LOS ANGELES — Brooks Koepka says he enjoys the chaos and there’s no shortage of that in this U.S. Open, even for those who manage to avoid the traffic.
Players are still trying to digest the blockbuster announcement of the PGA Tour ending a legal and moral battle with LIV Golf by becoming partners with the Saudi Arabia national wealth fund that paid for all those PGA Tour defections.
And then came news late Tuesday night that PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan was turning over day-to-day operations while he recovers from what was described as a medical situation.
And on Thursday, they take on the North course at Los Angeles Country Club that won’t look like most U.S. Opens except for usual doses of frustration from the toughest test in golf.
“Bogeys are OK. I’m going to remind myself of that because I don’t do that so well,” said Max Homa, who holds the course record of 61 set 10 years ago in the Pac-12 championship. “It’s a hard golf course. You’re going to hit some good shots that go in some really weird spots. But if you keep hitting good shots you’re going to make some birdies to make up some ground.”
That sounds like a typical U.S. Open. It just doesn’t look like one.
U.S. Opens are typically in the suburbs, not on the edge of Beverly Hills with office buildings and high-rise condos lining the edge of the course built between Wilshire and Sunset boulevards. The aiming point off the first tee is the “H” on the Beverly Hilton sign.
And while this golf course looks big — the fairways average 43 yards in width — it actually plays smaller than the target appears because of the severe slope in some of the fairways and angles required to access pins.
“It makes you think,” Masters champion Jon Rahm said. “It has very intricate green complexes. You’ve got to play the angles a little bit, and especially if you miss the greens, you’re going to find yourself in some interesting spots to get up and down.
“It’s got everything. It’s got all the ingredients to be a great week.”
And it has the shadow of Saudi Arabia’s influence on golf, though that’s nothing new, either.
The U.S. Open last year was in the Boston suburbs of Brookline, one week after LIV Golf began its inaugural season and with speculation over who would be next to leave for the big riches of Saudi-funded golf.
Phil Mickelson made his first U.S. appearance since leaving for LIV as one of its ringleaders. He has been largely missing, doing his tedious preparations last week, and showing himself for the first time on Wednesday in a practice round.
The USGA likes to refer to last Monday as the longest day in golf because of 36-hole qualifiers held at 10 sites across the U.S. and Canada. Not this year.
“It turns out last Tuesday was the longest day in golf,” USGA CEO Mike Whan said, referring to the day of the PGA Tour’s stunning revelation of a partnership with the Saudis. “All of us got together on Wednesday and said, ‘Gosh, all these stories we wanted to tell, maybe it’s going to be harder to tell because media will be focused elsewhere.’”
And then he remembered the same feelings — and outcome — from last year.
“Once the balls go in the air, the athletes take the narrative back,” Whan said.
As always, there is a growing list of candidates. Even the current Big Three in golf is a little disjointed. Scottie Scheffler and Rahm have managed to separate themselves from the pack at Nos. 1 and 2 in the world ranking.
Koepka joins them even though he rarely sees them — the PGA Tour has suspended LIV players, so the best only congregate at the majors. But he is a force again in the majors, having been runner-up at the Masters and winning the PGA Championship for his fifth major.
And to think he only started playing them regularly in 2015. His target is 10 or more.
“I don’t think it’s out of the question for me,” Koepka said. “I think the way I’ve prepared, the way I’ve kind of suited my game for these things is going to help me. I’m only 33. So I’ve definitely got quite a bit of time. I’ve just got to stay healthy and keep doing what I’m doing.”
The North course features the winding barranca — something along the lines of a ditch and an old riverbed — that winds through eight holes of the front nine and reappears on the right side of the 17th hole.
It has two par 3s of 284 yards or longer, and another that could play as short as 80 yards. The final three holes average 518 yards — all of them par 4s — and then it has sixth hole, where players can easily reach a green they can’t see from the tee because of the sharp turn to the right, and they can easily make a big number.
“You could see anything from a 7 to possibly a 2,” Koepka said. “It’ll be a fun hole to just stand on and watch. If I was watching, that’s where I’d go stand.”
Stand on the 14th tee and listen to the spider monkeys and other forms of wildlife — heard not seen — behind the tall wall that guards Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion on the other side.
LACC oozes celebrity, even if the club has a history of keeping celebrities off their membership rolls. This is a golf club, and for the first time, it gets to test the best in the world.
“It’s taking away the big numbers,” Collin Morikawa said. “Big numbers can add up really quickly out here with back-to-back long holes, long par 3s. You’ve just got to really take advantage and be smart when you’re trying to make those birdies.”
That sounds like any U.S. Open.