Well, did everyone enjoy their first trip around the relatively friendly West Course at Winged Foot Golf Club?
Justin? Patrick? Matthew? Rory?
Uh, Phil put your hand down.
A “fantastic” Round 1 setup – Tiger Woods’s choice of words – in the 120th U.S. Open Championship led to some historic scoring on Thursday at usually wicked Winged Foot. Justin Thomas with a 65 led a parade of 21 players with under-par scores on a day when the wind was negligible, and the greens were manageable. In the five previous U.S. Opens at Winged Foot, there were only 17 rounds under par combined in the opening round.
But don’t expect that idyllic combination of conditions to continue. It won’t turn into a “Massacre at Winged Foot” reprisal, but enough of this Massage at Winged Foot stuff.
So, what should we expect on Day 2? Well, probably fewer smiley faces. Probably. There is a cut of low 60 and ties.
What else? Well, here are 3 Things to Know.
No Fanning the Flames
There is no truth to the rumor that the fans at Winged Foot were swallowed by the rough. Honestly, it’s not that high. (More on that in a moment.) But let’s face it, a U.S. Open without spectators, especially in New York, is fine and all but lacks sizzle. You know the Empire State denizens would have voiced their huzzahs for Patrick Reed and Will Zalatoris, who had holes-in-one at the seventh on Thursday. Tiger Woods, who won his second U.S. Open at Bethpage State Park on Long Island, had five birdies in his opening round of 73. Bet boisterous fans would have helped him shave a stroke or two off that, as few players feed off a crowd like Woods. (And no one gets bigger crowds.) “For me in particular,” Woods said prior to the championship, “I miss the energy and just the positiveness that the fans bring and just that electricity.” Of course, it’s safety first in this new normal amid COVID-19. But part of the battle this week for competitors is dealing with the sound of silence and either picking themselves up or keeping the momentum up on a difficult layout without a patron soundtrack.
Baby on Board
New father Rory McIlroy rightly pointed out that his lack of victories in major championships since 2014 stemmed from slow starts and putting too much pressure on himself. But after his wife, Erica, gave birth to a daughter a few weeks ago, McIlroy said he has gained a new perspective on life – and golf. An opening 3-under 67 Thursday was his best start in the U.S. Open since he carded a 65 at Congressional in 2011 – the year he won the championship by eight shots. So this bodes well for the rest of the week. By the way, the Northern Irishman isn’t the only player to benefit from a baby bounce. Thomas Pieters is also a new dad. And he went one better than McIlroy with a 66, which is 10 shots better than the 76s he opened with in his previous two U.S. Open appearances. Changing diapers, changing fortunes. Coincidence?
The U.S. Open formula is pretty straightforward, and it starts with hitting fairways. As four-time U.S. Open champion Ben Hogan once said, “The tee shot is the gateway to scoring.” But the leader board after Round 1 comprises a group of talented players who have collectively defied old Bantam Ben’s advice. Of the dozen players who shot 68 or better on Thursday, just two hit more than 70 percent of the fairways. Patrick Reed shot 66 hitting five (five!) fairways. Matthew Wolff shot the same score finding six fairways. Clearly, very little wind and receptive greens made it easier to recover. That won’t last. Here’s betting that accuracy off the tee becomes increasingly important starting today as the course dries out and the rough does what rough tends to do, which is, you know, grow.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to usopen.com and usga.org.