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Culp's Corner

121st United States Open Championship Preview at Torrey Pines

by Josh Culp
Updated On: June 14, 2021, 2:45 pm ET

The USGA returns to host the 121st playing of the United States Open Championship. 

The 2020 U.S. Open was played in September but returns to its usual slot on Father's Day weekend. 

Will the new dad Jon Rahm bounce back from the forced WD in his last start to give himself a nice Father's Day gift? 

Or will Phil Mickelson steal the show and finally secure the last piece of the career grand slam? 

Those are just two of the potential storylines this week, with so many more in play, thanks to a very strong field of 156 golfers lining up to play this week. Of those 156 golfers, only the top 60 and ties will make it through the cut line, making it one of the toughest cuts to crack all season. 

The Course

The South Course at Torrey Pines needs no introduction. It's used annually at the Farmers Insurance Open (54 holes) and it was also the host of the 2008 U.S. Open which saw a one-legged Tiger Woods limp to a 19-hole playoff victory over Rocco Mediate.

Known for favoring the big hitters, this par 71 stretches out to 7,652 yards and it plays even longer due to the sea-level coastal climate that restricts the ball from flying as far. That is nearly 100 yards longer than the 2008 U.S. Open scorecard but it's more than 100 yards shorter than the 2021 Farmers Insurance Open setup. However, the Farmers uses par-72 setup while the sixth hole will play as a par 4 this week instead of a par 5. 

The course was designed by William P. Bell and William F. Bell in the 1950s. Rees Jones has put his fingerprints on it a few times since then. His most recent changes came in a 2019 renovation that upgraded bunkers and irrigation while adding a few tee-box options.

Golfers will see eucalyptus trees littered across the property but the number of trees on site continues to dwindle as most were planted back in the 1950s and they are reaching their end of life. The course itself was named after the torrey pine tree, which is critically endangered. Other than that, (82) bunkers are the primary concern to deal with, as there aren't many doglegs to trick you up. A grip-it and rip-it mentality goes a long way here.

The USGA always tries to prevent that strategy, but it's going to be tough to combat at a course like Torrey Pines. They will grow the rough up but they generally try to narrow the fairways, as well. That combination is perfect for big hitters because gives everyone in the field more shots from the rough but the big hitters will be closer to the hole when playing from that thick stuff. 

Looking at the hole-by-hole yardages, there are five par 4s that play over 460 yards. On the short side, there is just one par 4 under 430 yards, the 387-yard second. Again, everything points to the bombers have the upper hand. 

What about the grasses they will see? The rough is kikuyu and ryegrass with kikuyu being the dominant strain this time of year. During the Farmers, it is predominantly ryegrass.

The combination of length (3 to 5 inches) combined with kikuyu dominating should make the rough a bit tougher to handle compared to the annual Farmers tests. During the Farmers, the field generally lands 77 percent of greens in regulation from the fairways and 55 percent GIR when missing the fairway. Not an extreme split, but the 2008 U.S. Open saw 67 percent GIR from the fairway but just 38 percent GIR when missing the fairway. That is a much tougher test and it would be closer in line with what I would expect this week. 

As for the greens, golfers will see poa annua putting surfaces. The greens are relatively small targets (5,000 square feet) and can get quite speedy. During the Farmers, they usually run from 12 to 12.5 feet on the stimp so we should expect that at a minimum with a good chance they speed them up even more. 

Overall, we should expect a very tough test. It should test all facets of a player's game, as the U.S. Open generally does. In the end, a bump should be given to the big hitters due to the course length and expected course setup that we just talked about above. 


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Correlated Courses

Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week: 

Augusta National Golf Club
Riviera Country Club
Quail Hollow Club
Bay Hill Club and Lodge
TPC Boston

The theme of the list this week is green speeds (fast) and courses that favor big hitters. 


The Weather

Thursday: Sunny with a high of 79 degrees. Wind at 6 to 10 MPH. 

Friday: Sunny with a high of 81 degrees. Winds at 5 to 8 MPH. 

It's a beautiful forecast. Not a drop of precipitation in the forecast and we also get a break from the heat that we've seen recently. 

Josh Culp

Josh Culp joined NBC Sports Edge in 2014. The DFS enthusiast from Iowa State can be found on Twitter @futureoffantasy.