For just the fourth time in its illustrious history – and the first since 1988 – The Country Club, one of the five founding clubs of the USGA, is hosting a U.S. Open. The 122nd edition will be contested on a new composite course –3½ holes of the nine-hole Primrose Course are utilized in the championship layout – recently restored by architect Gil Hanse.
The vast majority of the field is seeing The Country Club for the first time. While three players competed in the Ryder Cup Matches here in 1999 and an additional 22 qualified for the 2013 U.S. Amateur at TCC, the routing has changed slightly since those competitions, and the par-3 11th hole is being used for the first time since the 1913 U.S. Open won by 20-year-old amateur Francis Ouimet. The par-5 14th hole has been lengthened to 619 yards.
The biggest challenge for the 156 assembled players will be the tiny putting surfaces, which are among the smallest in major-championship golf. Add typical U.S. Open rough, a few blind tee shots, uphill approach shots and plenty of uneven lies due to the course’s topography, and TCC should provide the stern test that everyone expects from a U.S. Open layout.
Here are 3 Things to Know going into Round 1, which begins at 6:45 a.m. EDT on Thursday:
Would there be a more popular champion than Rory McIlroy in Boston, a town that reveres an NBA team nicknamed the Celtics? It’s been 11 years since the native of Northern Ireland won his first major title, the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. But the four-time major winner comes to The Country Club fresh off a successful title defense in the RBC Canadian Open, where he held off reigning PGA champion Justin Thomas.
The owner of 21 PGA Tour titles also finished second in the Masters two months ago, shooting a final-round, bogey-free 64, his lowest score in 52 rounds at Augusta National, and solo eighth in last month’s PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla. He opened with a 65 and closed with a 68, showing the form that makes him one of the game’s most talented players.
With the Celtics trying to win an 18th NBA title – Game 6 of the Finals against Golden State is Thursday night in Boston – Sunday could be a big day. A McIlroy win coupled with a Celtics triumph in a potential Game 7 (they currently trail 3-2) that night would touch off quite a celebration.
Matthew Fitzpatrick, of England, has a chance to pull off a rare USGA double by winning a U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open at the same venue. Only World Golf of Fame inductees Jack Nicklaus (1961 U.S. Amateur and 1972 Open at Pebble Beach) and Juli Inkster (1980 U.S. Women’s Amateur and 2002 U.S. Women’s Open at Prairie Dunes) have pulled off this uncommon feat.
Fitzpatrick, one of the 22 players in the field who competed in the 113th U.S. Amateur at TCC, defeated Oliver Goss in the final nine years ago. He went on to earn low-amateur honors in the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst. This week, he’s hoping to keep up the good Boston-area vibes by staying with the same family that housed him, his brother/caddie Alex and his parents nine years ago (U.S. Open general chairman Will Fulton’s).
But he’s not the only player who had a good run here. Qualifier Brandon Matthews reached the quarterfinals along with Scottie Scheffler, who had won the U.S. Junior Amateur a few weeks earlier. Corey Conners advanced to the semifinals (the Canadian would also reach the final the next year). Xander Schauffele advanced to the Round of 16, Bryson DeChambeau, two years away from winning the title, advanced to the Round of 32, and Nick Hardy, Adam Schenk and Wyndham Clark were eliminated in the Round of 64.
In recent years the USGA has provided local/regional players with the honor of hitting the first ball at championships. On Thursday, Boston-area natives Michael Thorbjornsen, the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur champion from Wellesley, Mass., and 57-year-old Fran Quinn, of Holden, Mass., will hit first from the first and 10th tees, respectively.
Thorbjornsen, a rising junior at Stanford University, has a chance to repeat what occurred at TCC 109 years ago when a 20-year-old amateur (Francis Ouimet) who lived across the street from the club shocked the world by beating two British stalwarts (Harry Vardon and Ted Ray) in a playoff. Thorbjornsen is also 20 years of age and lives about 9 miles from the venue. He made the cut in the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, the second year of the USGA’s exemption for the Junior Amateur champion.
Quinn is one of the oldest qualifiers in championship history, having survived both local and final qualifying to play in his fifth U.S. Open and first since 2014, when he qualified at 49.
There are a few others in the field with Massachusetts and New England ties. Keegan Bradley, who spent his senior year of high school in Hopkinton, Mass., where he won the state high school Div. 2 title, threw out the first pitch at Tuesday night’s Red Sox/Oakland game at Fenway. Scott Stallings was born in Worcester, Mass., before his family moved to Tennessee, and Caleb Manuel is from Topsham, Maine, and plays at the University of Connecticut.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.