All of the stories in golf may be converging at the same time in the same place during the same tournament as the golf world looks to Pebble Beach and the 119th U.S. Open this week. There might actually be — I can’t believe I’m saying this — too much going on for the third major of the season.
Usually when this happens, Kevin Streelman or Chez Reavie hoists the trophy. And while I don’t believe that will happen this week — mostly because Pebble Beach almost exclusively crowns kings — a golf major as hyped as this one is going to be makes me a little bit nervous.
Regardless, we’re going right for the heart of the thing and diving into 10 storylines I find fascinating about this year’s national championship.
1. Three for Brooks Koepka: Nobody has won three consecutive U.S. Opens since Willie Anderson did it in 1905 at Myopia Hunt Club. He opened 81-80 that year and won by two. Don’t think that will cut it for Koepka at Pebble Beach. Koepka winning two straight U.S. Opens and two straight PGA Championships is already historic, but if he takes three in a row and does it at a track like this one before the age of 30, he’s an instant golf icon.
2. Tiger Woods gets No. 16: Can you imagine Woods going Augusta National-Pebble Beach in the same season to get within two of Jack Nicklaus? I don’t know that anything can top what he did at Augusta in April in terms of coverage or historicity, but if something could then it’s winning 19 years after his surreal 15-stroke lap around Monterey on a Sunday night on national television.
3. Exorcising Dustin Johnson’s demons: For somebody who plays golf as straightforward as D.J., there’s a lot going on here. He somehow still has just one major championship in his career. He’s won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am twice and absolutely decimates this course. And of course, he shot an 82 in the final round of the 2010 U.S. Open when a 77 (a 77!) would have gotten him into a playoff. And on top of all that, he’s finished top two in each of the first two majors of 2019.
4. Phil. Phil?! The six-time runner up — let that baby sink in — actually won on this course back in February when he took the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. But as Phil Mickelson noted then, this course is not the same course he played that week, and Lefty has infamously struggled at U.S. Opens over the last few years. He knows he has eight rounds left to make magic. “I’ve got two more chances, this year and maybe Winged Foot and that’s about it,” said Mickelson recently. “With that being the only one in the four that I haven’t won, and what it would offer me and how I look at my career, I put more pressure on it. That’s the difficult thing.”
5. The wrong kind of streak: Sergio Garcia has missed the cut at seven (!) consecutive major championships dating back to the 2017 PGA Championship. He doesn’t have a top 20 at a major since winning the 2017 Masters, but this string of MCs is incredible considering his second-longest streak historically is just three.
6. First-timers: Here’s an interesting stat. The top seven players in the world all have major championships, and three of them — Koepka, Woods and Rory McIlroy — have multiples. The next eight all do not. Patrick Cantlay, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm, Matt Kuchar, Tony Finau and Paul Casey are all still looking for No. 1. This would be a pretty decent place to get it.
7. Jordan Spieth emerges from the desert: I don’t think it’s going to happen based on how he’s striking the ball right now, but wouldn’t it be fitting if Spieth waltzed onto the peninsula for his second U.S. Open in five years and tied McIlroy and Koepka in the pantheon of current golfers with four majors? There are only five active PGA Tour golfers with five or more, and only Koepka and McIlroy are younger than 43. Spieth can join them this week.
8. Rory’s misses: McIlroy has missed the last three cut at U.S. Opens while thriving at the Masters and Open Championship in that same period of time. That’s a curious thing considering his ability to shape shots and hit the ball wherever he wants whenever he wants. Pebble doesn’t seem to be made for his length, but that reality is coinciding with the fact that he leads the PGA Tour with 10 top-10 finishes and two wins in just 13 events played in 2019. A win at Pebble would be about as emphatic a way you could possibly end a major-winning drought.
9. USGA reckoning: I wrote about this a little bit, but it feels like there’s something big at stake this year for the USGA. McIlroy had the money quote at the Memorial Tournament a few weeks ago when, he said, “If they can’t redeem themselves at Pebble Beach, then there could be a problem.” We’ve had several consecutive years of messes from Chambers Bay to Shinnecock Hills, and now the USGA — which has enough problems with the new rules that were introduced this calendar year — gets a shot at a little redemption with a new course leader in John Bodenhamer and its most beautiful venue in Pebble Beach.
10. 100 years: Pebble Beach itself is and should be a storyline. This is the 100th anniversary of that courses’s existence, and it has delivered us Nicklaus, Woods, Tom Kite, Tom Watson and Graeme McDowell as U.S. Open champions. No other track looks as majestic as Pebble in primetime, and it has matched its aesthetic with a worthy champ almost every time around, even if the USGA was leery about first heading out there in the 1970s. That marriage isn’t always an easy one, but Pebble is a unique, special place. I can’t wait to get out there and see what she turns up this time around.