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Tee it high

U.S. Open 2023: How Collin Morikawa and Max Homa plan to 'spin the life out of it' at LACC's 80-yard hole

June 14, 2023
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Collin Morikawa plans to take an interesting approach to spin his approach shot into the short par-3 15th this week at Los Angeles Country Club's North Course.

Harry How

Should the USGA stretch out the par-3 seventh and 11th at Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course to their full scorecard yardages, they’ll be among the longest par 3s in U.S. Open history. Yet in the lead up to Thursday’s first round, it’s perhaps the shortest hole in championship history that is causing anxiety for the world’s best.

The short 15th is 124 yards on the card, but if the USGA opts for a pin in the very front of the wedge-shaped green, it can play as short at 80 yards, which would make it the shortest hole in U.S. Open history since World War II. And if it does play to that historic mark—which it did when LACC hosted the 2013 Pac-12 Championship and at the 2017 Walker Cup—expect some creative decision-making from the field.

Rickie Fowler told NBC Sports’ John Wood that he would lay up short of the green if the pin was in the front. Yes, one of the world’s best wedge players plans to lay up on an 80-yard shot. Max Homa explained that if the USGA uses the front pin, he will do everything he can to “spin the life out of it.” What gives?

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A view of the wedge-shaped green at the par-3 15th at Los Angeles Country Club's North Course.

As you can see, the sliver of green in the front knob is extremely narrow, forcing players to be precise or face a short-sided bunker shot from either short or long. There is also a significant slope feeding off the knob in the middle of the green, meaning should players bail to the left, they’ll be faced with a delicate downhill putt. And even if you go right at the pin and hit your mark, there’s no guarantee of reward, given the firmness of the greens and downwind breeze.

“I remember playing that hole 10 years ago and hitting a great shot. Landed a foot from the hole and went long into the rough,” Jon Rahm recalled of his experience on No. 15 during the 2013 Pac-12 Championship.

Collin Morikawa and Max Homa also have prior competitive experience at LACC’s North Course and the flip-wedge 15th. Morikawa went 4-0 at the 2017 Walker Cup, and Homa shot 61 to set the competitive course record en route to winning the 2013 Pac-12 title. When asked on Tuesday how they plan to approach the shot, both said they'll turn to an old trick.

“I remember like you almost had to practice teeing up with a 60-degree lob wedge like an inch off the ground, which you never do, and just try and hit it perfect, because you had to [hit it] with height, with spin,” Morikawa said of his 2017 strategy. “You've got to land it in the right spot. I just remember it was a very tough shot. I pulled it off, and I think I still had like 20 feet for birdie.”

Homa echoed Morikawa’s strategy of teeing the ball well off the ground with a lob wedge to maximize spin.

“Yeah, I did it at Pac-12s. That was the thing all the kids did. I grew up on a par-3 course, and if you tee a lob wedge up like three inches, you can spin the life out of it, so I did that on Sunday at the Pac-12s. I'm planning on probably doing that again this year.”

Max Homa

Max Homa plans to tee the ball up as high as three inches for the wedge shot into the par-3 15th this week at Los Angeles Country Club's North Course.

Robert Beck

Back in 2018, Tiger Woods went the high tee route during the playoff in the inaugural edition of The Match against Phil Mickelson, teeing up a wedge inches off the ground as they played from the putting green at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas. Though he didn’t win the $9 million match, the image of a 60-degree wedge shot teed well off the ground was jarring.

It appears the high-tee spinner will be reappearing this week in Los Angeles. And at your local course on Monday morning as we all try to spin the life out of it.

“It’ll be cool,” Homa said. “You're going to watch professional golfers use some creativity, and that's definitely one trick that is quite useful.”

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