SPORTS DIGEST: U.S. Open Golf Tournament returns to Los Angeles

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By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

The eyes of the golf world will be on Los Angeles this week as the U.S. Open comes to the city for the first time since 1948.

One of the top tournaments in the world, the U.S. Open will take place June 15-18 on the north course of the Los Angeles Country Club on Wilshire Boulevard just west of Beverly Hills.  

Ten former U.S. Open champions are among the field of 156 players who will tee off starting at 6:45 a.m.  June 15.

Most of the big games in golf — minus Tiger Woods, who is recovering from ankle surgery — are in the field including No. 1 ranked Scottie Scheffler, who was runner-up to Matt Fitzpatrick last year. 

Two-time champion Brooks Koepka, fresh off his victory last month in the PGA Championship, tees off at 1:54 p.m. with Rory McElroy and Hideki Matsuyama. 

That will be an interesting threesome, especially considering the current upheaval in the world of golf. Koepka is one of the big-name defectors to the LIV Tour and McElroy has been one of the most outspoken supporters of the PGA Tour.

Phil Mickelson will be making his 32nd appearance in the U.S. Open still seeking his first win. He has finished second six times.

Sergio Garcia will be making his 24th straight appearance in the tournament and Adam Scott will be making his 22nd straight appearance.

The Los Angeles Country Club has never hosted a U.S. Open Tournament before. The 1948 Open was held at Riviera in the Pacific Palisades and was won by Ben Hogan, who shot an eight-under par to defeat Jimmy Demaret by two strokes.

Hogan’s winning purse was $2,000 that year. This year’s winner will receive $3.15 million.  

The U.S. Golf Association, which puts on the tournament, accepted 10,187 entries for the tournament, a record. 

Sixty-seven golfers qualified for the field through 18-hole qualifying tournaments that were held at 109 locations beginning in April. Final qualifying was held at 13 sites in May and June.   

The tournament will be broadcast on Peacock from 6:40 to 10 a.m., USA from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and NBC from 5 to 8 p.m. June 15 and 16. On the weekend, NBC gets full honors from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

There should be some outstanding golf on a course most of us rarely get to see.

STILL SLUMPING: One of the ways the Dodgers like to measure their success is by winning series. No team is going to win every game, but winning two of every three games against an opponent is a good benchmark.

That being said, the Dodgers are still in a slump. Since May 18 when they began a four-game series in St. Louis, the Dodgers have lost five of their last seven series, including their last three. 

They beat the Atlanta Braves two out of three May 21-24 and the Washington Nationals May 29-31.

Since May 18 they are 10-12 and have gone from 3-1/2 games in front of the Arizona Diamondbacks to three games behind.

The problem is still the pitching staff. The Dodgers have already used 26 pitchers this season. Ten different pitchers have started games and Clayton Kershaw, the aging veteran, is the only pitcher in the starting rotation who hasn’t missed a start.

Injuries have been the biggest problem. Julio Urias, who was supposed to replace Kershaw as the staff ace with Walker Buehler recovering from Tommy John surgery, has missed his last three starts because of a hamstring injury and will probably miss a couple more.

Dustin May, who was starting to emerge as a top-notch starter, has been moved to the 60-day list and isn’t expected to return before August. Noah Syndergard is on the 15-day injured list with a blister problem on his throwing hand, but he has almost pitched himself out of the starting rotation with a 1-4 record and a 7.16 earned run average.

If it wasn’t for rookie Bobby Miller, the Dodgers might be in a deeper hole. In four starts, Miller is 3-0 with a 0.78 ERA. 

The bullpen has been unreliable. Caleb Ferguson was 3-0 on May 31 with a 1.35 ERA. Now he is 3-3 with an ERA of 3.75. 

Manager Dave Roberts continues to use Evan Phillips as a high-leverage set-up man pitching against the opponents’ best hitters in the seventh, eighth or ninth innings, but that often leaves the team vulnerable if Phillips is used in the seventh or eighth inning. 

No other relief pitcher has stepped up to claim the ninth inning role that Kenley Jansen filled so well for years.

The Dodgers hope to have Daniel Hudson back soon to ease the load on Phillips.

Hudson tore up his knee last June and has been recovering from reconstructive surgery. He is currently on a rehab assignment in the low minors, but may be back with the big club in a couple of weeks.

One solution to avoiding an inconsistent bullpen is to allow your starting pitchers to go deeper into games, but Roberts and upper management have bought in to the modern practice of getting six innings out of starters and turning things over to the bullpen. That only works when your bullpen is getting hitters out.

Offensively, the Dodgers are still hitting home runs and scoring runs, but their hitters seem to lose their intensity once they have a lead.

That was demonstrated again June 13 in a 5-1 win over the Chicago White Sox. Will Smith and David Peralta each hit two-run home runs in the first inning to stake Tony Gonsolin to a 4-0 lead. The offense managed one run the last seven innings. 

Fortunately, Gonsolin pitched one of his best games of the season and the bullpen only gave up one run over the last three innings.

Smith and Freddie Freeman are continuing to perform at all-star levels. Freeman is hitting .335 with 13 home runs and 44 runs batted in. Smith is at .290, 19 and 35. But on any given night, the Dodgers are starting three players with batting averages below .210 — Max Muncy, Miguel Rojas and Chris Taylor — and rookies James Outman and Miguel Vargas are only hitting .229 and .227, respectively.

There are holes in the lineup and pitching staff that team President Andrew Friedman will need to patch up as the Aug. 1 trading deadline approaches. 

There is still plenty of time for the pitching staff to get healthy and the struggling Dodger hitters to find themselves. The Dodgers have yet to go on one of their patented runs.

But they won’t be waltzing into the playoffs with a 20-game divisional lead like they did last year. Of course, looking back on how last season ended, maybe that isn’t such a bad thing.

GOLD NUGGETS: Congratulations to the Denver Nuggets on putting together an outstanding playoff run to win their first NBA title. They were 16-4 in the playoffs, 8-1 in the last two rounds. 

In a sport known for the athleticism of its players, Nikola Jokic is a throw-back to an earlier time, but that doesn’t diminish his ability. In the playoffs this year, he averaged 30 points, 13.4 rebounds and 9.5 assists a game.

The Nuggets have quietly built a good team surrounding Jokic. Point guard Jamal Murray was the seventh overall pick in the 2016 draft, small forward Michael Porter Jr. was the 14th overall pick in the 2018 draft and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was the eighth overall pick in the 2013 draft. 

Aaron Gordon, who blossomed in this postseason on both sides of the court, was the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft, the same draft where the Nuggets got Jokic as the 40th pick.

If the Nuggets can keep that nucleus together, they have the chance to put together a run of titles, which will make things more difficult for both the Lakers and the Clippers.

BOOM TOWN: It wasn’t too long ago that professional sports leagues avoided Las Vegas at all costs. A mecca for gamblers, no league wanted to get involved with the city, afraid that their sport would be tainted by gambling.

Six years ago, the National Hockey League gambled and put an expansion team there. They were rewarded June 13 with their first Stanley Cup Title in their sixth year of existence.

Two years ago, the Raiders moved from Oakland to Las Vegas and it looks like the Oakland A’s might soon follow them there.

Add to that the Pac 12 Conference football title game, several college conferences playing their basketball tournaments there and the NBA summer league and you have a city that has become a major player in professional sports.

And as more and more states are legalizing gambling on professional sports — and the leagues themselves line up to get a piece of that action — the stigma that once came with gambling no longer seems that big a deal.

The NFL is still punishing players who violate league rules regarding gambling and baseball continues to ban Pete Rose from the Hall of Fame, but gambling is as much a part of sports these days as television contracts, labor agreements and free agency.

California has a looming budget deficit within the next year. Don’t be surprised if the state Legislature decides to make sports gambling legal here. The state is missing out on what could be a major source of revenue.

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