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Torrey Pines Golf Course welcomes U.S. Open for first time since memorable 2008 tournament

Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate play during a playoff at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in 2008.
Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate play the 18th hole during a playoff at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla on June 16, 2008. The U.S. Open returns to Torrey Pines this week.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Locals who recall Tiger Woods’ dramatic playoff victory say this year’s capacity-restricted contest could be just as exciting, though in a different way.

The last time the U.S. Open golf tournament was held at La Jolla’s Torrey Pines Golf Course in 2008, Tiger Woods was at the top of his game, winning his third U.S. Open. It was the last time a winner would birdie the 72nd hole to force a playoff.

Bill Gross, general manager of The Lodge at Torrey Pines, adjacent to the golf course, recalls that event and said the U.S. Open’s return to La Jolla this week could be just as exciting, but in a different way.

“The 2008 U.S. Open was a little different, as you can imagine,” he said. “The daily spectator count in 2008 was 40,000 ... vs. 10,000 [capped] attendance this year. The energy was multiplied with the tournament outcome,” a playoff between Woods and Rocco Mediate. Woods was victorious on the dramatic additional day of play.

Tiger Woods exults after forcing a playoff against Rocco Mediate during the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in 2008.
Tiger Woods exults after sinking a birdie putt on the 18th green, forcing a playoff against Rocco Mediate during the fourth round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla on June 15, 2008.
(File / Associated Press)

Woods is not in the lineup for this year’s U.S. Open as he recovers from a car crash. But the tournament, scheduled for June 17-20, is expected to bring a new level of energy.

In the past few weeks, dozens of workers were on the property, some crisscrossing the course with equipment and materials loaded in carts and trucks or on forklifts, while others sawed and hammered and bolted things into place to create structures for the tournament. Bleachers for spectators have been going up around several greens — most notably the eighth, 13th, 15th, 17th and 18th holes.

Bleachers and other infrastructure go up to accommodate an expected 10,000 fans a day for the major tournament June 17-20.

The 2020 U.S. Open was held in New York without spectators. This year at Torrey Pines, fans will be permitted onsite but capacity will be limited because at the time planning got under way months ago, the pandemic guidelines were much more stringent, said Jeff Altstadter, director of championship communications for the U.S. Golf Association. California is dropping its broad mandates for social distancing, capacity limits and facial coverings on Tuesday, June 15, two days before the tournament starts.

With California dropping its COVID-19 tier system and most mask requirements, many local businesses and organizations say guests won’t have to mask up but some pandemic practices will remain for now.

Some of the rules in play for the tournament were updated last week to reflect the state’s changing guidelines. For instance, fans fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will not be required to wear a mask indoors or outdoors.

All guests must attest that they were vaccinated at least 14 days before their first day attending the tournament or that they had a negative test result (72 hours before if a PCR test and 24 hours for an antigen test). If they are unable to do so, they cannot attend.

Food and beverages will be available for purchase on the property in designated locations, according to the U.S. Open website.

Phil Mickelson greets young golfers in August 2019.
Phil Mickelson, who is seeking his first U.S. Open title this year after six runner-up finishes, greets young golfers in August 2019.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Those who don’t attend can watch the daily broadcasts on the Golf Channel and NBC to catch Phil Mickelson, who at one time owned a home at La Jolla’s Windansea Beach. Mickelson has won 45 events on the PGA Tour, including six major championships, but hasn’t won the U.S. Open, finishing runner-up a record six times. Last month, Mickelson, who turns 51 this week, won the PGA Championship to become the oldest winner of a major tournament.

He will be joined at Torrey Pines by top players from Germany, Australia, Canada, Japan, South Africa and more. Among the competitors are betting line favorite Jon Rahm; Bryson DeChambeau, the defending U.S. Open champion; Patrick Reed, winner of the 2021 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines; and San Diego’s Xander Schauffele.

Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau and Xander Schauffele lead field this week

“We all feel exuberant that this prestigious event has returned,” Gross said. “The fact that our local hometown hero, Phil Mickelson, won a major championship [three] weeks ago and has been a [three-time] champion at the PGA Tour event here [Farmers Insurance Open], makes for a lot of local interest and support.”

La Jolla Shores Association President Janie Emerson said that during the 2008 U.S. Open, The Shores — a few miles south of the Torrey Pines course — was busy with fans, especially at night.

She said she doesn’t know what to expect this year in terms of commerce, given that attendance will be reduced. ”I don’t think it’s going to have a huge impact this time because there isn’t the gallery that comes with the Open,” she said.

As for potential traffic impacts, she said the steady flow of summer traffic in La Jolla has already begun, and she expects it to increase with the tournament.

Still, Gross said he believes the national broadcasts “will be good for The Lodge and the surrounding La Jolla community, as the viewing angles of the TV cameras will be favorable based on the structural build of the spectator stands and setup around the course.”

“We have engaged with NBC executives to highlight the value of this exposure both for the network ratings as well as the La Jolla and San Diego community,” he said.

— The San Diego Union-Tribune contributed to this report.