The Australians will be in uncharted waters when the US Open heads to The Country Club at Brookline, but it might not matter with a strong contingent headlined by Cameron Smith.
Feature image by Getty images: David Cannon
Adam Scott remembers the 1999 Ryder Cup like it was yesterday. He was an amateur playing at the University of Las Vegas Nevada who was preparing to quit college, turn professional and embark on his stellar career. The Australian watched on TV from the campus in Las Vegas as the US team defeated the Europeans at that Ryder Cup at Brookline 14.5 to 13.5 under controversial circumstances.
Justin Leonard halved his match against José María Olazábal thanks to a 45-foot birdie putt on the 17th. The Americans rushed onto the green and celebrated heavily before Olazabal had even attempted his 22-foot birdie putt. He missed it, and Leonard was 1 up with one to play – assuring him of a half point and securing an American victory. It was seen as despicable sportsmanship.
That’s all Scott knows about The Country Club at Brookline, a course located just outside Boston which will host the US Open. It’s the first Major since the 2017 US Open at Erin Hills that represents a blind test for the majority of the Australian contingent. The course hosted the 2013 US Amateur, won by England’s Matt Fitzpatrick. Although Fitzpatrick defeated Australian Oliver Goss in the final and fellow West Australian Brady Watt made the semi-finals, no Australian in the field for the 2022 US Open has played a competitive round of golf there.
“I’m looking forward to The Country Club; I’m very excited to get there because I really only know it from
the Ryder Cup in ’99 and that’s a long time ago now,” Scott tells Australian Golf Digest.
World No.4 Cam Smith, Scott, Marc Leishman, Lucas Herbert, Min Woo Lee [above] and Jed Morgan are among the Australian stars who will be in the field for the US Open, while more Australians may be added via late world ranking deadlines and 36-hole qualifiers.
Scott, the 2013 Masters winner, will take at least one reconnaissance trip to The Country Club to study the course as he searches for an elusive second Major title.
“I have to do a little bit of homework for that one. I think a trip or two there will be good to just get comfortable. Obviously, it’s going to be an incredibly difficult test of golf and I’ll need every part of my game firing to get into contention.”
Smith [above] headlines the Aussie contingent and is a good chance at victory given his form, world-class short game and his love for tough conditions. The Queenslander won the Players Championship in March before getting himself into the final pairing at the Masters, where he finished tied for third behind green jacket winner Scottie Scheffler.
Although the 28-year-old admitted Augusta National took it out of him, Smith insists the fire in the belly has returned for the remaining Majors this year.
“Yeah I’m pretty fired up,” Smith says. “I think the Masters just sucked all the energy out of me. I’ve never felt so tired in my life. Obviously that’s one of the biggest events of the year [and] contending the whole week just took a lot out of me. But I can’t wait for the rest of the year. I feel like I’m playing the best golf in my life. And I feel like there’s a little bit of improving left in me, so I’m pretty keen to rip into the Majors.”
Had Smith won the Masters, there was a tricky scenario that could have catapulted him to the world No.1 ranking. Scheffler’s Augusta National win cemented that status, but Smith may get more opportunities as the PGA Tour season plays out. He’d take a Major win any day over golf’s No.1 spot, but says it’s still a lifetime goal.
“It’s motivating,” he says. “My first few years on tour, being No.1 was far-fetched. It was almost like I didn’t want to get to No.1 because it seemed too hard. Whereas now, I think my mentality has changed to: I’m going to try my best and even if I don’t make it, I’ll know I’ve given it a good crack.”
Although Leishman [above] has never been to Brookline, he said he would try to feed off the energy of Boston-area fans, who are famously mad about their sport. “I think it’ll be epic. Boston is one of my favourite cities in the US and it’s great playing in front of their fans. I can remember when I finished third at the [PGA Tour’s] FedEx Cup playoffs event at TPC Boston, the crowds were great and even though I was leading that tournament and didn’t get the job done, I was really feeding off the galleries. I think it’ll be a tough US Open – not that any of them aren’t tough, but this will be an electric one.”
The 2022 edition will be fourth US Open held at Brookline and its 17th USGA championship. This year, it will measure 7,264 yards as a par 70, which is only 254 yards longer than the 1988 US Open held at The Country Club and won by Curtis Strange. The course was recently restored by Gil Hanse.
Morgan [above], the young Queenslander who won the Australian PGA Championship by 11 shots at Royal Queensland, will be making his US Open debut. That’s because he topped the PGA Tour of Australasia Order of Merit, an exemption category afforded by the United States Golf Association. It’ll be a tall order to ask Morgan to win a maiden Major on debut, but The Country Club is the site of arguably the biggest longshot victory in golf history, when unheralded 20-year-old amateur Francis Ouimet won the US Open there in 1913.
“This is something that I’m going to treasure forever,” Morgan said.
“Obviously as a young player I’m heading away to follow my dreams and I’m focused on what is ahead of me. I hope I can justify [the exemption] by playing well.”