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10 Stats to Know: Round 1, 122nd U.S. Open

June 16, 2022 Brookline, Mass. By Justin Ray
Xander Schauffele has posted top-10 finishes in all five of his U.S. Open starts. (USGA/James Gilbert)

For the first time in more than 30 years, the U.S. Open has returned to The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. Few places in American golf have the historical significance of this site: one of the seminal victories in the sport’s history happened here in 1913, when amateur Francis Ouimet took down professional stars Harry Vardon and Ted Ray.

The promise of a world-class championship at a classic venue is a welcome contrast from the soap opera currently absorbing much of pro golf’s airspace. On the same grounds where Ouimet captivated American golf fans more than a century ago, the greatest players in the world will compete for their own place in history.

Here are 10 Stats to Know entering the 122nd United States Open.

1. One week after a rousing win in Canada, Rory McIlroy is among the championship favorites this week at Brookline. On Sunday, McIlroy shot his third final-round score of 62 or lower in a PGA Tour victory. Over the last 40 years, no other player has done that more than once. McIlroy was brilliant with his wedges in the final round, something he had struggled with earlier in the season. Entering the season’s first major championship at Augusta, McIlroy ranked dead last on the Tour in proximity from 50 to 125 yards away. Sunday at St. George’s, he led the field in that statistic.

After three consecutive missed cuts in this championship from 2016-18, Rory has found his footing at the U.S. Open recently. Rory is one of three players to have finished in the top 10 in each of the last three U.S. Opens, along with Xander Schauffele and Louis Oosthuizen. No player has driven the ball better than McIlroy at the U.S. Open in that stretch – over the last five years, Rory has averaged 1.29 strokes gained off-the-tee per round, by far the most of any player.

At age 33, McIlroy’s career isn’t often viewed through the spectrum of longevity. But consider this: with a win this week, 2011 champion McIlroy would tie the largest gap (11 years) between U.S. Open titles. That record is shared by Julius Boros (1952-1963) and Hale Irwin (1979-1990).

2. Nine years after competing at Brookline in the U.S. Amateur, world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler arrives looking to rebound from a disappointing missed cut at Southern Hills. Even with his poor showing in Oklahoma, Scheffler still leads all players in cumulative score to par in the major championships since 2020, at 30 under. Over the last four years, Scheffler is the only player to average four or more birdies or better per round at the majors among those with 20 or more rounds played.

Fellow former Texas Longhorn Jordan Spieth is the last player to win the Masters and U.S. Open in the same season, doing so in 2015. Like Spieth, Scheffler is also a U.S. Junior Amateur champion, winning that crown in 2013. Only three players all time have won the Junior Amateur and the U.S. Open in their careers: Spieth, Johnny Miller and Tiger Woods.

3. Defending champion Jon Rahm will try to back up his breakthrough maiden major win last summer with another strong performance this week. The world No. 2 is comfortable at the top of major leader boards: Rahm’s scoring average of 70.39 in the major championships since 2018 ranks fourth among players with 20 or more rounds in that span.

Few defending U.S. Open champions in recent years have had much success during their title defense, with one exception. Of the 12 defending champs to tee it up since 2010, there have been four missed cuts and only two top-10 finishes. Both of those top 10s belong to Brooks Koepka, who finished first and second in his two title defenses.

4. Speaking of Koepka, he’s been beaten by a combined total of four players in his last four U.S. Open starts, finishing first, first, second and fourth (he did not play in 2020). The last player with a longer streak of top-five finishes in the U.S. Open was Ben Hogan from 1948 to 1953. Koepka is an absurd 71 under par in the major championships since 2016, 50 strokes better than any other player in that span.

Koepka has been incredible through the bag at this championship since 2017. Among players to make three or more U.S. Open starts in that span, Koepka leads in strokes gained total, ball striking and approach. He’s also fifth in putting and eighth off the tee. That brilliant play has put him into some lofty company historically: since 1960, among players with 30 or more U.S. Open rounds, no player has a higher average of strokes gained over the field (2.88).

5. While approach play is a key component to success everywhere, it takes on even more significance at the game’s most difficult events. Each of the last five U.S. Open champions have ranked 6th or better in strokes-gained approach for the week. On Tour in that same span, the average ranking by tournament winners in that stretch is right around 12th. In all, U.S. Open winners since 2017 have gained nearly 45 percent of their strokes against the field with their approach shots. The next-highest percentage comes on the greens, at 28.5 percent.

If you’re looking for three statistical fits this week, there are three players who rank in the top 20 this season on the PGA Tour in both strokes gained approach and strokes gained putting: Cameron Smith, Max Homa and Sam Burns.

6. Boston sports fans are accustomed to playoff action – their beloved Celtics currently playing in the NBA Finals, for example. Since 2000, the ‘big four’ professional franchises in Boston – the Celtics, Red Sox, Patriots and Bruins – have combined to win 12 championships.

That trend has stretched beyond those teams though, and into golf: each of the last six U.S. Opens held in Massachusetts have needed a playoff to find a champion. It’s been 14 years since the last U.S. Open playoff between Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines – the longest drought in U.S. Open history. Are we due for one this week at Brookline?

7. It’s almost impossible to have a better start to a U.S. Open career – without winning one – than what Xander Schauffele has assembled since his debut at Erin Hills. Schauffele has finished in the top 10 in all five of his U.S. Open starts. The last player to begin his U.S. Open career with five or more consecutive top-10 finishes was Bob Jones, who did it in seven straight from 1920-26. Schauffele has averaged 3.02 strokes gained total per round at the U.S. Open. Since 1950, only one player who has not won the U.S. Open has a higher strokes gained average: South African legend Bobby Locke (3.74).

Schauffele’s results on the leader board are the product of great play through the bag: over the last five years, Xander ranks sixth at the U.S. Open in both strokes gained ball striking per round (1.51) and sixth in strokes gained putting (0.80). Thirteen of the last 17 U.S. Open champions had never previously won a major – Schauffele will look for his breakthrough this week at Brookline.

8. In all, 22 players who competed in the 2013 U.S. Amateur at Brookline are in the field this week. Among them are the two men who decided last month’s PGA Championship with a playoff: Justin Thomas and Will Zalatoris. Thomas would like nothing more than to add a U.S. Open title to his pair of Wanamaker Trophies. Five men have won the U.S. Open and PGA Championship in the same season: Gene Sarazen (1922), Ben Hogan (1948), Jack Nicklaus (1980), Tiger Woods (2000) and Brooks Koepka (2018).

At Southern Hills, Zalatoris continued to fortify his reputation as a name to watch in the game’s biggest championships. Since the beginning of 2020, no player has averaged more strokes gained total per round in the majors than Zalatoris has (2.54). With his runner-up at the PGA, Zalatoris became the first player since Ernie Els to finish in the top 10 in five of his first eight major championship starts. 

9. Incredibly, no reigning British Open champion has won the U.S. Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970. Elite iron play in tow, Collin Morikawa will try to change that this week: Collin is the PGA Tour leader in strokes gained approach per round since the beginning of 2019, averaging nearly a full stroke over the field. Morikawa enjoyed the best U.S. Open finish of his career last summer at Torrey Pines, winding up in a tie for fourth.

If Morikawa gets off to a good start, watch out: in his 10 major appearances to date, he has opened with a round in the 60s twice. He went on to win both times (2020 PGA, 2021 Open Championship).

10. Matt Fitzpatrick returns to the site of his most prestigious career win to date, the 2013 U.S. Amateur. Of the 12 men to win the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur in their careers, only one claimed both titles at the same golf course. That was Jack Nicklaus, who won the 1961 Amateur and 1972 Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links. Fitzpatrick’s victory at The Country Club in 2013 was the first U.S. Amateur win by an Englishman since 1911 – two years before Ouimet’s famed Open win.

Thursday can’t get here fast enough.

Justin Ray is the head of content for Twenty First Group. He has also worked as a senior researcher at ESPN and Golf Channel.