Meet the home team: SoCal golfers at LACC for U.S. Open seek elusive majors win


The U.S. Open takes pride in being picky and delights in being daunting, traversing the country while gracing only courses that meet exacting criteria.

A selected course, according to the U.S. Golf Assn., “should test all forms of shot making, mental tenacity, and physical endurance under conditions of extreme pressure found only at the highest levels of championship golf.”

Ahem … and furthermore: “We intend that the U.S. Open prove the most rigorous examination of golfers.”


Yet for 122 years — the U.S Open began in 1895 but was canceled for two years because of World War I and four years for World War II — an addendum could have been “… unless said course is in Los Angeles.” The closest it came was in 1948 at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades and in 2008 and 2021 at Torrey Pines in La Jolla.

But behold, here it is! The U.S. Open will be held June 15-18 at the venerable, exclusive L.A. Country Club, a treat for the handful of established PGA veterans born and raised in Southern California.

Several qualified for a U.S. Open long before earning their Tour cards, missed or barely made the cut, then waited years before getting another shot as an exempt player.

Many golf pros and fans will get their first look at the historic, and somewhat mythical, Los Angeles Country Club this week with arrival of U.S. Open.

June 11, 2023

The U.S. Open is that egalitarian of majors, with commoners playing alongside royalty, amateurs alongside mega-millionaires, and obscure underdogs alongside household names. Nearly half of this year’s 156 competitors qualified through various means beyond earning an exemption through the PGA Tour.

The last sentence of the USGA description, then, might be designed to give the legions of interlopers a glimmer of hope: “At the same time, we try to ensure that a well-played stroke produces a positive result for an Open competitor.”

Tiger Woods is the only active SoCal product to win the U.S. Open, doing so in 2000, 2002 and 2008. He will not play this year because he’s recovering from ankle surgery. Several others have the chops to challenge the top of the leaderboard.


Let’s meet the home team:


Collin Morikawa

Collin Morikawa hits from the bunker on the second hole during the final round of the Masters on April 9.
(Matt Slocum / Associated Press)

Birthplace: Los Angeles
Current home: Las Vegas
U.S. Open finishes: 2019: T35; 2020: Missed cut; 2021: T4; 2022: T5
Career Earnings: $23,264,176

Morikawa will serve as honorary host at the U.S. Open while also testing his balky back on the North Course. He withdrew from the Memorial Tournament on June 4 before the last round because of back spasms despite being two shots off the lead.

Problems with the lower left side of his back first surfaced during the Tokyo Olympics. If he is healthy, perhaps no golfer with SoCal ties has a greater expectation of winning. Morikawa has at least one peak experience at LACC, going 4-0 when the 2017 Walker Cup was held at the course and the U.S. crushed the Britain and Ireland side. Also, last year he finished second at the Genesis Invitational at Riviera, like LACC designed by George Thomas.

And astonishingly, he’s the only golfer who hails from L.A. County to have won a major. He’s won two. Morikawa took the PGA Championship in 2020 when spectators weren’t allowed because of COVID, and the Open Championship at Royal St. George’s in 2021. He also finished fifth at the 2022 Masters and tied for fourth and tied for fifth at the U.S. Open the last two years.

Morikawa, 26, learned the game at the nine-hole Chevy Chase Country Club in Glendale and attended La Cañada High. He went to Cal and graduated with a degree in business administration.


Max Homa

Max Homa watches his tee shot on a golf course at Quail Hollow Club.
Max Homa watches his tee shot from the 13th hole during the final round of the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., on May 4.
(Chris Carlson / Associated Press)

Birthplace: Burbank
Current home: Scottsdale, Ariz.
U.S. Open finishes: 2013, 2020, 2021: Missed cut; 2022: T47
Career Earnings: $21,963,399

The skinny kid, who was born in Burbank, raised in Valencia and honed his game on the plebeian double-deck range at Griffith Park, was finally going Gucci: The 2013 Pac-12 tournament would be played at the LACC.

Homa, part of a legendary Cal squad, took aim and shot a bogey-free course-record 61 in the first round.

“Sadly, the thing I remember most about the round is that I three-putted a par five and didn’t get up and down from the front bunker on the drivable par-four sixth, so I feel like I could have shot 59,” Homa told Geoff Shackelford.

Homa glided to a runaway NCAA individual title that gave him entry to the U.S. Open, played that year at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. He missed the cut, but only glory was forecast, right?

It’s been a mixed bag. Ten years later he’s recognized as one of the best on the PGA Tour, especially on home turf. Four of his six wins have come in California. Yet he’s mostly flopped at majors, including three missed cuts and a tie for 47th in four subsequent U.S. Opens.

Win or back of the pack, Homa’s SoCal sensibility extends to his accessibility to autograph seekers and to social media, where his dry wit shines. Ten years ago he told himself he wouldn’t be the golfer who breezed past fans from the green to the clubhouse.

“I went to the Riviera tournament for the first 17 to 18 years of my life,” he said as a Cal senior. “I was one of those kids [asking for autographs]. I promised myself I’d do that.”

He couldn’t have known then that in 2023 he’d connect with a cool 578,000 Twitter followers. Latest message? Sounds like he’ll be ready for the U.S. Open.


“2 weeks off for the first time in a while, and while I’m sad to be missing The Memorial, I’m gunna go watch my sister get married instead and that’s way cooler than #golf. See y’all in LA for the US Open.”


Patrick Cantlay

Patrick Cantlay hits out of a bunker during the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Patrick Cantlay hits out of a bunker during the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, Fla., on March 4.
(John Raoux / Associated Press)

Birthplace: Long Beach
Current home: Jupiter, Fla.
U.S. Open finishes: 2011: T21; 2012: T41; 2018: T45; 2019: T21; 2020: T43; 2021: T15; 2022: T14
Career Earnings: $38,471,554

Cantlay seemed destined for Tour impact early on. He grew up playing at tony Virginia Country Club in Long Beach, starred at Anaheim Servite High and as a UCLA freshman swept the Haskins and Nicklaus awards as the best college player in the country.

He played in his first U.S. Open in 2011 as a 19-year-old amateur, finishing a respectable 21st, then shot 60 — the lowest score ever by an amateur — at the Travelers Championship. Cantlay went on to spend a record 55 consecutive weeks as the top-ranked amateur in the world.

Hardship followed. He fell to 41st at the 2012 U.S. Open and waited until 2018 for a third attempt, this time as a polished professional. Still, he stumbled to a ho-hum 45th, and in four years since hasn’t finished higher than 14th.


Cantlay was grief-stricken in 2016 when his best friend, caddie and high school teammate, Chris Roth, was killed in a hit-and-run accident in Newport Beach while Cantlay stood only a few feet away. Meanwhile, he was sidelined for an entire year because of stress fracture in his back. At times, he retreated into a private world.

“You don’t know how you’re going to react in that situation,” Cantlay said in 2017. “I’m standing there talking to the police officer and he says, ‘Do you want a towel or something to wipe yourself off?’ I was completely covered in blood. I didn’t realize it.

“Your importance level, your awareness of what is usually a big deal, was not a big deal to me. And I felt like that for months after.”

Cantlay did rebound. His career took off in 2018-19 and crested at the 2021 Tour Championship, when he won $15 million after holding off Jon Rahm by one stroke. He was PGA Tour player of the year.

Lately, though, Cantlay has been singled out for an odd reason: slow pace of play. It happened at the Masters in April, then again a week later at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, S.C., where he finished third but was forced to fend off hecklers. His caddy, Matt Minister, flipped off a spectator who yelled, “Hurry up.”


That, of course, was captured on video and spread on Twitter.

For his part, Cantlay has handled it well. After making a hole-in-one at Harbour Town, he tweeted, “Playing faster!”


Rickie Fowler

ickie Fowler watches after making a shot during the first round of the Dell Technologies Match Play Championship.
Rickie Fowler watches after making a shot during the first round of the Dell Technologies Match Play Championship in Austin, Texas, on March 22.
(Eric Gay / Associated Press)

Birthplace: Anaheim
Current home: Jupiter, Fla.
U.S. Open finishes: 2008: T60; 2009, 2011, 2015, 2016: Missed cut; 2012: T41; 2013: T10; 2014: T2; 2017: T5; 2018: T20; 2019: T43; 2020: T49
Career Earnings: $45,257,008

Fowler, 34, grew up in Murrieta riding motocross with his father, Rod — winner of the Baja 1,000 on a four-wheeler in 1986 — and hitting bucket after bucket on the driving range of a public course with his grandfather, Yutaka Tanaka. A blue blood he is not.

He gave up motocross at 14 when an accident left him with broken bones in his foot. It’s been all golf ever since. In Fowler’s senior year at Murrieta Valley High in 2007, he led his team to the state final and in short order won the Walker Cup.

Next stop was Oklahoma State, and that explains why to this day he usually wears orange on the last day of a tournament.

“It’s a way to be my own man out there,” he said.

Another way to forge an identity is excellence, and Fowler was the No. 1-ranked amateur for 36 consecutive weeks in 2008. He won another Walker Cup in 2009.

Fowler made the U.S. Ryder Cup team at age 21, the youngest ever. He was PGA Tour rookie of the year in 2010 and tied for fifth at the Open Championship in 2011. His first PGA Tour win came a year later when he won the Wells Fargo Championship.

In 2014 Fowler posted a top-5 finish in each of the four majors. Yet he is still seeking his first major win, the closest he’s come is a second place at the 2018 Masters.

Why? Lack of recent opportunity, for one. Fowler has played in only three majors since the 2020 Masters. He had an exemption into the 2021 and 2022 PGA Championships and played in the 2021 Open Championship. However, he missed six other majors — including the last two U.S. Opens — because he fell to nearly 200th in the Official World Golf Ranking.


Now, though, he’s carrying momentum, with six top-10 and 11 top-20 finishes in the 2022-2023 season. Kick start the dirt bike, Fowler is ready to roll.


Sahith Theegala

Sahith Theegala eyes a putt on the fourth green during the second round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic in July.
(Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)

Birthplace: Orange
Current home: Houston
U.S. Open finishes: 2017, 2021: Missed the cut
Career Earnings: $7,991,054

It’s an indelible memory. Where were you when Kobe Bryant died Jan. 26, 2020?

Sahith Theegala was a Pepperdine senior playing a practice round ahead of the Southwestern Invitational at North Ranch Country Club in Westlake Village when Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash on a hill less than a mile from Theegala’s Calabasas apartment.

Two days later, Theegala donned a Bryant jersey before sinking a putt on the 18th green that won the tournament. He went on to log one of the most dominant seasons in NCAA history, becoming only the fifth golfer to win the Hogan, Nicklaus and Haskins awards in the same year.

None of those legendary golfers was Theegala’s hero growing up in Chino Hills. It was — and still is — Bryant. Basketball was his favorite sport until his prowess at golf consumed his life. The Lakers remain his favorite team.


“He was my sports idol, as well as for millions of other people,” Theegala said after the win. “To lose him was absolutely devastating and heartbreaking, and I was just really happy I could pay respects to him.

“I did it for Mamba. I absolutely did it for Mamba.”

Theegala learned to play at El Prado, a municipal course in Chino that’s most challenging feature might be the low-hanging power lines. He learned to lengthen rounds from 5,500 to 7,000 yards by hitting his driver from behind the tee boxes.

Theegala’s first U.S. Open was in 2017 when as a Pepperdine sophomore, when he qualified to play at Erin Hills Golf Course in Hartford, Wisc., but didn’t make the cut after shooting 77-75. He returned as a professional in 2021 at Torrey Pines and again missed the cut with a 76-73. His best finish in a major is ninth at the Masters in April.


Xander Schauffele

Xander Schauffele watches his drive during the Dell Technologies Match Play Championship.
Xander Schauffele watches his drive during the Dell Technologies Match Play Championship in Austin, Texas, on March 25.
(Eric Gay / Associated Press)

Birthplace: La Jolla
Current home: Las Vegas
U.S. Open finishes: 2017: T5; 2018: T6; 2019: T3; 2020: 5; 2021: T7; 2022: T14
Career Earnings: $37,027,854

Xander Schauffele’s first U.S. Open round was a 6-under-par 66 in 2017 at Erin Hills. He’s remained near the top of leaderboards since then, finishing in a tie for fifth as a largely unknown 23-year-old fresh out of San Diego State. Still, he hasn’t won.


He logged top-10 U.S. Open finishes the next four years as well before finishing tied for 14th last year at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. Meanwhile, he tied for second at the 2018 Open Championship and the 2019 Masters, and at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 became the first U.S. golfer since 1900 to win gold.

Schauffele has been a force since capturing the state championship as a senior at Scripps Ranch High in 2011. When he doesn’t win, he’s hanging around the leaders.

Or hanging around his dad. Stefan Schauffele was an Olympic hopeful in Germany in the decathlon whose athletic dreams were crushed when he was struck by a drunk driver and a shard of glass became lodged in one eye.

Schauffele’s dad has been his only swing coach. Sometimes the relationship is rocky — Stefan is notoriously blunt with his son and vice versa.

“I went through this rebel phase where I would argue with him for no reason,” Schauffele said. “I was aggressively against anything he would say. We’d have these huge arguments. We fought all the time.

“Now that I’m older, I realize how patient he was with me. I realized that I was combating him for no reason. He was a lot better to me than I was to him.”


Schauffele has long relished the role of underdog. Yet after he finished one shot behind Tiger Woods at the 2019 Masters — his third top-three finish at Augusta — he felt affirmation.

“I told my caddie on the last hole that we just proved to ourselves that we can win on this property,” he said.


Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson watches his tee shot on the fourth hole during a practice round for the PGA Championship.
Phil Mickelson watches his tee shot on the fourth hole during a practice round for the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Pittsford, N.Y., on May 17.
(Seth Wenig / Associated Press)

Birthplace: San Diego
Current home: Rancho Sante Fe
U.S. Open finishes: 1990: T29; 1991: T55; 1992, 2007, 2016, 2020 2022: Missed cut; 1994: T47; 1995: T4; 1996: T94; 1997: T43; 1998: T10; 1999: 2; 2001: T7; 2002: 2; 2003: T55; 2004: 2; 2005: T33; 2006: T2; 2008: T18; 2009: T2; 2010: T4; 2011: T54; 2012: T65; 2013: T2; 20014: T28, 2015: T64; 2018: T48, 2019: T52; 2021: T62.
Career Earnings: $105,669,201

Mickelson is synonymous with LIV. He’s also an indisputable PGA great, a U.S. Open win from becoming the sixth golfer to record a career Grand Slam — winning the Masters, PGA Championship and Open Championship in addition to the U.S. Open. Only Gene Sarazan, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have accomplished the feat.

Oddly, Mickelson has finished second in the U.S. Open a record six times. Four golfers finished second four times. Their names? Brace for more legends: Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer and Nicklaus.


Jones and Nicklaus also each won the U.S. Open four times and Palmer won once. Snead, like Mickelson, never won it. Although Mickelson hasn’t finished second since 2013, he proved that at age 52 he can still play at an elite level when he finished second at the Masters two months ago.

These days, of course, Mickelson is the defiant face of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series. Or at least he was until last week when the PGA announced it reached a merger agreement with LIV. It will be interesting how everyone gets along at the LACC.

And it will be interesting to see if Mickelson makes a serious bid at completing that Grand Slam.