BROOKLINE, Mass. – In the late 1800s, it was horse racing, not golf, that was king at The Country Club. Decades before the first 18-hole course was built around this historic property just before the turn of the century, an 800m race course called Clyde Park was set on a site that would eventually curve around the last hole in the shadow of the light. Yellow Clubhouse.
The last remnants of the track were landscaped after the 1968 US Junior, and this week the site between numbers 1 and 18, where the front track grandstand once stood, is home to a giant merchandise tent and outdoor food court.
But shades of Clyde Park remain. As 122nd The US Open reach their final furlong, there is no breakaway but a group of pro golf thoroughbreds heading for a photo finish.
US Open full field results
At the top, if only just, are two betting favorites: Will Zatoris, the brilliant ball forward who at age 25 already has five top 10 finishes in majors, including a playoff loss to Justin Thomas at the PGA Championship last month; and Matt Fitzpatrick, the 27-year-old Englishman who won the US amateur nine years ago at The Country Club and now finds himself in last Sunday’s pairing for a second straight Major.
Jon Rahm, the reigning US Open champion, is just a shot behind after a wild final stage with a final double bogey. World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler is within two, as is crowd favorite Keegan Bradley. And just a few strokes behind are last week’s winner Rory McIlroy and rising star Sam Burns.
“I’m undecided at the moment,” Zalatoris said, “but I don’t feel like I’m holding a lead and I’m trying to defend it by all means.”
He’s just trying not to let go of the reins.
The country club hasn’t hosted a US Open since 1988, but it’s certainly made up for lost time. Players rave about the possibilities this layout offers – especially off the tee – and the precision it requires. But a clever and unfamiliar design that involves plenty of blind shots has left these competitors uneasy, while whipping winds and plummeting temperatures have heightened the betrayal.
It’s not borderline unfair, as some accused Shinnecock Hills in 2018 when the 54-hole lead was 3 over, but a 73.5 scoring average and just seven rounds under par is no laughing matter.
“You had to be on with the way you hit it where you missed,” said Fitzpatrick, who hit his second 68 of the week despite a crowning bogey, “and I think that was why why it was a big challenge.”
As expected in a US Open test, the course rewarded great shots and penalized mediocre ones. No player exemplified that better than Rahm and Scheffler. Rahm caught fire late with three birdies in four holes starting on a par-5 14th and including a 30-foot bomb at par-4 15th. But his drive last found the left fairway bunker and he hit the lip with his approach shot, deflecting his ball back into the trap.
“I think I got a little too cute with the shot,” Rahm said.
His next shot came up short, in the front green bunker, and he couldn’t get up and down from a fried egg position. The final double threw him from leader to pursuer, but Rahm, who still proudly wears last year’s championship belt, kept his newfound perspective of a great champion.
“I’m very satisfied, I won’t lie,” said Rahm. “It’s kind of annoying to end like this on how well I played these holes, but like I kept saying to myself if you tell me on the 14th hole you can put 1 over par and the last five holes you can’t play I would ran to the clubhouse because it was so difficult to play. … I have 18 holes and am only one shot behind. That’s the most important.”
Scheffler took a two-shot lead after a par-five hole in the eighth hole from 101 yards. But this year’s green jacket winner doubled the short par 3 11th Hole used at this tournament for the first time since 1913, followed by three straight bogeys to derail a potential breakaway.
“I kept trying to pretend what happened didn’t happen,” Scheffler said. “Finally I was able to stabilize the ship. For me, that stuff is going to happen at the US Open. The golf course is just difficult. Conditions are tough. The scores are high. I just wanted to try to hold on. That was my only goal.”
For momentum, Scheffler rolled a 15-foot run for a final par and a 71 in the third round. Bradley fucked three of his last six holes. McIlroy played his last 12 holes in an even par to a 73 on the map.
They all played their part in keeping their hopes of victory alive. The last 23 US Open champions were all on or within four shots of the lead through Sunday, according to Twenty-First Group’s Justin Ray.
If this trend continues, even Nick Hardy in Solo 10th at eye level, is still there. The same goes for Joel Dahmen, who shared the 36-hole lead with Collin Morikawa before the two shot 11 misses combined. Dahmen is 1 under but Morikawa squandered his title hopes with a 77, one of 10 finishes of 7 over or worse on the round.
“It was one of the toughest days on a golf course in a long time,” McIlroy said. “I just had to grind it out and I did that on the back nine. … just kept myself in the tournament. That’s all I’ve tried.”
Zulatoris fired the round of the day, a 67 marked by just one bogey and a lot of discipline. Having also turned up at The Country Club in 2013, Zlatoris stated that he considers the course to be the toughest he has ever played in competition.
“I mean, we didn’t aim for a single flag,” Zulatoris claimed, “even with a couple of wedges.”
With similar conditions expected for the finals, Zlatoris is likely to use a similar game plan. But then again, if he – or anyone else – wants to break away from this pack and win the US Open, it’s going to take a breakneck, hard-hitting finish.
“The US Open is very exhausting, mentally and physically,” said Scheffler. “I think that’s all part of what makes this tournament so entertaining. You will be tested in all sorts of ways, be it physical, mental or whatever. This golf tournament will put you to the test.
“That’s why I show up here.”
And that’s why, at this ancient racecourse, we’ll probably be talking about Sunday’s finish for centuries to come.