US Open almost was played in ‘December in Los Angeles’

For a while back in the spring it looked like Winged Foot would not be hosting its sixth U.S. Open.

USGA CEO Mike Davis revealed Wednesday, on the eve of the opening round, that the organization was prepared to move its storied championship away from Winged Foot because of the severity of the COVID-19 crisis.

“Back in March and April, we were very skeptical we were going to conduct this,’’ Davis said. “Certainly, when you think about the magnitude of the virus, and the epicenter was literally a couple towns over from here [New Rochelle], and it really wasn’t until several weeks later that we determined that we could in fact come back to Winged Foot.

“And to be very transparent with you, we thought we were going to be playing the U.S. Open in December in Los Angeles. We were that close. It really wasn’t until the day before we went public with the schedule that we realized that the [British] Open couldn’t be played in September, which gave us an opportunity to play in September at this wonderful, storied golf course.’’

The USGA has been criticized more than once over the years for going over the top with its course setup (see Shinnecock in 2004 and 2018). Rory McIlroy, for one, believes that won’t happen at Winged Foot this week because nothing needs to be done to make it any more difficult than it already is.

Winged Foot Golf Club
Winged Foot Golf ClubEPA

“Something would have to go seriously wrong to get into the realms of goofy golf,’’ he said. “I think good shots here seem to get rewarded. I think the Oakmont setup normally is right about on the edge, and if you just go a little further than that, it can start to get a little goofy. But here it doesn’t seem like that can happen.’’

There are 13 amateurs in the 144-player field, the eighth consecutive year 10 or more amateurs are competing. Andy Ogletree, the 2019 U.S. Amateur champion, and James Sugrue, who won the 2019 Amateur Championship, conducted by the R&A, are among the amateurs.

This will be the 73rd USGA championship played in New York and the 20th U.S. Open contested in the state. The number of USGA championships is third behind Pennsylvania (87) and California (83). In 2026, the U.S. Open will be played again in the Empire State at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.

Steve Stricker, at age 53 (born Feb. 23, 1967), is the oldest player in this year’s field. Stricker won the 2019 U.S. Senior Open on The Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame, in South Bend, Ind. Preston Summerhays, who won the 2019 U.S. Junior Amateur, is the youngest at age 18 (born July 22, 2002).

There are nine players in the field who will be 21 years old or younger when the first round begins. Summerhays and Rasmus Hojgaard, who won the European Tour’s ISPS Handa UK Championship on Aug. 30, are under age 20.

There are 25 players in the field who are 40 or older. Tiger Woods, 44, won three U.S. Opens, in 2000, 2002 and 2008. Lucas Glover, 40, and Graeme McDowell, 41, captured the 2009 and 2010 U.S. Open titles, respectively. Justin Rose, 40, won the 2013 U.S. Open. The average age of the 144-player field is 31.19.

Danny Balin, the head pro at Fresh Meadow Country Club in Lake Success, is one of only three club pros in the field. Gene Sarazen won the 1932 U.S. Open at Fresh Meadow in its previous location, in Queens, where Sarazen had also served as head pro. Balin, who was the runner-up in the 2019 PGA Professional Championship, previously worked at Westchester Country Club, in Rye, N.Y., and Sunningdale Country Club, in Scarsdale, N.Y.

Another player with local knowledge this week is Brandon Wu, who has lived in Scarsdale, 4¹/₂ miles from Winged Foot. Wu shot a final-round 65 to win the Korn Ferry Tour Championship on Aug. 30 and tied for second in the Albertsons Boise Open two weeks earlier.

Wu, who tied for 35th as an amateur in last year’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, helped Stanford University win its ninth NCAA championship and third consecutive Pac-12 crown in 2019.