Thirteen years ago Torrey Pines proved itself a worthy venue for the U.S. Open - golf's most demanding test.
“It starts on the first tee and ends on the 18th hole and you really can't take a shot off anywhere in between there,” Jeff Hall, USGA Managing Director of Rules and Open Championship said. “If you lose focus the golf course will grab you.”
In its first appearance as a major tournament venue, the famed South Course showed its teeth. In 2008 only two players remained under par after 72 holes: Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate. That degree of difficulty, along with the venue's stunning visuals and passionate throngs of fans demonstrated Torrey Pines' U.S. Open chops.
“I would simply say we're coming back, so it stacks up,” Hall added.
And it's only gotten better. In 2014 the USGA announced that the follow-up to Tiger Woods’ legendary victory in 2008 would take place this summer. In 2017 they began outlining plans for their return. The city of San Diego made a series of improvements to the property in 2019 – most notably a new irrigation system. The USGA is thrilled with the efforts spearheaded by course superintendent Rich McIntosh.
“Just doing a masterful job of preparing the golf course,” Hall said. “He knows what we're after.”
What they hope to present in June is a tougher version of the course than what the world's best golfers see each January during the Farmers Insurance Open. That doesn’t require a whole lot of innovation.
“Most of that difference is brought around by mother nature,” Hall explained. “We have not as much to do with it as some might suggest.”
The drier, warmer conditions typical in June give way to a track that is firm and fast. That alone makes for a more daunting trek. Torrey's fairways won’t be any narrower than they were in January. Their focus is on accentuating the course’s already existing features - one in particular.
“We're gonna have a little bit more rough, but that's a trademark of the U.S. Open,” Hall said. “We're gonna let Torrey Pines be Torrey Pines.”
That worked out pretty well 13 years ago, in what Hall describes as one of the most iconic U.S. Opens perhaps in all of history. It will be hard to match the high drama and heroics put on by Woods, who battled injury and a game competitor in Rocco Mediate to capture his 14th major championship. Hall knows that what plays out from June 17th on is outside of their control.
“We don't get to write the script,” Hall said. “We build the theater, we set the stage, we put in a few props. But beyond that the players are the actors.”
And they'll have an audience. While it won't equal the 295,000 that flooded the coastal track in 2008, the limited numbers the USGA will allow in attendance will add a key element to tournament week.
“The players enjoy it,” Hall said. “It just makes for a better championship experience.”
But the world's best golfers won't be all that fans are there to see. The property itself is always a draw, especially in the case of Torrey Pines, where its status as a city-owned public golf course lends itself to more familiarity and a deeper connection with the average onlooker.
“I'm sure there will be some loyal daily players at Torrey Pines who will be out there and watch Torrey Pines defend their honor so to speak.”
Hosting the U.S. Open and its elite field is always a tall order. The USGA will arrive in June already knowing that Torrey is up to the task.
“It provides the test that the players are expecting of the U.S. Open.”