US Open: Defending champion Matt Fitzpatrick criticizes Los Angeles course

Staging the US Open for the first time in its 128-year history, the ultra-exclusive Los Angeles Country Club has become the center of the golfing world this week.

Yet not everyone has given the host glowing reviews, including the major’s reigning champion Matt Fitzpatrick.

The size of crowds and the difficulty of the course have become two hotly-debated topics across the first three days of the tournament, with England’s Fitzpatrick having his say.

After shooting the tournament’s third hole-in-one on Friday, the world No. 8 said he wished more people had seen it, adding that he was “surprised” at what he felt was a lack of numbers – and noise – behind the ropes.

And following Saturday’s third round, Fitzpatrick – whose hopes of becoming the first player to defend the US Open title since Brooks Koepka look slim – again spoke about the quality of the course and the atmosphere.

“I’d almost argue that some of the fairways, with it getting firmer, are arguably impossible to hit,” he told Sky Sports.

Last month’s PGA Championship winner Koepka said on Friday he was not a “huge fan” of the course and Fitzpatrick said he agreed with what the American said, for example, about blind tee shots.

“I’m not a huge fan of blind tee shots, and then I think there’s just some spots that no matter what you hit, the ball just ends up in the same spot,” Koepka said.

Fitzpatrick added: “I’ve seen Brooks’ comments and I tend to agree with what he feels like that about this golf course. There’s multiple times I’ve hit great drives this week and you’re in the rough by a foot and you’ve got no shot.

“I just don’t think that’s the sign of a great golf course.”

Koepka was even-par following Saturday’s third round, effectively ending any hopes of securing a second consecutive major title.

Fitzpatrick enters the final round just one stroke ahead of the American.

The North Course has split opinion throughout the week and not all have shared in the reigning champion’s assessment. Irish golfer Padraig Harrington, level with Fitzpatrick at one-under par overall, praised the course’s “excellent setup.”

“We were going out there today wondering would there be a bit of bite in it, would there be a bit of fight back,” Harrington told reporters.

“These are probably the best greens we’ve ever putted on in a major. I’m telling you, these are just a pure bent surface which is beautiful to putt on. If you produce good greens, you’re going to get good scoring.”

World No.1 Scottie Scheffler, who is still in contention at nine under overall, said he liked the course “a lot.”

Scheffler said, per ESPN: “I think it’s a very interesting place to play golf. I think some of the setup stuff has been also a little bit interesting. It can be frustrating at times with how firm the greens are and how much softer the fairways are.”

Thursday’s opening round heralded a day of unprecedented low scoring, headlined by American duo Rickie Fowler and Xander Schauffele both shooting an eight-under 62 to break the major’s all-time low round scoring record within 22 minutes of each other.

A first round scoring average of 71.38 marked the lowest ever recorded in a first round at a US Open, beating the previous low of 72.29 at the 1993 tournament and sparking a debate around what a ‘typical’ score should be at a tournament famed for its difficulty.

As predicted by several players, an upturn in sunshine from Friday afternoon led to a downturn in scoring averages. Yet firmer greens and fairways brought fresh criticisms of the course, and atmosphere, from Fitzpatrick on Saturday.

In terms of the size of the crowds in LA, the United States Golf Association (USGA), the sport’s governing body in the US, limited ticket sales to the tournament, citing “capacity limitations” at the course when tickets first became available for purchase in November 2022.

“Very poor … It’s disappointing on the USGA side,” said Fitzpatrick of the atmosphere, according to Barstool Sports journalist Dan Rapaport.

Yet not all competitors were as scathing as the defending champion. While Los Angeles-born Collin Morikawa praised the tournament’s “amazing” energy, South Korean golfer Tom Kim used the same adjective to describe the venue.

“Man, I would have loved to see this place packed,” Kim told reporters Saturday.

“I think once you get into some holes there’s a lot of people. I think it’s pretty cool … it’s LA and it’s the US Open, can’t get any better.”

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