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U.S. Open 2021: Golf course snobs won't admit this, but Torrey Pines works

SAN DIEGO, CA - JUNE 17:  A course scenic view as fans watch the group of Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Collin Morikawa on the fifth hole green during the first round of the 121st U.S. Open on the South Course at Torrey Pines Golf Course on June 17, 2021 in La Jolla, San Diego, California. (Photo by Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

LA JOLLA, Calif.—I have a deep, dark secret: I actually like Torrey Pines as a U.S. Open venue. To even think such a thing brings a rush of self-loathing. Saying it out loud is blasphemy. To put it in print is madness, risking the wrath of Golf Twitter, architecture wonks, the woke mobs and, perhaps, anyone not in the employ or immediate family of Rees Jones. ​

The run-up to the 121st U.S. Open consisted mostly of the golf cognoscenti wilding-out on Torrey Pines. Geoff Shackelford, a dyspeptic who has nonetheless done much to elevate the discourse of course architecture among the masses, wrote in the golf-hipster magazine McKellar, “Go ahead, you can say it out loud. We’re all friends of golf here. Torrey Pines sucks.” Not to be outdone, Andy Johnson of The Fried Egg typed, “The design of the South Course, as updated by Rees Jones, isn’t just bad. It’s offensive.” On Thursday, when Sean Zak tweeted a photo of the narrow, dead-straight, 623-yard 9th hole, Chris Solomon of No Laying Up responded, "The hardest I’ve laughed all day has been to that first image. Like…holy shit! The national championship!”

But No. 9 at Torrey Pines is actually the perfect hole for the U.S. Open—a living, breathing embodiment of what this tournament is supposed to be. The Masters rewards artistry, the Open championship demands shotmaking, the PGA Championship is won with aggression (or, occasionally, canny course management, as we saw at the Ocean Course). But since we already have those tournaments, and the venues that define them, the U.S. Open needs to be a different kind of test. It should ask the most straightforward question in championship golf: can you execute the right shot, over and over and over again? The 9th hole at Torrey might appear utterly boring but the challenge is breathtaking in its simplicity. There is no fancy math-based decision-making to be made, no corners (or doglegs) to be cut. Can you produce two or three really good shots, four days in a row? Now do it on the other 17 holes, too.

Would we want to watch this every week? No. Is the golf required to prosper at Torrey Pines lacking a certain charm? Yes. Good. This is the United States Muthahfuckin’ Open. It’s supposed to be a grind and a pain in the ass. If you want fancy green contours and breathless talk about some long dead architect who would barely recognize the course today, watch the Masters. If you really need to obsess about angles of play and precious ground-game options, cue up the Open Championship. At Torrey Pines, all that matters is execution and precision. May the best man win.