BY TERRY ROSS
Even after Tiger Woods electrified Southern California golf crowds by winning the 2008 United States Open in 91 holes at Torrey Pines playing on one leg, it took 13 years for the event to return to the seaside-course in San Diego—and the sequel more than held its own—even in these strange times.
Because of the Covid restrictions, fans were not allowed to attend the regular PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines this past winter, and with travel limitations and other restrictions, golf travel in general has not been the same.
That is not to say that the popularity of golf has suffered during the past 15 months of quarantines and lockdowns—the game has grown tremendously in popularity and participation—and everyone from equipment manufacturers to golf courses have seen a surge in business since this sport is one of the few recreational activities that has been available—and without a mask.
June’s 121st U.S. Open at Torrey Pines was the first Open since 2019 that allowed fans, although the limited capacity of 10,000 and constantly changing covid regulations created a decidedly different vibe than in 2008 when 295,000 fans filled out the course over a week’s time for one of the classic opens in history.
But for golf-crazy Southern California and especially San Diego, the event was like a rebirth for golf and travel as the state officially re-opened two days before the tournament and the crowds were enthusiastic and anxious to see professional golf again. The fact that Torrey is a municipal course that anyone can play made it that much more compelling.
And boy, did they get to see a show. The stage had been set a few years before when Reese Jones and Greg Muirhead were enlisted to give a facelift to the course and added 40 yards to create a 7,680-yard layout—the longest in U.S. Open history. Even though the course was set up shorter than that at between 7,200 and 7,400 yards for the tournament, it stood up to the best players in the world and created Sunday drama worthy of a national championship.
The leaderboard on Sunday was a who’s who of the world’s top players– and in the end crowned a new No. 1 player in the world—Jon Rahm. And just like in 2008, the winner had a history with Torrey Pines and came from behind to win with clutch putting at the end.
With the top players all circulating up and down the leaderboard on the final day it even heightened the drama—especially when Rahm curled in a 24-foot birdie putt on 17 and an 18-footer on 18th to become the first Spaniard to win a United States Open Championship.
Rahm’s win—like Tiger’s 13 years before—was a victory years in the making. He won his first professional event at Torrey Pines in 2017 and even proposed to this wife Kelly on the beach below the course not long after that. San Diego is a favorite spot for Rahm since it reminds him of the Barrika, Spain region where he grew up and watched Tiger win the same event there when he was 13 years old. This was a Father’s Day gift for Rahm who got to celebrate with his 10-week-old son by winning his first major championship.
And for golf in Southern California, this was an exciting re-opening for the entire region and the start of many more memorable experiences on the links.