US Open: The five best storylines from an entertaining week at Torrey Pines
Sunday's star-studded leaderboard, the retiring USGA chief avoiding controversy in his US Open swansong, and Richard Bland's "game of two halves" were among the top talking points at Torrey Pines.
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 21/06/21 7:47pm
The 121st US Open produced a fantastic winner in Jon Rahm as well as a number of notable incidents, talking points and storylines throughout the week at Torrey Pines. Here are five of the best ...
Major excitement with star-studded contenders
When major golf returned behind closed doors last year, the impact was obvious. There were great finishes, and great stories, but the sight of a champion being crowned when surrounded by a handful of officials and other dignitaries was an unfortunate anti-climax.
Something resembling "normal service" resumed at the Masters, where Hideki Matsuyama made history as the first Asian man to win at Augusta National with a limited number of patrons in attendance, creating an atmosphere that was sadly lacking when Tiger Woods helped Dustin Johnson into a crisp Green Jacket last autumn.
There was a significantly bigger attendance in place to witness further golfing history at Kiawah Island last month, when Phil Mickelson defied the odds to land the PGA Championship title amid euphoric scenes on the South Carolina coast.
Seeing Mickelson and playing-partner Brooks Koepka swallowed up by the vast galleries as they made their way down the last was a throwback to pre-coronavirus, major golf. But it wasn't the big crowds that whetted the appetite at Torrey Pines, it was the sheer quality of the names high up on the leaderboard on the final day.
Trying to predict a winner from a list of contenders that featured Rahm, McIlroy, DeChambeau, Koepka, Thomas, Johnson, Morikawa, Schauffele and Oosthuizen was nigh-on impossible, but it was a welcome dilemma.
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To have that selection of high-profile professional golfers battling for a major championship trophy was arguably the most uplifting sight in the sport since Woods thrilled the sporting world with his Masters victory a little over two years ago, and it was fitting that Rahm should birdie the final two holes and land victory in such a spectacular manner.
Flagstick strikes aplenty
One of the recurring themes of the 121st US Open was the unprecedented number of golf balls cannoning off flagsticks and ricocheting into trouble.
Phil Mickelson hit the pin and found himself in the rough, Martin Laird had similar issues, and we saw Sergio Garcia's near-perfect pitch from 50 yards rebound back towards him, leaving him 49-and-a-half yards for his next shot.
Rory McIlroy also rattled the stick with a 260-yard stunner at the 13th during his riveting 67 on Saturday, and there were too many other instances to mention.
As it transpired, Andrew Beaton, a journalist for the Wall Street Journal, cottoned on that the fibreglass flagsticks in use for a US Open are an eighth of an inch thicker than those in play at a regular PGA Tour event.
The USGA pins are also tapered, and thicker at the top than the bottom, so if a ball hits it somewhere in the middle, the ricochet is more significant than hitting a PGA Tour pin in the same place.
This doesn't, however, explain why we saw more pin strikes than usual for a US Open. Perhaps the players were just hitting it straighter at Torrey Pines? And in many cases, too straight!
Davis bows out on good terms
Having presided over a number of US Open controversies over the years, the retiring USGA chief Mike Davis can depart on a high note after a job well done this week.
Time, and time again, Davis has had to front up to the media to explain the shortcomings of his tournament committee that have often overshadowed events on the course.
The USGA has been lambasted for ridiculous course set-ups at Shinnecock Hills, a Chambers Bay layout in no condition to host a major, while we also felt for Dustin Johnson when he had no idea if he would be penalised a shot or two when leading at Oakmont in 2016.
Thankfully for Davis, no chances were taken with the South Course at Torrey Pines, and the 121st edition of the US Open passed without any negativity.
A relaxed Davis even took the opportunity to caddie for Jason Gore when he played as a marker in the first pairing out on day three, earning praise for his "phenomenal" bunker-raking abilities!
Local hero Phil Mickelson, playing in his 30th US Open, described it as the best set-up he'd ever seen. He might have been a little biased, but those words will have been music to the ears of the outgoing Davis.
"Game of two halves" for Bland
There are not many golfers who have played major championships in four different decades. And there are even fewer that have played in only four majors … in four different decades!
Step forward Richard Bland. A month after providing us with one of the most popular wins in recent memory, his first on the European Tour in his 478th start, he arrived at Torrey Pines with little to lose, or prove.
Many in his position would have been just happy to be in the field for a US Open, with making the cut and a decent cheque at the forefront of priorities for the week.
Bland, however, had other ideas and etched his name into the record books. The 48-year-old opened with a solid 70, added a 67 on day two and, when Russell Henley three-putted his final hole, Bland had the honour of being the oldest player to hold the halfway lead in US Open history.
Sadly, his challenge unravelled over the back nine on Saturday as he bogeyed five of the last eight holes to return a 77, and a closing 78 dropped him into a tie for 50th - not that he had any regrets over the experience.
"A game of two halves," was Bland's apt summary of his week. "The first two days were great, and then I found out what the US Open is really about. But overall, it's been a positive week. I'll probably remember the first two days more than the second two, but it's been a good week."
Olympic teams finalised
Somewhat lost in the excitement of the final day at Torrey Pines was the battle for places at the Olympic Games, with the teams for the men's golf competition being finalised on Monday.
Tyrrell Hatton missing the cut had no bearing on his ticket to Tokyo as he was already locked in for Team GB, where he will be partnered by Paul Casey, the 43-year-old posting his 12th top-10 finish in a major to edge out Matt Fitzpatrick.
The USA already had Justin Thomas inked in for their Olympic team, which will not included Dustin Johnson, and Brooks Koepka's bogeys at 16 and 18 cost him the chance to force his way into the squad, with Collin Morikawa, Bryson DeChambeau and Xander Schauffele earning the right to make the trip to Tokyo.
US Open runner-up Louis Oosthuizen will be joined by the in-form Garrick Higgo, with Christiaan Bezuidenhout just missing out, and Mackenzie Hughes' consolation for his disappointing Sunday in California is a place at the Olympics with Corey Conners.
The teams are finalised for now, but if the trend of 2016 is repeated, the hectic schedule at the back end of this summer is almost certain to prompt further high-profile withdrawals.