seem to be his favourite kind of playground.
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In September, he was the only man to finish under par at Whistling Straits after he bomb-and-gouged his way to a six-shot procession in an event which likes to sell itself as the toughest test in golf. His superiority off the tee gave him a big advantage, but just as important was his ability to muscle the ball onto the green from the thick rough while others could only hack out sideways or short.
Torrey Pines is likely to pose a similar test to what we saw last year, albeit with the unpredictability of a Pacific breeze and Poa greens. There’s also the small matter of Jordan Spieth’s return to form, plus a handful of big-name players – like Jon Rahm, Patrick Reed and Justin Rose – who know what it takes to win at Torrey Pines.
We could probably list a dozen players who will be arriving in San Diego in great form, and many more who will think it’s their time to shine. The only guarantee is that there will be some spectacular failings. Players will be trying to tiptoe their way around a course which can trip them up at every turn. There will be lots of thrashing about in the rough. Good putts will be finishing 10ft from the hole.
It won’t be pretty, but the US Open now prides itself on that. You know what to expect and if it produces half the drama we saw at Torrey Pines in 2008, we’ll happily accept watching players struggling to make par. Some may not like it, but for the average golfer it’s entirely relatable and actually quite enjoyable, if only for one week of the year.
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What do I need to know about Torrey Pines?
Named after a rare type of pine, Torrey Pines is home to two municipal 18-hole golf courses – the North and South – which were built on the site of a former US Army installation, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, during World War II.
Opened in 1957, both courses were designed by William P. Bell and his son, William F. Bell, and have been used in tandem to host the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open (formerly known as the Buick Invitational) since 1968.
This will be the second time that the South Course has staged the US Open, having previously played host in 2008. That year Tiger and Rocco were the only players to finish in the red on one-under-par. The scoring average that week, in case you were wondering, was nearly three strokes over par.
This was the scene of Tiger Woods' most heroic Major win...
Surely everyone remembers the iconic celebration? Tiger battled through the pain barrier and outlasted Rocco Mediate in a 19-hole playoff to win his third US Open title. Tiger had earlier forced a playoff – while playing on a broken leg – after holing a 12-footer for birdie on the 72nd hole. Lee Westwood finished a shot behind in third.
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US Open golf courses tend to be difficult. Will Torrey Pines be any different?
It may just be one of the hardest. As well as being the longest layout on the PGA Tour rota, the South is the only course to be ranked inside the top 10 for toughest fairways to hit in each of the last 12 seasons.
In the aftermath of being awarded a second US Open, more than $12 million was set aside to install new irrigation and replace every bunker and the surrounding areas of all 18 greens. The work, which was overseen by original renovator Rees Jones, also included the extension of two holes and moving several bunkers farther from the tees to catch out the big hitters.
US OPEN 2021: Torrey Pines course guide
Even so, Torrey Pines should play into Bryson DeChambeau's hands, shouldn’t it?
Not necessarily. While strokes gained off the tee is a big indicator of success, the ability to handle the unpredictable Poa annua greens should not be underestimated.
Often commentators and players talk about how difficult it is to adjust to putting on Poa greens – and the stats bear that out. According to the 15th Club, 68.3 percent of putts from 4-8ft have been holed on all putting surfaces since 2015.
When isolating those numbers down to just Poa annua greens, the make percentage drops to 66.5 percent. That might not sound like a big drop off, but it soon adds up on the South Course where each green was likened to “three or four little greens” by Martin Laird, on account of the various tiers.
Will the US Open set-up be different to this year’s Farmers Insurance Open?
We already know the USGA love to make the rough as horrific as possible, so you can pretty much guarantee we won’t be seeing a repeat of Patrick Reed’s 14-under-par total from January.
What we will see is a repeat of the 2008 US Open with the par-5 6th being converted to a long par 4, meaning the course will play to a brutally-tough par 71. Every player we heard from in January told us that they expect the course to play completely differently in June, though any gamblers shouldn’t overlook those who’ve had a habit of playing well there in the past.
Previous winners over the last decade at Torrey Pines include Justin Rose, Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson and Jason Day (twice), although the Aussie won't be adding to his Torrey Wins having failed to qualify for the tournament.
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Are there any major storylines we need to know about?
Apart from Tiger Woods' continued injury absence, all the focus in the build-up is likely to be on US PGA champion Phil Mickelson, who can’t seem to catch a break at a US Open. He looked set to miss this year's tournament just a few weeks ago, sitting outside the world's Top 60 players, only for the USGA to grant him a special exemption... and then won the PGA Chanmpionship. He’s finished runner-up a record six times and despite his incredible victory at Kiawah Island and Torrey Pines being his hometown course, it seems unlikely he'll achieve back-to-back Major successes
It used to be a happy hunting ground for Lefty – he won the Farmers Insurance Open three times, including back-to-back in 2000 and 2001 – but he has had only one top 10 in his last 12 starts at Torrey Pines. He’s even admitted that the course is “not a good place” for him anymore, so you probably shouldn’t bet on him completing the career Grand Slam this year. Luckily his PGA win means he'll get another nine chances after this one and who'd bet against him breaking his own record as the oldest Major winner?
Rory McIlroy will inevitably get some headlines as his bid to end his Major drought continues. McIlroy won his first Major crown at this event ten years ago and has failed to add to his four Grand Slam titles since 2014.
The Bryson DeChambeau/Brooks Koepka feud will also ensure the men who have won three of the last four US Opens draw plenty of attention. Let's just hope they end up playing together come Sunday's final round!
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Who’s our money on?
We've looked into our crystal ball, crunched the numbers and narrowed it down to Jon Rahm. Unfortunately our crystal ball failed to predict his positive Covid-19 test, but we stand by our man and have a few each-way options as a back up. See our workings, plus all of the stats and odds, here... Who Will Win The US Open?
How many players are in the field?
The starting field of 156 golfers will be cut after 36 holes to the low 60 scorers (and ties). In the event of a tie after 72 holes, a two-hole aggregate play-off will take place following the completion of Sunday’s final round. Coincidentally, the US Open’s last 18-hole play-off was the clash between Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate in 2008 (and even then they needed a 19th hole!).
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Will there be any fans at Torrey Pines?
Like the US PGA Championship, the US Open will look and feel a lot different compared to the Majors last year. The USGA have confirmed that a limited number of fans will be admitted, but only on the condition that they show proof that they’ve received the Covid-19 vaccine.
"Last year, we missed the energy that fans bring to our U.S. Open championships," said John Bodenhamer, the USGA's Senior Managing Director of Championships.
"We are grateful to our local and state health and safety officials in California to be in a position to welcome some fans back this year to witness the greatest players in the world contending for these prestigious championships, while working to maintain the health and safety of all involved."
Was the US Open actually ‘open’ to competitors this year?
While local qualifying took place in the US and Canada, the traditional Final Qualifying event at Walton Heath was scrapped this year due to the pandemic. Instead, 10 places were up for grabs via a mini order of merit on the European Tour.
The top 10 aggregate point earners, who were not otherwise exempt, from the British Masters at The Belfry, Made in HimmerLand in Denmark and the European Open in Germany booked their spot so you'll see Richard Bland, Guido Migliozzi, Marcus Armitage, Mikko Korhonen, Jordan Smith, Adrian Meronk, Edoardo Molinari, Dave Coupland, Thomas Detry and Matthew Southgate teeing it up in California.
How much prize money is on offer this year?
The total purse for this year’s US Open is $12.5 million, the highest of any Major Championship, while players who miss the cut still take home $10,000. Can we play, please?!
Where and how can I watch the US Open?
Sky Sports have the exclusive rights to the US Open at Torrey Pines and will show more than 40 hours of coverage from California across the four days. Just remember that San Diego is eight hours behind the UK so there'll be some late nights if you plan to watch it all!
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