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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press The seventh green of the Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, Calif., is one of the most picturesque scenes in golf. The U.S. Open will be played at Pebble Beach next week.

Sunday, June 09, 2019 1:00 am

Pressure on everyone at US Open

Tournament back at Pebble Beach

DOUG FERGUSON | Associated Press

119th U.S. Open Championship

When: Thursday-Sunday

Where: Pebble Beach Golf Links, Calif.

Defending champion: Brooks Koepka

Purse: $12.5 million ($2.25 million to winner)

The U.S. Open's return to Pebble Beach coincides with the 100-year anniversary of the golf course with the most famous coastline in American golf, where Jack Nicklaus said he would go if he had only one more round to play, where Tiger Woods delivered his greatest display of dominance.

Not even the vivid scenery of the Monterey Peninsula can remove the pressure that accompanies any U.S. Open, though. For this one, there is plenty to go around.

When the USGA announced nine years ago a return to Pebble Beach, officials had no idea just how much history would be at stake for the 119th U.S. Open.

Brooks Koepka can match a record that has stood for more than a century by winning for the third straight time. Phil Mickelson gets perhaps his best chance – maybe his last one – to become only the sixth player with the career Grand Slam. Also feeling the pressure is the USGA to end a bad run of complaints and chaos in the U.S. Open.

“If they can't redeem themselves at Pebble Beach, then there could be a problem,” said Rory McIlroy, a comment that reflects how players feel about Pebble Beach and how much faith in the USGA has eroded the past few years.

Koepka seems to be the least bothered by the U.S. Open changing its look (Erin Hills) or repeating mistakes (Shinnecock Hills), perhaps because he keeps winning.

“Whatever they're doing, it's working for me,” he said.

Go back more than a century to find the last player – the only player – to win the U.S. Open three straight times.

Willie Anderson did it from 1903-05, when golf was so young in America that only 78 players showed up at Myopia Hunt outside Boston when he won his third in a row.

Since then, four other players have tried and failed to match Anderson's mark.

Next up is Koepka, who is on the best run in the majors – he has won four of his last eight – since Woods was at his peak.

Adding to the attention on Koepka was his victory last month in the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, which looked and played like a U.S. Open. Of the four players who had a chance at three straight U.S. Opens, only Ralph Guldahl in 1939 won the previous major (Masters).

“I know what I'm chasing or trying to accomplish,” Koepka said. “It's just another golf tournament. You can put some outside pressure on. It's a major championship. I'll be up for it, I know that. I enjoy a tough test of golf, and that's what you're going to get at a U.S. Open.

“I know the odds are against me to win it,” he said. “You just need to go out and take care of business. And if you don't, hey, I gave it my all.”

At least he has his name on the silver trophy – twice.

Mickelson would love nothing more than to win just one U.S. Open, the major that has teased him over the last 20 years and now keeps him from his place in history with the career Grand Slam and in the most elite group in golf. Woods, Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen are the only players who have won all four majors.

“You have to look at those guys differently,” Mickelson said. “And if I ever join that crowd – and the only way to do that is to win a U.S. Open – it would redefine my career.”