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How a playoff works at the US Open, and why it’s not as fun as it used to be

The legendary Monday playoffs of past national championships are no more. Here’s how it’ll work if we go to a playoff at Torrey Pines for the 2021 US Open.

Bryson DeChambeau of the United States reacts as he putts on the 18th hole during the third round of the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course (South Course) on June 19, 2021 in San Diego, California. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Until recently the U.S. Open was the only tournament in golf with an 18-hole playoff, and it was a raging success. More golf on Monday, more engagement from fans, more drama. Everyone loved it ... except the TV partners apparently. So the USGA ditched it in 2018, because why would we want something everyone enjoyed to continue?

The new format for any playoff in a USGA open championship is two-hole aggregate, meaning the low score after two extra holes is the winner. If two or more players are still tied after those two holes, it goes to sudden death.

And we’ve looked everywhere, but we can’t find which two holes at Torrey Pines would be used for a playoff in 2021. Once we find them, we’ll add it here. Per Golf.com, the two-hole playoff will occur on Nos. 7 and 18. If there is a tie after that, players will proceed to play sudden death on holes 7, 8 and 18 until a winner is crowned. After the 18-hole playoff in 2008 between Woods and Mediate, the players went to the 7th hole for sudden death.

That might make sense here as the dogleg left is a fair test of golf and a visually stunning hole with the canyon and Pacific Ocean behind the green. It would also make the second hole the short and fun Par 3 8th, where both players could fire at a flag.


2019 was the first chance for a playoff, but Gary Woodland won at Pebble Beach by three shots, and then 2020 saw Bryson DeChambeau take the trophy by six at Winged Foot.

But some of the most memorable moments in U.S. Open history have taken place on Monday.

After his monster putt on 18 to finish the final round at Medinah in 1990 tied for the lead at -8, Hale Irwin was down two shots after 15 holes of the 18-hole Monday playoff. But his opponent Mike Donald made bogey on 18, so they went back to the first tee and Irwin made birdie on the 19th hole to win his third US Open at age 45. It’s an indelible moment in the history of golf.

The last ever U.S. Open playoff game at the Torrey Pines South course hosting the 2021 U.S. Open, where in 2007 Tiger Woods limped around the course with a broken leg and without an ACL to make this birdie on 18 to force a Monday playoff. It’s the loudest La Jolla has ever been, and then he defeated Rocco Mediate after 19 unforgettable holes that captivated every office TV in America like it was the first day of the NCAA Tournament.

But why have a raging success that everyone loved, one which helped expose so many more people to the game you’re tasked with trying to grow as part of your mission, when you can make the TV networks happy?

Bring back the 18-hole playoff, USGA. And maybe you should add it too as a tribute to your match play roots, PGA of America.