June 19, 2023

Wyndham Clark is a star born?

Hollywood is glitz and glamour in many times a make-believe setting. Tinsel town is about stars and great storylines with endings that match fantasy. The last day script was set for such an outcome. Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, and Scottie Scheffler were cast as the Clark Gable, John Wayne, or Leonardo DiCaprio to get the girl, win the battle, and capture the US Open trophy. However, in a true showbiz drama a relative unknown comes in and steals the show. In a city that makes and breaks stars, Wyndham Clark withstood the pressure and odds to become a US Open champion.

Los Angeles Country Club is an ultra-exclusive private club that generally shuns publicity. Members are the elite in Los Angeles society and business. The North course was designed by George Thomas (who also did Riviera) and has long been regarded as the best course in southern California. Few tournaments and no national professional events were played there, so the course was a bit of a mystery. In 2010, Gil Hanse was hired to restore and modernize the original 1921 George Thomas design and make it ready for possible USGA events. I walked the entire course on Saturday and found it very similar to the course I played in my college years at USC. Main differences were holes were lengthened. Hole 2 became a par four with a new green and a very good redesign of number 6 green. Approach areas were widened on some holes, but generally the overall feel of the course was the same.

LACC and the USGA wanted accolades for a great venue and championship test. What they got was mixed reviews. The USGA again missed in course setup. The fairways were too wide. They should've learned from Erin Hills in Wisconsin that give todays pro's a large driving area and they can beat up any course no matter how long or treacherous the bunkering and rough is around the greens. A record sixteen under won at Erin Hills, and ten under won at LACC which is very respectable, but new US Open 18 hole scoring records were broken with 62's being shot the first day by Rickie Fowler and Xander Schauffele. US Opens should require accuracy off the tee, not just bomb it. The top three finishers were all in the top five longest hitters for the week. Minor changes should be done to eliminate collection areas on a couple of fairways and soften a few slopes so good drives did't roll into the heavy rough. Narrowing of the fairways shouldn't be too difficult and could be done without losing the character of the course. Also, what was the USGA thinking having the last group tee off at 3:40 on Saturday and finishing at 8:00 in the dark. There are smart people running the USGA, but that was an unbelievable error in judgement. If Rickie Fowler had lost by one stroke after 72 holes, he would be right to blame the USGA for his loss. The USGA is an amateur organization that made an amateur mistake. Would the NBA turn off the lights for the last two minutes of the third quarter in the NBA finals?

Rickie Fowler is California cool, charismatic, good looking, and was everything Los Angeles would want as their US Open champ. Truth is, he is very good, but history tells us, he just isn't that good. Only three players shot higher than Rickie the last round. All were amateurs and all were at or near the bottom of the leaderboard. At 34 years of age, this was his best opportunity, but never was a factor after the first hour into his round. Scottie Scheffler has now finished 2nd and 3rd in the last two majors, but hasn't challenged the leaders in either tournament. He needed to make a move early to be a factor, but couldn't. He rallied with two inward birdies to lock up third. Rory McIlroy, on the other hand, was in the best position to put pressure on and take control of this tournament. But like the Open at St. Andrews his approaches were on the green, but not close enough to give him realistic chances for birdies. He again made no putts of any consequence. His last round even par 70 featured only one birdie, which was a two putt birdie on the first hole. With Tiger Woods you expected him to do the unexpected and make the must-make putt. With Rory it has been the opposite. He is so good, that you figure he will make the clutch putt sooner or later. This tournament was another disappointment and opportunity gone. Next chance will be at Hoylake, where he won nine years ago. It would be hard to bet against him.

Is Wyndham Clark the next bright star on the PGA Tour? His junior and amateur career in Colorado was stellar and collegiately he continued to impress. However, since joining the PGA Tour for the 2018/2019 season he was not fulfilling his potential. He credits a change in attitude as his biggest factor for his improved play the 2023 season. His first PGA Tour victory, five weeks ago, at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow over a designated event full of quality players was a sign that he was destined for bigger things. Throughout the last round at LACC North, it was his tournament to win. He never lost the lead and at one point held a three shot advantage. Bogies at 15 and 16 narrowed the margin to one. But solid shotmaking on 17 and 18 closed the deal and made him a US Open winner. It is Hollywood after all, will Wyndham Clark be on the "A" list or just a "flash in the pan"? The next two years will tell us more, but Sunday he handled a tough golf course, world class competition, and US Open pressure with composure of a champion. Wyndham became the lead actor and starred in the role and Tinsel Town had its' fairytale ending. At least for Wyndham Clark!


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