LOS ANGELES -- While much is being made of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood finally getting to crash a party at L.A. Country Club (Hollywood types need not apply for membership), a few of the young guns in the field are hanging out with family and friends rather than rubbing elbows with glitterati.
“I stayed at my parents' house on Saturday night,” said Collin Morikawa, who won his first major, the 2020 PGA Championship, up the freeway a few hours at TPC Harding Park. “Every time I come back to LA, it's my favorite spot in the world. It's always going to be home for me no matter where I live, no matter where I move to. There's just that extra added touch, specialness when you're playing at home, when you're playing in the state of California for me.”
That’s perhaps bad news for the field. Morikawa, a 2019 grad of Cal has won four other PGA Tour events including the 2021 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s. He’s started to shake off some remnants of poor weekend play of late, and some home cookin’ and the crucible of a major could be the alchemy that powers Morikawa to a third leg of golf’s Grand Slam. And his course knowledge should also give him an edge.
Take 15 for example, that pesky little par 3. It looks so peaceful and idyllic and such a pushover at 124 yards, but to move the tee up to a mere 78 yards? At a U.S. Open? But it’s trickier than it looks and that gorgeous little hole will morph into a gnarled little grinning garden gnome giving you the finger really fast if you miss your target.
“I played [with] DJ and Gary (Woodland) yesterday from 16 to 18, and they asked me about it because yesterday I think it was like 120 and they played from that tee. I remember like you almost had to practicing teeing up with a 60-degree lob wedge like an inch off the ground, which you never do, and just trying to try and hit it perfect, because you had to with height, with spin,” Morikawa explained. “It's only going to be that much more important this week if they do move it up. I'm sure they will. So, yeah, you have like a yard and a half to land it if you want to hit a good shot. If not, you've got to play left and hopefully hit a good putt. Yeah, it's frustrating because you can hit an okay shot and not get rewarded at all.”
Best for Morikawa, who’s normally even-keeled and unflappable anyway, is the sense of home and belonging when he comes to play LACC North even just for fun, let alone a professional tournament. He noted that he seems desensitized to this week being as major. It was not meant in a dismissive or egotistical way, but he knows he’s used to the golf course and its swings of fortune.
“Yes, I'm going to change some lines out here [and] tee boxes are going to be moved all over the place, but it helps,” he admitted. “I think when you play it as an amateur golfer, when you play it for fun, you learn courses and you learn it based on how you like to see courses, fitting that shot shape, doing what you do best and playing to your strengths. I think when you start coming to major championships and you listen to other guys and how they're playing it, sometimes you get kind of clouded in your judgment doing what they do.”
Max Homa is another young gun chomping at the bit to get a second crack at LACC North under tournament conditions, and why not? After all, his 61 during the 2013 Pac-12 Championship set the course record. It still stands now.
“That's not happening right now. It's a big difference,” bristled 2021 U.S. Open Champion Jon Rahm, almost taking umbrage at the thought. “I think if I'm correct we played -- 1, 2, 3, 4, 11, 13, 16, 17 and 18 -- so we have nine holes that we played from the up tees at minimum that I can remember.”
Despite Rahm’s shade, Homa’s course knowledge as both a player and a lifelong SoCal resident who played the North Course on a number of occasions makes him a threat.
“You know when you grow up and we all have that cliche joke, [‘this ]putt to win the U.S. Open,' putt to win the Masters?,” Homa asked everyone and no one at once. “I've done it with Riviera, putt to win at the time LA Open or whatever, now the Genesis. To have a major in my hometown, 18-ish miles from where I grew up, I think that's a dream come true. It's already been fun with the fans out there. On a regular basis I get people yelling my college if they went there, but getting people yelling my high school is different, so that's been awesome.”
And as for the possibility of a 61 this week? Homa was not as dismissive as Rahm.
“I played with JT yesterday, and he probably could have shot 61 if we had played 18 holes.”
But there’s a gargantuan difference from practice rounds to tournament days. The course dries out, greens get faster, balls roll through the fairway, and the rough gets longer and deeper as the week progresses. Correspondingly, the pressure intensifies with every shot. But Homa’s comfort zone right now could offset that.
“It's really cool that last night I got to have dinner with two of my best friends. My dad was out there walking the practice round today, stuff like that never gets to happen, so I'm just trying to look at all the great stuff,” Homa confided earnestly.
“Knowing where my hotel is, knowing where the locker room is here, knowing what the golf course looks like having played it before so that the practice rounds don't feel like we're re-learning a golf course, we're not just seeing it for the first time.But any leg up is valuable with how great these golfers are. I do look at that as a bit of a boost. All the guys who played the Pac-12s here, anybody who played here prior, it's definitely a bit of an advantage."