Shinnecock Hills found a way to punish the world’s best golfers in Thursday’s first round of the 118th U.S. Open Championship – it knocked the wind out of them.
For some, it was a subtle gut punch. For others, it must have felt like getting walloped by a hurricane.
Only four players broke par on a day when winds gusted as high as 32 mph, and the course dried out from the one-tenth of an inch of rain that fell on the property on Wednesday.
Dustin Johnson, the 2016 champion who regained his No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) with his win in Memphis, Tenn., last weekend, was one of four competitors to post 1-under-par 69, joining 2016 co-runner-up Scott Piercy, Russell Henley and Ian Poulter. They lead by one stroke over Jason Dufner and by two over a plethora of competitors, including 2013 champion Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson.
Other notables were blown off course. World No. 6 and 2011 champion Rory McIlroy carded an 80, his worst score in 29 U.S. Open rounds. Jordan Spieth, the 2015 champion and No. 4 in the world, had a 78. Phil Mickelson, seeking the U.S. Open title to complete the career Grand Slam, posted a 77, while defending champion Brooks Koepka had a 75. And three-time champion Tiger Woods, looking for his first major title since the 2008 U.S. Open, opened with a triple-bogey 7 and registered a disappointing 78.
Johnson, trying to become the first player to win the U.S. Open after winning the week prior, birdied holes 4, 5 and 8 – the latter a hole-out from a greenside bunker – for a 2-under 33 on the outward nine. The 33-year-old had a birdie and two bogeys coming home.
“I’m very pleased with the round,” said Johnson. “Anything under par on this golf course is very good, especially in the conditions we had today. I felt like from start to finish, it was very difficult.”
Piercy, who got into the field on Monday as the first alternate from the Memphis, Tenn., sectional, never saw this result coming. The 39-year-old from Las Vegas, Nev., walked off the course on Wednesday completely frustrated after losing five balls in four holes.
“I was yanking it,” said Piercy, who called his runner-up finish at Oakmont Country Club two years ago one of the best ball-striking weeks of his career. “I just kind of regrouped last night, tried to go back to a couple things that have worked throughout the year. I was able to kind of piece it together again.”
Poulter, 42, birdied the second-toughest hole on the course – the par-4 third (stroke average of 4.70) – and two of the challenging par 3s (Nos. 7 and 11) en route to his best start in 13 U.S. Open starts.
Henley, 29, has never finished better than a tie for 16th in the U.S. Open, and that came in his debut eight years ago when he shared low-amateur honors with Scott Langley at Pebble Beach Golf Links. His PGA Tour record in 2017-18 also would not have suggested such a strong start, with a tie for eighth in the Shell Houston Open his lone top-10 finish in 15 events.
But boosted by an eagle at the par-5 fifth and a long birdie putt at the par-3 seventh, Henley posted a 3-under 32 on the outward nine. A double bogey at No. 10 and a bogey on the closing hole prevented him from having the outright 18-hole lead.
“I felt really in control of my game,” said Henley, who hit 13 of 14 fairways and 12 of 18 greens. “Off the tee, I felt like I was going to hit it right where I was lined up. I gave myself a chance to have a good round [by] hitting a lot of fairways.”
- The average score by the top 10 players in the OWGR was 75.2. Last year at Erin Hills, the top three players in the world – Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day – missed the cut, the first time that had occurred since the rankings were established in 1986.
- Louisiana State University rising senior Luis Gagne and Ohio State rising senior Will Grimmer led the amateur contingent with 3-over-par 73s. Reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Matt Parziale carded a 74.
- Scott Gregory’s 92 was the first round in the 90s at a U.S. Open in 26 years. Felix Casas posted a 92 in Round 2 at Pebble Beach in 1992. Gregory turned pro last fall after representing Great Britain and Ireland in the Walker Cup Match at The Los Angeles Country Club. He won The Amateur Championship at Royal Porthcawl in 2016.
- The previous highest opening round in a U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills was an 88 by amateur John Daly – yes, the future two-time major champion – in 1986.
- Twenty-nine competitors posted rounds of 80 or higher, one more than in the final round of the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock.
- Mickey DeMorat, a 2018 Liberty University graduate who is making his professional debut this week, carded a 2-over 72, despite violating Rule 15-3 for playing the wrong ball out of the fescue on No. 14. He also celebrated his 23rd birthday on Thursday.
- The shot of the day belonged to qualifier Dean Burmester, of South Africa, who holed out a 117-yard wedge approach on No. 18 for an eagle 2 to complete a 7-over 77.
Ian Poulter, who played his first U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in 2004, on his love-hate relationship with this major:
“I didn't enjoy it at all. I have to say, through most of the U.S. Opens, I haven't enjoyed very many, to be honest. They're difficult. They're hot. They're stressful. Feels like you're pulling teeth every single hole you play. How I've got any left, I don't really know. They always set out very difficult. It's supposed to be tough. And this week, I've changed my mindset. I'm here to enjoy my golf this week.”
Justin Rose on the conditions and getting an early starting time for Round 1:
“Happy it's over. Woke up this morning very early, 4:30, got in the shower, got dressed, had a cup of tea. Good start to the day. Got in the car [and] didn't pay much attention. Arrived here, I'm like whoa, what's going on? The wind, the flags were already, you know, fluttering dead straight. So I knew I was in for a tough day when I saw that, and then I heard it was going to pick up even more around 11 [a.m.]. It was a tough day.”
Masters champion Patrick Reed on the course setup:
“The setup was fine. I didn't think there was a hole that was set up unfair or anything like that. I felt like the pin placements were fine. You had to hit quality golf shots. They set up the golf course like a U.S. Open, like it should be. If you hit a great shot, you're going to be rewarded. If you don't, you're going to struggle.”
Tiger Woods on a mindset for Friday’s second round following an 8-over 78:
“Shoot something in the 60s tomorrow, and I'll be just fine. I just think today was the toughest day we'll have all week. But then again, I think they're going to let these greens firm out a little bit. They'll start to pick up a little bit of speed, and it will be a good U.S. Open again.”