SAN DIEGO — The United States Golf Association is starting to escape that reputation of an East Coast bias for the U.S. Open.
The return to Torrey Pines Golf Course for the 121st U.S. Open that starts Thursday means another prime-time TV show for viewers along the Eastern seaboard, and that's happening with greater frequency at this major.
It wasn't until the 48th edition of American golf's national championship that it ventured farther west than Colorado, with Ben Hogan winning at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles in 1948. That was the start of eight U.S. Opens in California over a span of 50 years.
The next 25 years include just as many U.S. Opens on the West Coast, including Los Angeles Country Club in 2023.
One appeal is being able to go prime time, with the weekend finish anticipated for 9 p.m. Eastern on Saturday and 8 p.m. Eastern on Sunday.
"It's always good to have a West Coast site leading into the next TV negotiations or coming out of it," former USGA executive director David Fay said.
The start of a 12-year agreement with Fox (since returned to NBC) was in 2015 at Chambers Bay south of Seattle. The next TV contract would start in 2027 at Pebble Beach Golf Links in Northern California.
And then there's the weather.
"I've been looking at the forecast," Jordan Spieth said before he even arrived at Torrey Pines, the municipal course that is a longtime annual stop on the PGA Tour and is hosting its second U.S. Open. "Cooler nights, 75 degrees in the day and no rain. They can do whatever they want."
As comfortable as it sounds, that's not necessarily comfortable for the players. All indications from three days of practice is the USGA has the South Course right where it wants it, with little chance of something unexpected causing the wrong kind of havoc.
Missing the fairways is enough of a problem. Of greater concern might be missing the green. Wilco Nienaber, the big basher from South Africa, found that out behind the fifth green Wednesday. It was all he could do to chop at it to get the ball up in the air and move it forward, and then watch it roll some 25 feet by the hole.
Sure, it's tough. That's what players have come to expect from the U.S. Open. And that works anywhere in the country — back East, out West or somewhere in between.
"It's fairways and greens," Rory McIlroy said. "It's a proper U.S. Open test."
McIlroy arrived later than usual for the USGA's biggest show, mainly because he played the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in January. It's not the same — not even close — though he has a familiarity of where the ball should be going, where not to miss.
The four-time major winner's hope is not to be too slow out of the gates. McIlroy has gone seven years since he last won a major, the 2014 PGA Championship, a stretch too long for that amount of talent. In his past three major tournaments, two of them the Masters, he has started 75-76-75.
"Probably just putting a little too much pressure on myself, playing too carefully, being a little tentative," said McIlroy, who won the 2011 U.S. Open. "I think that sort of sums it up."
McIlroy at least has won recently on tour, posting a one-stroke victory at the Wells Fargo Championship in early May. Dustin Johnson remains on top in the Official World Golf Ranking but hasn't won in four months. He felt the pieces start coming together at this past weekend's Palmetto Championship at Congaree in his home state of South Carolina — right up until a triple bogey on the 16th hole Sunday that dropped him out of the top 10 on the leaderboard.
"If I can drive it well, I feel like I'm going to have a really good week," Johnson said.
Baylor School graduate Harris English is in the 156-player field, paired with former University of Georgia teammate Russell Henley and Canada's Mackenzie Hughes for a 7:18 a.m. local tee time. English posted his best finish in any major when he was fourth in the U.S. Open held last September at Winged Foot Golf Club near New York City.
Bryson DeChambeau overpowered that course for a six-stroke win and his first major title, and the lengthy South Course will be its own test if he sticks with his big-hitting approach.
Mike Davis, the retiring CEO of the USGA, walked the layout over the weekend and was reminded of how tough Torrey Pines played in 2008. Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate finished at 1-under 283, with Woods beating Mediate in 19 holes of a playoff.
"It played like a U.S. Open should," Davis said. "You had to hit all the shots. We tested shot-making skills. We tested your course management. We tested your ability to handle your nerves when it most counts."
That's what everyone saw this year during the Farmers Insurance Open, and regarding the U.S. Open finally teeing off again at Torrey Pines, Davis said, "Can't wait for it."
When does it return after this year? That question is a little more complicated. During that early 50-year stretch of eight U.S. Opens in California, Riviera had it 1948 and the other seven were divided between Olympic Club in San Francisco and Pebble Beach.
Torrey Pines was part of a push to go public with the championship tournament. Fay lobbied for New York's Bethpage Black in 2002 and that turned out to a big hit, especially with Woods holding off Phil Mickelson along the back nine. The second version was a rain-soaked mess that was lucky to finish on Monday — Lucas Glover was the winner — and it's no longer in the picture, though it did host the PGA Championship two years ago and is set for the Ryder Cup in 2025.
Would the U.S. Open have returned to San Diego if Woods had not won?
"Having the champion you want does help," said David Fay, the former USGA executive director when Bethpage and Torrey Pines were awarded the Opens.
The USGA is planning a rotation of courses that include Pebble Beach, Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania, Shinnecock Hills on Long Island and Pinehurst in North Carolina, leaving less room for others.
"We love Torrey Pines, and let's see what unfolds this week," said John Bodenhamer, the USGA's senior managing director of championships. "Again, I'm not going to speculate on the future, but we love everything about this place. It will get every bit of consideration it deserves."