To twist an old phrase, if a ball falls in one and only a few people are around to see it, does it make a sound? Not so much at this US Open.
In a major championship that has been decidedly weak in terms of attendance and atmosphere, an illustration of the problem came on Friday when Matt Fitzpatrick won 15th.
It was a nice shot. Aiming with a wedge from 115 yards, the defending champion flew his ball behind the flag, and after a few bounces, the spin grabbed it and sucked it down the slope into the cup.
Since 15 has a stand behind the tee and there is some room in the rough to the left, it had a crowd of a few hundred, which is far more than many spots here at the Los Angeles Country Club, and there was a decent cheer when he fell. But it was an eagle’s roar. Maybe a long-range birdie or a mid-range holeshot. But it wasn’t necessarily what Fitzpatrick expected for one of golf’s finest venues.
“Yeah, I wish it was stronger,” he said. “I wish there were a few more people. I’m surprised there weren’t as many people as I thought this week.
Matt Fitzpatrick landed a delicious hole-in-one on the 15th hole of the US Open on Friday
Fitzpatrick (middle) was delighted with his shot but was less than impressed with the disappointing crowd reaction
This has been a theme of the tournament. Much has been said in all directions about the north course and whether its rustic beauty is an acceptable compromise for what has seemed a much softer than usual test for a US Open.
But it has also become an increasingly common topic of discussion that an exciting and meaningful event requires a wider audience. The numbers on this are interesting – the US Golf Association has pegged capacity at 22,000 a day which, for comparison, will be dwarfed by the numbers for the Hoylake Open next month, with 260,000 fans expected. during the week.
While the lower numbers are a reasonable consequence of the layout of the property, a firmer point of contention concerns the composition of those 22,000 – only 8,000 have been reserved for general admission.
With 14,000 corporate guests and the membership of what is considered one of America’s most exclusive country clubs, there seems to be a rather peculiar twist on the notion of “open.”
It was remarkable when Max Homa, a likeable Californian, launched into a marquee band with Scottie Scheffler and Collin Morikawa on Thursday, there was only the gentlest of ripples as they began their rounds. “It didn’t really feel like a major because you don’t have a lot of people around you,” Homa said.
The layout here only adds to this problem – it is particularly difficult for spectators to navigate a route of any description to the 14th hole, which is somewhat famous in these areas as it borders what was formerly the Playboy Mansion.
From a golfer’s perspective, muted sounds aren’t ideal, although for now the popularity of the course and the nature of the competition are supporting the event.
To this day, Brooks Koepka is among a minority to criticize the setup, saying Friday, “I’m not a big fan of this place.” I think it would be more fun to play like a regular round than it would be a US Open.
Only 8,000 tickets out of 22,000 have been reserved for general admission to the US Open
There was a roar for the Englishman’s hole-in-one, but that didn’t reflect the brilliant feat
Although the track played easier than many would have expected or wished, that should change over the weekend with overcast skies giving way to high temperatures and firmer, faster surfaces.
Visually, with its deep gorges and slopes overlooking LA, the course has far more charm than some of the manicured landscapes you see golf week after week.
The diversity of his challenge could best be seen in a pair of par threes, with the tiny 15th a real devil who could play as short as 78 yards and the 11th spanned the better part of 300 yards. The sixth hole is also a nice risk-reward hole, while the 520-yard par 4 at 17 almost caused Rahm to break a club.
Some of them have been great to watch – it’s just a shame there aren’t a few more here to do so.