Well, the unknown is now known. Erin Hills has a U.S. Open round under its belt, which it used to spank some of the game’s best players on Thursday after Rickie Fowler offered a rather rude introduction with a flawless 7-under-par 65. Fowler’s career low in the championship equaled the lowest Round 1 score in relation to par in championship history, tying Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf, who both opened with 7-under 63s at Baltusrol’s Lower Course in 1980.
Erin Hills was able to lower the boom a bit when the course dried out and its defenses were buttressed by freshening winds in the afternoon. Still, the two men who sit in second place after 66s, Paul Casey and Xander Schauffele, played in the late half of the draw. That was just as impressive.
But not everyone enjoyed the first round of the 117th U.S. Open. Big names struggled. Meanwhile, plenty of lesser-known talents flourished. It was a schizophrenic day. It was golf. And you can bet more crazy things will happen in the second round.
Here’s what to watch for on Friday:
Higher scoring: No one is looking for Rickie revenge, and no, it won’t be crazy higher. But natural forces, namely sun and wind, have now kicked in. Even a fairly benign setup today isn’t going to alter the hard fact that the course will be harder. Here’s betting the overall scoring average is perhaps a stroke higher than in Round 1, when it was 73.4.
More disparate scoring: Sweden’s Alex Noren, one of the earlier starters on Thursday, predicted that Erin Hills was gettable but also had plenty of bite, which was going to lead to a wide range of scores. “There’s going to be a lot of highs and lows. It’s the course,” he said. And he was right. Casey also cited pressure doing its part. “It does funny things,” he noted.
Power outage: The top three players in the Official World Golf Ranking, defending champion Dustin Johnson; 2011 winner Rory McIlroy; and Jason Day, combined to shoot 16 over par in the first round. Hard to believe all three might miss the weekend, but only Johnson, after a 75, is in hailing distance of the cut of low 60 and ties. And even he has work to do, beginning the day tied for 102nd place.
Fowler follow-up: Only once in eight U.S. Open starts has Fowler, a two-time USA Walker Cup player, broken par in the second round. And that was in 2009 when he missed the cut at Bethpage Black. A solid round on Friday is crucial to keep the momentum going and the confidence high with so many nipping at his heels.
Amateurs’ finest hour: Two amateurs, Scottie Scheffler and Cameron Champ, broke par Thursday, shooting 69 and 70, respectively. Three others were just 1 over par. Champ, who got as low as 4 under, was celebrating his 22nd birthday on Thursday. He and Scheffler have the best chance of extending to 10 years the streak of at least one amateur making the cut. The most amateurs since at least 1980 to make the cut is six at Chambers Bay two years ago. It would be fun to see that number approached.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to USGA websites.