SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. - It’s a U.S. Open, which means high scores, struggling pros and complaints about course conditions. That was certainly the case in Round 1. Friday's second round should be a little more forgiving, however.
Can stars go lower?
Thursday proved tough, with an average score of 76.47. More revealing was the failure of premier players. The star grouping of Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, paired together because they are all only one major away from the Grand Slam, shot a combined 24-over par. The 10 top-ranked players in the world were a collective 52-over par, with scores ranging from world No. 1 Dustin Johnson co-leading at 69 to Jason Day shooting 79. There’s every reason to think such premier players will bounce back.
Friday’s weather is ideal for scoring – light rain in the morning to slow down the course and make greens more receptive, winds down to half of what they were Thursday. The one uncertain factor will be the wind, which will be shifting from the north and swinging east and finally out of the south – something the players have not yet seen this week.
That wind makes the par-4 13th hole reachable off the tee because the wind will be from behind, at least in the morning. The tee has also been moved up a little to 360 yards. Even if they can't get onto the well-protected green, the players can reach a front bunker, as did Justin Thomas early Friday morning, where he got it up and down to make a birdie 3. The par-5 16th hole, playing 610 yards, will also be playing downwind most of the day and thus reachable in two – unlike during practice rounds.
That maddening 11th hole
On TV, the 153-yard par-3 11th looks like it plays straight uphill. Too bad the elevations aren’t being shown on TV - it’s actually only a 15-foot rise from tee to green. But it’s still a hard hole, with an average score on Thursday of 3.47, and yielding only eight birdies all day. The tiny green has a lot of slope and falls off sharply all around. The hole would be even scarier without a light collar of rough above the bunkers that makes it less likely that balls landing on the green will roll down into the sand. But it’s still a hard tee shot to judge because the hill fronting the green tends to mask the effects of the wind coming from behind the green. From the tee, the breeze seems oft but the ball hits the wall of wind as it approaches its apex. All told, a green that’s fun to watch if hard to play.
Greens Are fine
Some players and media commentators are voicing concerns about bumpy Poa annua greens. Such complaints are often aired, but for greens that are about 60-70 percent Poa and the rest bentgrass, these putting surfaces run remarkably smooth. There’s very little seed head to impede ball roll because the maintenance staff has been applying growth regulators. There’s a little bumpiness that invariably develops later in the day, but that effect is exaggerated by HD cameras showing close ups. Of course, if the players real wanted to help with the greens, they would not welcome their entourages (as many as 20 in a group) onto the greens during practice rounds. And more of them would change to lower-impact spikes on their golf shoes.