From a chill vibe to subtle extremes, Jamie Mulligan explains what’s in store for an LACC Open
Jamie Mulligan’s normally relaxed smile brightens when he talks about Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course. “There’s a subtle pride in California golf,” he says.
Mulligan grew up playing junior events on the North Course and is considered by many the dean of L.A. golf. He’s the CEO of Virginia Country Club, which is about 20 miles from LACC; a longtime PGA Tour swing coach, whose stable of players includes world No. 4 Patrick Cantlay; and as West Coast as golf can be. Like so many others, he’s also waited a long time for this L.A. Open.
“There’s a mystique about West Coast golf because most of the golf world is east of that – it’s Texas, it’s Georgia, it’s Florida, it’s the Northeast. We’re so proud of our golf and our heritage in golf but it’s pretty sneaky compared to the rest of the world,” Mulligan says. “When you come west it’s special.”
The golf world will receive a crash course in LACC golf this week as the first major descends on the Los Angeles area since the 1995 PGA Championship at Riviera Country Club. For the likes of Mulligan, who has been playing the North Course for so long he can describe five distinct versions of the venerable layout, this year’s U.S. Open is a long-awaited showcase of nuance and subtle brilliance. For so many others, LACC looms as a great unknown.
Few have any practical competitive experience on the North Course since Gil Hanse’s redesign in 2010 and those who do, like Cantlay and fellow L.A. native Max Homa, it’s a limited snapshot under non-USGA conditions.
“It’s going to play hard. I’ve heard the rough’s thick and that time of year in L.A., it can get really firm. It will put a premium on driving which is great for the U.S. Open, especially for a big U.S. Open,” says Homa, who shot a North Course-record, 9-under 61 in the 2013 Pac-12 Championship. “I think they’ll spice it up.”
Justin Suh may be the player in this week’s field with the most experience on the North Course, having played the layout 10 times while he was in college at USC.
“It’s long, it’s very difficult. It’s probably one of the most craziest green complexes that I’ve seen. You got to, there’s places to miss it, places to favor and I think it’s just going to be a great test of golf,” Suh says.
Most accounts of the North Course paint a familiar picture – thick rough (although the Bermuda was late to fill in this year because of an unseasonably wet and cool spring), small greens and fast conditions. Most also touch on the heart and soul of the layout which are the par 3s, particularly the juxtaposition between the 11th hole, which can play to a staggering 300 yards, and the 15th, which can measure under 90 yards.
But that, according to most “locals,” is an oversimplification of what makes the North Course special.
“I’m not a huge fan of crazy long, long par 3s. The best par 3 out there is the 15th and it can play 75 yards. It’s an amazing hole,” Homa says. “It depends on which tees they use but they are the hardest part of the golf course.”
With a favorable forecast for the week, USGA officials are expected to make the course hard and fast which, Mulligan explains, is what makes the North Course one of the game’s true gems – late movement.
“The thing about West Coast golf that a lot of people don’t get is the topography of the land going toward the ocean is prevalent all up and down the coast. You don’t see it but it’s the way the ground spills,” Mulligan says. “Late movement, on the fairways and the greens. Everything is going to spill off that topography, especially if they get it hard and get it fast.”
Compared to traditional U.S. Open venues, the fairways on the North Course are wide but because of that topography and the firm conditions they will effectively play extremely narrow.
The best example of this is the par-4, 419-yard second hole, which Mulligan explains is a textbook example of the course’s subtle demands. “You have to play into the cambers and take into account which way the wind is blowing. The second hole is a perfect example of that,” he says.
Like most things in Los Angeles, the North Course and Hanse’s reimagined handiwork of George Thomas Jr.’s original layout will only be a part of the story. A decades’-long wait for a major championship, combined with the kind of high-profile energy you can only find in Tinsel Town, promises to be a potent combination.
Rory McIlroy has never seen the North Course before this week but he envisions something special because, “West Coast Opens deliver,” and unlike Torrey Pines or The Olympic Club or even Pebble Beach, a Los Angeles Open will be the show within the show.
“The West Coast feel is laid-back, chill California and this is swanky, laid-back and chill California. You’re right in the middle of Beverly Hills,” says Mulligan, to sum up this championship’s vibe. “If you get a clear day out there you can see the Hollywood sign.”
The North Course is a part of the West Coast golf fabric and Mulligan’s pride is well placed. As he explains, “all the great ones, when you get on it there’s a feel to it.”