Well, that was entertaining.
Players were remarking how much they were anticipating a “proper U.S. Open” test. Well, they came to the U.S. Open, and a U.S. Open broke out. Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, strafed by gusting winds, was none too hospitable. It wasn’t the monster that players encountered in 1986 when Bob Tway’s even-par 70 led after the first round, but it tormented plenty of great players.
Four men share the lead at 1 under par, including world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, the only one of the quartet who has won a U.S. Open. Justin Rose, who won the title in 2013, is among the nearest pursuers.
Scott Piercy, Russell Henley and Ian Poulter also shot 1 under par. That was it. Tough day.
Some guys are hoping to keep their games together. Others are hoping to regroup. Everyone is bracing for more angst.
Here’s what to look for in Round 2:
1. More strong play from sectional qualifiers: The last qualifier to win the U.S. Open was Lucas Glover in 2009 at nearby Bethpage Black. Six of the top 18 on the leader board after the first round came through qualifying, including co-leader Scott Piercy, who was the first alternate out of the Memphis sectional. These players are not among the top 60 or exempt in other ways. They’re long shots. But they’re showing their mettle.
2. Putting: The hole must have looked as big as a finger – and we’re not saying which one – on Thursday as almost no one appeared immune from struggling on Shinnecock’s quick, sloping surfaces. Putting is what separated the leaders from the rest of the field, and that is likely to continue.
3. Grinding: Oh, there already was plenty of that on the first day, but the cut looms after the second round, and just one wasted stroke could be fatal to hopes of a weekend tee time. The number of shots thrown away by not adjusting to the difficult conditions were too numerous to count. “This is what we've got in front of us,” Henrik Stenson said after a hard-fought 71, “and I'm here to grind it out another three days.”
4. Late-afternoon rallies: Looks like winds are expected to dissipate a bit around 2 p.m. EDT on Friday, giving the likes of Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth, among others, an opening to perhaps find their way back into the championship – or simply back to respectability.
5. Ian Poulter: One of the four men to break par on Thursday, the Englishman was right to caution that he could not afford to get ahead of himself. Only once in his last eight U.S. Open starts has he improved on his first-round score. But Poulter seems much more in control of his game than ever before, ranking fourth in greens in regulation and 12th in putting. He seems like a new player this year. He needs to back up his first-round work.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.