At its Major Debut, LACC Lets the Players do the Talking

Wyndham Clark, 123rd U.S. Open,(Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Wyndham Clark, 123rd U.S. Open,(Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images) /

As the final round of the 123rd U.S. Open at LACC got underway Sunday morning, it was hard to look at the leaderboard and not identify a great storyline to go along with a win from any of the contenders. This is typically easier to do with Majors; after all, winning should be story enough.

But take a look at who was in the running to hoist the U.S. Open trophy later that evening and the stories wrote themselves.

Rickie Fowler, tied for the lead going into the fourth round, was fighting for both his first Major and first win on the PGA Tour since 2019.

Wyndham Clark, a lesser-known name compared to his fellow contenders but entering the fourth round with a share of the lead alongside Fowler, was up to win his first Major just a little over a month after recording the first PGA Tour win of his career.

Rory McIlroy, coming off a year of serving as the voice of the PGA Tour and two weeks of the weight of the golf world seemingly resting on his shoulders, was fighting for a breakthrough Major win- his first since 2014.

Scottie Scheffler, the number one ranked golfer in the world, was looking to add a second Major after an impressive comeback late in the third round to stay in contention.

LACC: A Course Worthy of Hosting a Major?

The Los Angeles Country Club’s first time hosting a Major was not universally praised or admired. Record-breaking low scores, a tighter design, slower pace of play, and less than firm greens brought viewers to question the exclusive club’s qualification to host golf’s toughest test.

The course did not just take criticism from spectators, it failed to earn the respect as a Major event host from several of golf’s top names and former U.S. Open winners.

"“I’m not a huge fan of this place… I’m not a huge fan of blind tee shots, and then I think there’s just some spots that no matter what you hit, the ball just ends up in the same spot,” two-time U.S. Open winner Brooks Koepka said after his round on Friday."

2022 U.S. Open Champion Matt Fitzpatrick echoed Koepka’s concerns about the course after his third round.

"“Yeah, I just think the golf course is interesting, to be polite, I think. There’s just too many holes for me where you’ve got blind tee shots and then you’ve got fairways that don’t hold the ball. There’s too much slope.I think the greens certainly play better when they’re firmer. I definitely think that’s the case. They’re rolling really, really well. Some of the tee shots are just — I think they’re a little bit unfair. You hit a good tee shot and end up in the rough by a foot and then you’re hacking it out,” Fitzpatrick said."

Add Viktor Hovland to the course’s list of critics. When asked his favorite hole of the course, the recent Memorial Tournament winner was more than honest in his response.

"“You know what, I’m not a big fan of this golf course, to be honest. I think there’s some good holes. I don’t think there’s any great holes. I think there’s a few bad holes,” Hovland said after his third round."

Players- and their Stories- Dominate the U.S. Open at LACC

So, LACC would take the backseat as the star of the U.S. Open as perfectly manicured storylines for contending players wove through the minds of viewers and broadcast commentators.

Someone would win who had a deserving and great story to tell, and that would define the Major more than a new course that fought back and challenged players over a full four rounds.

But Fowler would have too early of trouble on the front nine to stay in contention, McIlroy and Scheffler’s putting would collectively let them both down, and whether it was the story you liked the best or not at a Major where the players rose above any impressive talk of the LACC, Wyndham Clarks’ would be the one to prevail.

The first-time Major winner looked to have had trouble late, recording back-to-back bogeys on 15 and 16. He played his final hole with the world watching, and Rory McIlroy, one shot back, looking on from the clubhouse. Clark found no trouble on the 502-yard par-4 18th, allowing him two putts to put away the win and keep away a potential playoff or victory from McIlroy.

The comfortably achieved par was historical and emotional for Clark, but gut-wrenching for McIlroy, whose putting let him down in another grand moment and opportunity. But it did not matter that headlines of McIlroy’s win were written in reporters’ heads before he even stepped on the green. Because it is not just a game of whose storyline is the greatest, or even, who on paper may have played the better golf throughout the tournament. It’s a game of 72 holes that each count and allow for the development of a unique story to be birthed out of a win.

Clark knew he was flying under the radar a bit Sunday at LACC. Though any Major winner has a great story to tell, his was buried a bit but still deserving to be told.

"“‘I’ve come up close, and obviously everyone sees the person that hoists the trophy, but I’ve been trending in the right direction for a long time now. I’ve made a lot of cuts. I’ve had a handful of top 10s and top 20s, and I feel like I’ve been on a great trajectory to get to this place,” the first-time Major winner said."

Next. Fans Roast U.S. Open and LACC. dark

From its opening round to Clark’s emotional win, the LACC grounds bore witness to PGA Tour player record-breaking moments, awe-inspiring holes, and never-relenting fighting spirits.

It was not the consistently challenging tournament a U.S. Open should be, and perhaps your desired storyline win did not rise to the top, but the 123rd U.S. Open gave viewers a Sunday leaderboard full of players who were just playing for a bit extra.

And at the end of the day, only one could hoist the 2023 trophy at LACC.