The U.S. Open has returned to a truly public golf course (that does not double as a destination resort and exists close to a major city) for the first time since going to Bethpage for the 2009 U.S. Open, which was the second year in a row the nation's championship had been played at a public track.
Torrey Pines is a familiar scene for those who follow the PGA Tour every year as it annually hosts the Farmers Insurance Open, which is one of a handful of unofficial opening days for any season. Although it will look much different now than it did -- this is always the case when the USGA takes over for a week -- so many of the scenes will still be familiar, not because of majors gone by (there has only been one here) but because of bright, crisp January and February days when the golf on TV seems so much more appealing than the weather outside across the country.
This course and area are famous for legitimate reasons. Tiger Woods has won here eight times, one of which includes maybe the most-watched putt in the history of the sport. The entire vibe of La Jolla, California, and this golf course as a public institution is terrific. Many majors are secluded (think Chambers Bay or even Oakmont or Shinnecock). This one is more out in the open. It will be more of a public revelry for a country that could certainly use one these days.
So as we count the hours until the first tee shots at the 2021 U.S. Open, let's take a look at five things to know about Torrey Pines, which will welcome its first shots since Tiger Woods took the last one at a major here 13 years ago.
1. Public institution: This has been well-documented (probably overly-documented), but it's still meaningful. That residents of San Diego have two golf courses (Torrey North and South) they can play for under $100, both of which host PGA Tour events and one of which hosts the United States Open is absolutely extraordinary. In the siloed world of golf -- and maybe especially so this year as COVID-19 hopefully winds itself away -- this is both unusual and worthy of celebration.
2. Variation of lies: Geoff Ogilvy (who finished in the top 10 here in 2008) was brilliant on the kikuyu rough you see at Torrey Pines. On this recent Fried Egg Podcast, he talked about how, somewhat ironically, you get a wide variety of lies and results when you pump off the fairway at Torrey. Because the rough is so thick (it's also higher in some spots than in 2008), it might be sitting all the way down, but it might also be sitting halfway up and give you a real chance of hacking out. We can argue whether this is more interesting or less fair than, say, a golf course like Kiawah (which just hosted the PGA Championship) but it's definitely something to watch as the tournament wears on and one or two shots (one or two breaks) can affect so many different legacies.
3. Back to poa: How many times have you watched that Tiger Woods putt on the 18th here back in 2008? How many times have you thought to yourself, "Why is it bouncing like that?!" It's (obviously) not because Tiger meant for it to move that way but rather because this is what happens to poa annua greens over the course of a heavy week of golf like the U.S. Open. Some golfers have great putting records on poa over the last few years (Patrick Reed, Xander Schauffele and Jon Rahm are among them), and Torrey's poa could absolutely become a storyline as the week wears on and players get more and more worn down with trying to win this championship.
4. Tiger's unbelievable victory: Everything that can be said about it has been said about it. A broken leg, a torn ACL, a 12-foot that "nobody" makes to get into a playoff. A win on the 91st hole of the week. Maybe the greatest U.S. Open victory in history. Even if Tiger had not won that dramatically, the USGA likely would have returned to Torrey at some point. That he did simply guaranteed it.
5. Recent reno: Torrey got a big facelift in 2019 that moved some bunkering and tee boxes around but did not do any massive wholesale changes to the golf course. The big complaint I've heard with the property (which is expertly discussed in this podcast) is that it fails to take full advantage of the topography upon which it is built. That is, this course exists near a canyon on the Pacific Ocean, but it could exist in Indiana or Ohio or Maryland. Though the views are great, the architecture of the entire thing leaves a lot to be desired.
6. A bomber, probably: Ogilvy also noted that though a bomber will probably win -- remember, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Gary Woodland and Bryson DeChambeau have won the last five U.S. Opens -- it's not a certainty like it is at a place like Bethpage Black. Because greens are not elevated like Bethpage, shorter hitters have an opportunity to run shots up to them, even out of the rough. Still, this is a championship that has skewed so heavily toward the longest hitters in the world, and I don't really envision why this week will be much different. So while somebody like Collin Morikawa or Cameron Smith could feasibly win the U.S. Open, it's more likely that they won't.