U.S. Open 2019: Which quality winner will Pebble Beach deliver?

PEBBLE BEACH, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 14: Jon Rahm of Spain (L) and Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland walk up the 18th hole during the second round of the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links on June 14, 2019 in Pebble Beach, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
PEBBLE BEACH, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 14: Jon Rahm of Spain (L) and Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland walk up the 18th hole during the second round of the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links on June 14, 2019 in Pebble Beach, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

Pebble Beach is a course where the greats thrive. With a host of major winners in contention at the U.S. Open, how will the eventual champion separate from the pack?

Some courses deliver unexpected winners. And some, like Pebble Beach, usually deliver golfers you’ve heard of, like Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tom Kite and Tiger Woods at the US. Open or Lanny Wadkins at the PGA. There are other times when a leader falters and an excellent player like Graeme McDowell, a star in Europe before he moved to the U.S., rises to the top and overcomes the conditions and challenges put forth by the USGA, which he did in 2010.

There are other courses, historically, that deliver giant killing surprises, time after time, like The Olympic Club, where Jack Fleck beat Ben Hogan, robbing him of a fifth U.S. Open title.  It’s also where Billy Casper defeated Arnold Palmer and where Lee Janzen bested Tom Watson, both times, U.S. Opens.

So, given the history of Pebble Beach, it’s likely that, as the weekend unfolds at this year’s U.S. Open, the course will once again identify a top-notch player as the next U.S Open champ. It’s not a guarantee, but even now, it’s trending in that direction.

At the end of two rounds of play, the first 11 places – including ties – had nine players who have already won majors.  Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Louis Oosthuizen, Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell and Zach Johnson. Definitely golfers you know.

Right behind them were Jim Furyk, Francesco Molinari and Dustin Johnson, all major winners, waiting for a putt to fall, a bounce to give them a break, or for someone ahead to falter. That’s not out of the question either, considering the challenges Pebble Beach surely has in store this weekend.

Does that mean that one of these men will definitely win the U.S. Open? No. But it means they are more likely to because they know what it takes to win a major.

Brooks Koepka previously said what few people will ever say, but what insiders in golf know is true and don’t say about winning major championships. He reiterated it again on Wednesday when he had his U.S. Open pre-tournament interview with media.

"“I know I’m going to beat over half the field. And from there, guys are going to change their game and the way they go about it,” he said. “So, you’re down to about 30 guys.”More from US OpenU.S. Women’s Open At Pebble Beach A Resounding SuccessAt Pebble, it’s The Women’s No-Name U.S. OpenFantasy Golf: 2023 U.S. Women’s Open DFS Player Selections2023 U.S. Women’s Open Makes Historic Pebble Beach DebutU.S. Open Returns to Riviera Country Club"

Brooks may be brutal in his assessment, but in evaluating the competition, he is spot on.

"“From there, pressure, and who’s going to play good. So, you’re down to about a handful of guys,” he added. “That’s just how I view it, how I view going into every tournament, every major. There’s always a certain amount of guys, if they play well, there’s a good chance they’re going to win. Simple as that. You just hope it’s you at the end of the week.”"

In his last major, the PGA Championship, he was a repeat winner. Koepka has won four majors, both of them in back-to-back seasons, starting with the 2017 U.S. Open followed by the 2018 U.S. Open. Then he won the 2018 PGA followed by the 2019 PGA. So, when it comes to evaluating the fields and understanding what has to be done to win majors, he’s graduated at the head of the class.

Even the ever-polite Jordan Spieth explained the value of experience after he won his second major, the 2015 U.S. Open. Down the stretch, it looked like it could have been either Spieth or Dustin Johnson who would emerge as the victor.

"“We kept on saying out there, ‘We’ve done it before, these guys haven’t. These guys are going to be more tense than you are,’” Spieth revealed after his victory."

Does that mean Gary Woodland or Xander Schauffele or Aaron Wise or Jon Rahm can’t win this U.S. Open?  No.  But according to two who have had multiple major success, the guy who has already won a major has less to overcome psychologically than the golfer who hasn’t.

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So, if you are looking to have a heated discussion with your friends on who will pull this one out at Pebble Beach, just remember Koepka’s theory and Spieth’s thinking. Those who have won a major are perhaps in better position to win another. It doesn’t always work that way, though, because every golfer who wins more than one major championship had to win his first one.