Notebook: Early Wave Happy To Complete First Round
By Stuart Hall
ARDMORE, Pa. – The 78 players who went out in the U.S. Open’s morning wave on Thursday will receive an added bonus on Friday – a few more hours’ worth of rest.
Heavy thunderstorms rolled over Merion Golf Club’s East Course on Thursday morning and caused a 3-hour, 32-minute delay in play. The suspension, coupled with another 45-minute weather interruption at 6:10 p.m. EDT, prevented anyone in the afternoon wave from completing the first round before nightfall.
Players in the afternoon wave will not only have to finish their first round on Friday morning, they will have to turn around and start the second round in short order. The afternoon starting times will be moved back accordingly.
That was good news to 2012 Masters champion Bubba Watson, who opened with a 1-over 71.
“I just want to be able to watch the NBA [Finals], hopefully it won’t be a blowout so I can watch the whole game,” said Watson, referring to the Miami Heat’s 36-point loss to San Antonio in Game 3. “Then I can still sleep in. That’s why I wanted to finish today.”
While Tim Clark did not discuss his Thursday night plans, he too was relieved to be finished after an even-par 70.
“If there's more delays, it's not going to be easy,” he said of the players in the afternoon wave. “Certainly nice, though, to get it done in reasonably good conditions.”
Weir Struggling, But Still Determined
Former Masters champion Mike Weir has been injured and has played poorly, missing nine of 14 cuts on the PGA Tour this year and all 14 cuts in 2012, which is why he has slipped all the way to 967th in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Naturally, as often happens in the U.S. Open, he was tied for the lead for a spell in the opening round at two under par before an explosion of bogeys coming in left him with a disappointing 2-over 72.
There are always surprises early in the national championship. That Weir is one of them is a surprise in itself given his recent form.
"I had some opportunities and I didn't capitalize on them," said the lefty from Canada, who is back in the U.S. Open for the first time since 2010 after making it through the Columbus, Ohio, sectional qualifier as the first alternate.
Weir, 43, has been a solid U.S. Open player, posting four top-10s and eight top-25 finishes in 12 appearances. Most of his recent troubles have been due to injury. He underwent elbow surgery in late 2011 and is trying to fight his way back into the form that allowed him to win eight times on the PGA Tour.
"I think there was times that, yeah, you wonder, when you're injured and you get a little older," Weir said. "But at the same time, I was very determined to get back. I still love the game. I still love the practice. I enjoy the competition.
"So, yeah, I was very motivated to get back. I feel like I still have quite a bit of good golf left in myself. If I didn't, I wouldn't have worked as hard to get back in the top 10. I still feel motivated. I still feel I can do some good things around here."
Experience Pays Off For Phelan
Amateur Kevin Phelan learned in Thursday’s opening round at the U.S. Open that experience is a benefit.
Three years ago, as a 19-year-old, Phelan made his U.S. Open debut at Pebble Beach Golf Links. His appearance was brief as rounds of 83 and 75 eliminated him from weekend play. But those days proved invaluable for the amateur on Thursday.
“I learned more in that week than the rest of my golfing career combined,” said Phelan, of Ireland, who recently finished his collegiate career at the University of North Florida. “When I made a couple of mistakes, my experience of Pebble served me well. I went back to the patience.”
Through the first 12 holes on Merion Golf Club’s East Course, Phelan, a 2010 U.S. Amateur Public Links semifinalist, was among the leaders at one under. He bogeyed two holes coming in for a 1-over 71, the best among the four amateurs who completed 18 holes.
“It’s obviously a tough course, so I was just trying to take the chances when I could and give myself birdie chances and take them,” Phelan said.
A good showing this week and at the U.S. Amateur in August at The Country Club outside of Boston will bolster his chances of making the Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup Team. Phelan is exempt into the U.S. Amateur by qualifying for the U.S. Open. Already working in his favor was a runner-up finish at the NCAA Division I South Central Regional and eight top-10 collegiate finishes this season.
The U.S. Amateur, however, is too far in advance. His focus is continuing his solid play at the Open.
“I'm not really thinking about making the cut,” he said. “I'm just thinking about hitting each shot as it comes. That was my only goal this week. It’s not easy but I think I'm doing a good job so far.”
As one of five players in the field this week who competed in the 1989 U.S. Amateur at Merion, Cliff Kresge was expecting better things of himself than a first-round 75.
"I'm definitely disappointed, but I also know how hard it is, and it's a lot harder than it was back then ... so much longer," said Kresge, 44, of Heathrow, Fla. "The long holes are really long, and if you don't hit it in the fairway, you're just hoping for a par. But if I shoot even a decent number tomorrow, I think I will be able to stick around."
Along with Kresge, the other returning players from the '89 Amateur are Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk and Geoffrey Sisk.
Kresge said he's enjoying his second visit to Merion, and he has a special memory of his first one 14 years ago that still brings a smile to his face.
"I needed a birdie at the last to get into a playoff for one of the 64 match-play spots and my drive ended up by the Hogan marker," said Kresge, referring to the spot where Hogan hit his famous 1-iron in the 1950 U.S. Open that led to a tying par and an eventual victory in a playoff. "I hit probably a 3- or 4-iron to 25 feet and made the putt. I ended up losing in the playoff on 14, but I still remember the shot to this day and how good it made me feel. I'll always have that, if nothing else."
Ohio-based freelance writer Dave Shedloski contributed to this notebook. Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.