June 14,2021

Torrey Pines will play differently!

The first time that I played Torrey Pines South was in the summer of 1962. John Richardson, the 1961 California State Amateur champion, took his son, Kemp and I to play what he considered the toughest course in southern California. Both Kemp and I were pretty good junior golfers, but he wanted to show us what a real golf course was like. He challenged us that neither one of us could break 80 from the DBT's (dead back tees). As I remember, both of us played OK, but we didn't break 80. We came close, but it was a challenge that we hadn't experienced before.

Later that summer, I played in the Southern California Junior Championship at Torrey Pines. I qualified for the Championship flight, but I think I lost in the second round of match play. What I remembered the most about those rounds was the importance of driving it long, but it had to be straight. Strangely I felt the hardest part of the golf course was the greens. I had trouble reading the slope and how the ocean affected the break. Almost sixty years ago the greens were much slower and grainy. Next week's US Open greens will be twice as fast as I first experienced them and more consistent. Torrey's greens are mostly poa annua, which is really a weed, but is prevalent in many southern California golf courses. It can be mown short and is a wonderful putting surface in the morning, but when it starts to grow, it doesn't grow consistent or straight up. The late tee times will curse the greens at times.

The greens will be a challenge, but the big difference will be the rough. The United States Golf Association has stated that the fairways will be about the same width as the PGA Tour plays during the Farmers Insurance Open that is played in February. But in February the kikuyu, that dominates the rough, will not be in full growth. In the winter the kikuyu is mainly dormant, but in mid-June the grass will be mean. It is said the kikuyu is the mother of all roughs. In 2008, Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate were the only players that broke par. The USGA hoped for the rough to be higher and tougher that year. They found that when the staff over-seeded the course with winter rye, to keep the course green through the winter months, the over-seeding stifled the kikuyu and prevented its growth. This year they shaved the rough and watered the kikuyu to promote its growth. The result is the rough is 6 inches higher in spots and all players will be confronted with the thick, twisted, gnarly, sticky, grabby grass that will drive many crazy.

The USGA prides itself with making their US Open courses as tough as possible, while getting as close to "unfair" as possible. Torrey Pines will be different from last year's Open at Winged Foot. Bryson DeChambeau manhandled that course by driving it as long as possible and gouging it out of the rough. Winged Foot's rough was tall, but the rough was ryegrass, which is thinner weaker strand of grass, with Bryson's strength, he just over powered shots in that grass. At Torrey is will be a different situation. Bryson has already stated that if the ball nestles down in the kikuyu, it is unhittable. Therefore, straight will be a premium this coming week. The course will play at 7,800 yards, which will play longer with the ocean humidity and breezes. I would be surprised to see an under par total winning.

The players that play regularly at the Farmers Insurance Open will have an advantage. I wasn't as intimidated once I had played the course a few times. The winner will be a ball striker. If you have to rely on your short game, Torrey will eat you up. I see players like, Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantley, Webb Simpson, Viktor Hovland, and Camron Smith having the best chance to win the title. This should not be a course that fits for players like, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Phil Michelson, or Rory McIlroy. Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm have to be considered as strong possibilities, but each must have their "A" ball striking game.

I agree with John Richardson. This is the toughest course in southern California. A worthy champion will be crowned this week. Looking forward to see the best be tested.


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