The first round of the U.S. Open almost without fail will introduce a relatively unknown player to the world, a surprise leader or contender occupying space near the top with more household names.
World, meet Nate Lashley.
Nate, say hi to the world.
Lashley is a 36-year-old journeyman from Scottsbluff, Neb., a city in the western panhandle of the state covering an area of less than 7 miles. He likely has covered a few million miles bouncing all over the planet playing mini-tours and events trying to dig golf’s secrets out of all sorts of dirt. As recently as 2016 he was competing on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica, where he won three times.
His diligence paid off with his appearance in this week’s 119th U.S. Open. Lashley made his debut in the championship Thursday, and he did it with aplomb, firing a bogey-free, 4-under-par 67 at Pebble Beach Golf Links. He trails Justin Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champion, by just two strokes.
“I mean, couldn't have went much better, to be honest with you,” said Lashley, who joined 2010 U.S. Open winner Graeme McDowell as the only players without a bogey in the opening round. “I hit the ball great. I made some putts when I needed to. Just a really solid round. I felt comfortable. I really like Pebble Beach. It's great being here, and just a lot of fun and a good round.”
Lashley, who played golf at the University of Arizona and lives in Scottsdale, finally earned a berth in the national championship via sectional qualifying in Canada, which makes sense given his peripatetic career.
Starting on the 10th tee in the afternoon wave, Lashley turned in 1 under par with a birdie at the par-5 14th. He added three more birdies at Nos. 2, 3 and 7. At the long par-4 second he stuffed an approach to within 2 feet. At the short par-4 third, he pitched it in from 31 yards short of the green. He hit 10 fairways and 13 greens in regulation, the latter effort tied for 11th in the field of 156 players.
He must have felt comfortable.
“You know, psychologically, I'm just trying to approach it like another golf tournament and just come out and play golf and stay in my routine and take it one shot at a time and see what happens at the end of the round,” he said, providing a pretty solid rundown of clichés that nonetheless summed up his day.
Lashley can be forgiven. He hasn’t exactly spent a lot of time in front of the national press.
Now he’s in the national spotlight. It’s been a long time coming, so he deserves props for making the most of the opportunity. He tried to be nonchalant about the day.
“Anytime you get to play a U.S. Open, it's special. Doesn't matter who you are,” he said.
But given the venue and his performance on it under championship conditions, he grudgingly seemed to accept that he had accomplished something worth savoring. He beat all but five players in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Pretty good, especially for a guy ranked No. 402 in the world.
“To play a U.S. Open here is very special, and I'm just looking forward to it and going to have some fun,” said Lashley, who begins his second round on Friday at 6:45 a.m. PDT. “Hopefully, I can just kind of maintain that mentality and attitude for the rest of the week and then see what happens.”
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to usopen.com and usga.org.