LOS ANGELES — As Rickie Fowler walked up the 18th fairway at the Los Angeles Country Club on Friday, fans shouted his name. It was a sound the California native, once ranked among the top five golfers in the world, hadn’t heard in a long time.
At halftime of the 123rd US Open, Fowler has a one-shot lead over Wyndham Clark. In a tournament that prides itself on being the toughest test in golf, Fowler is already under 10 and has 18 birdies (with eight bogeys). It’s the most birdies or better in the first two rounds of a major in the past 30 years, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“Yes, I’m in the lead, but we’re only halfway there,” said Fowler. “It’s nice to be at the top, but it really doesn’t mean anything at the moment. I look forward to continuing to challenge myself and to get out there and try to do my best.”
To win his first major championship, Fowler must hold his own against a packed leaderboard that includes four-time Major champion Rory McIlroy (8-under), Olympic gold medalist Xander Schauffele (8-under), Harris English (7-under) and the reigning LIV Golf includes league singles champion Dustin Johnson (6 under). World No. 1 golfer Scottie Scheffler is 5 shots behind and reigning Open Championship winner Cameron Smith is 6 shots behind.
In 1996, 24 of the last 27 US Open champions were either ahead or within 2 strokes after 36 holes, according to Elias Sports Bureau. The exceptions were Matt Fitzpatrick in 2022 (3 backs), Brooks Koepka in 2018 (5 backs), and Webb Simpson in 2012 (6 backs).
Golf fans may complain that the Los Angeles Country Club’s north course isn’t difficult enough for a US Open. But it’s hard to find fault with the leaderboard going into the weekend.
They’re all chasing Fowler, who finished in the top four at every major tournament in 2014. But then he lost his momentum and confidence. In the official golf world rankings, he fell back to 176th place. Last year, he failed to qualify for three out of four majors.
“I really hope that everyone can relate to the struggles because everyone struggles with them,” Fowler said. “Nobody is perfect. I think you would be lying if you weren’t going through a tough time, especially if you play golf. I am looking forward to the weekend. It’s been a while since I’ve felt this good at a tournament, let alone a Major. It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
Here comes the Sun
The sun finally emerged from the sea layer over LA shortly after Friday’s Morning Wave players finished their rounds. It wasn’t good news for players in the afternoon wave.
The north course was much more difficult in the afternoon. The first round point average was 71.38 with 37 players under par. There were six rounds of 65 or better and 340 birdies or eagles. On Friday, the point average was 72.22 with 33 players under par. According to Elias, there was only one round under 65 and 291 birdies or eagles.
“Conditions are a bit brighter now, sunnier, a little breeze,” McIlroy said. “It has the potential to get a bit firmer and faster over the next few days, which will increase the results a bit. We’ll see how it is at the end of the week.”
English said the conditions are now such that the USGA can make the course as difficult as it wants. The forecast for the weekend calls for partly cloudy skies with maximum temperatures of 74 to 78 degrees. With winds of 6-7 miles per hour from the south/southwest, the chance of rain is low.
“We’ve seen a few [difficulty] with the pin locations today,” English said. “I don’t do AimPoint, but I do at least 3 percent tilt.” You can get [greens] as hard and fast as you want and use these pins in tricky places. It will be fun. The rough will still be a penalty and I think everyone will get the US Open they’ve always wanted to see.”
Another LIV champion?
The rivalry between the LIV Golf League and the PGA Tour has dominated talks at the majors for the past two seasons and this week was no different after the PGA Tour announced last week that it had formed an alliance with the DP World Tour and to the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia.
Can a LIV Golf League player follow Koepka’s third PGA championship win at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York last month? Johnson and Smith are both within striking distance.
Johnson, the 2016 US Open winner, is still on his way to his third major championship win despite hitting a quadruple bogey-8 on the second hole.
DJ hit his drive on #2 into a fairway bunker on the left. He made his second shot and his ball landed 95 yards away in the deep rough. Then Johnson smashed his third shot into a barranca, making an unplayable lie. His fifth shot flew across the green and then he couldn’t get up or down. Somehow he managed to get an even par 70 on the round.
When asked what his worst shot in the sequence was, Johnson said, “Probably the bunker shot, but it really wasn’t that bad. I just hit him a little too hard so he came out a little to the left. I was just trying.” Bring it back into the fairway.
When asked if he hit a good shot on an 8, DJ replied, “No.” The way Johnson plays the ball makes him feel like he has a chance.
“Obviously, I feel like I’m swinging really well and rolling really well,” Johnson said. “So if I can keep going like this, I’ll be here at the weekend.”
The USGA may wish to erect a high fence around the 15th hole. The short par 3 has already given up three aces, including Fitzpatrick’s first hole-in-one of his pro career on Friday. The Englishman became the first defending champion to score an ace at the US Open. Frenchman Matthieu Pavon and American Sam Burns each had one in the first round.
“I probably wouldn’t have been here over the weekend if it wasn’t for that,” said Fitzpatrick, who has 1 in 141 after 36 holes. “Well, yes, it was necessary.”
According to ESPN Stats & Information, it’s the first time there have been three aces on a hole at the US Open since there were four at No. 6 at Oak Hill Country Club in the second round of the 1989 US Open.
Fitzpatrick’s ace came from 115 yards. The USGA is expected to shorten the hole to just 78 yards on Saturday or Sunday, which would make it the shortest par 3 in US Open history. It’s a completely different challenge from Nos. 7 and 11, which rank among the longest in tournament history at 299 yards and 297 yards, respectively.
Fitzpatrick said he prefers the 15th hole to the other par 3 holes on the course.
“It’s a big hole,” he said. “It’s miles better than the other two long par 3 holes. It’s not even a competition. I just think you’ve got a sand wedge or a lob wedge or a gap wedge in your hand and you’re nervous, and I think that’s the thing.
“That’s why you’re always hitting 3-wood in and 7-wood. you are not nervous you don’t think about it You’re just trying to hit as hard as you can and get it on the green.” . There is no real thought process behind it.”
to be on the way home
Six-time major champion Phil Mickelson’s 53rd birthday on Friday wasn’t much of a celebration, at least not on the golf course. Mickelson is on his way home after making 3 overs after 36 holes and missing the cut by one shot.
Mickelson failed in his ninth attempt to become the sixth man to finish the Grand Slam of his career. He has missed the cut in three of his last four starts at the US Open. Mickelson declined to speak to reporters after the round.
The cut line of 2 over 142 is the lowest in total shots (LACC is a par 70 course) in US Open history, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The previous lows were 3 in 143 at the Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts last year and 2003 at Olympia Fields outside of Chicago.
Other players to go home after missing the cut include Jordan Spieth (3 over), Mito Pereira (3 over), Justin Rose (4 over), Max Homa (4 over), Adam Scott (5 over), Sungjae Im (6 over), Keegan Bradley (6 over), Jason Day (9 over) and Justin Thomas (14 over).
It was Thomas’s worst overall score in a Major.
“Yeah, it’s definitely the lowest I’ve ever felt,” Thomas said on Friday. “Honestly it’s quite humiliating and embarrassing to shoot results like this. On a golf course that I really, really liked. I thought it was very well laid out.”
where’s the roar
There were only a handful of notable roars on the property this week, and they were from the three holes-in-ones and a couple of eagles. Otherwise, LACC has been pretty lame, especially for a major championship.
“I wish it was louder,” Fitzpatrick said of the reaction to his ace. “I wish there were a few more people. But yeah, I’m surprised there weren’t as many people there as I thought this week.”
The USGA restricted ticket sales to only 22,000 per day, with 9,000 to the general public. The remainder went to skyboxes, suites, corporate partners and LACC members. According to the USGA, about 30,000 people are on the site every day. It is also difficult to navigate this course.
“It’s not that crowded out there,” English said. “A few tees and a few greens, there’s really nobody there because the fans don’t get around much.”
This is one of the smallest additions to the 18th green in US Open history. Adding grandstands on the other side of the green would have been difficult due to the #1 fairway and #10 tee. Also, it would have blocked the members’ view from the back porch of the clubhouse.