We’ve got 18 holes in the books at Erin Hills and while we’ve got a superstar at the top of the U.S. Open leaderboard, most of the big names struggled. Some notes on some of the bigger stories of Day 1 at the U.S. Open.
Score of the Day
This is an easy and obvious choice. Rickie Fowler went out and matched an opening round record in relation to par, a 7-under 65 that has him in front by a shot. Granted, the course was yielding red numbers all over the place, relatively for a U.S. Open. But Fowler was flawless and it could have been better, with a few putts burning edges to stop birdie runs.
Fowler made it look easy and he said it was after the round. But while he may have a historical number, he also said he’d rather be remembered for something he did come Sunday. Rick was a trendy pick coming into this week. He’s performed well at U.S. Opens in the past and played well this year, with a win already under his belt at the Honda Classic and a tee time in the second-to-last Sunday pairing at Augusta. Now he’s just got to hold on through 54 holes on a course that wrecked many of his compatriots at the top of the world rankings on Thursday.
For an expanded recap of Rickie’s morning round, go here.
Shot of the Day
There were plenty to choose from, but I loved this early Hideki “trap-cut” as the Featured Group livestream announcers kept calling it.
Ernest Goes Old School
One of the morning delights at Erin Hills was Ernie Els, who threw it back to the glory years when he’d contend regularly at the national championship. Els almost jarred it for an ace at the par-3 9th, settling for a tap-in and an outward 4-under 32. It was awesome to watch and while Els gave two back on his final two holes of the day, he’s still inside the top 20 in what could be his final U.S. Open.
Els got in the 2017 U.S. Open on the last year of a 5-year exemption for his 2012 Open Championship title. That was his only exemption. Of course, he’d get an invite back next year if he finishes inside the top 10 this year and he can always go through qualifying. But those aren’t givens and it was cool to see one of the all-time U.S. Open greats light it up early at Erin Hills.
Big Names Go Bust
This was supposed to be a course that favored so many of the superstars at the top of the world rankings. We kept hearing predictions of Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth, and others feasting on this course. But the top 10, save for Rickie, was awful. The amateurs were showing up the top 10 in the world, as this tweet illuminated late in the day.
More amateurs (5) are under par at Erin Hills than top-10 players in the world (1).
— Sean Martin (@PGATOURSMartin) June 15, 2017
That’s generally not what you want for a major, but these Ams are world-class talents who can hang at any venue. Still, we need some of that cream to rise to the top with bounce back Fridays. Spieth and DJ seem like the most likely candidates to get back into it in the second round.
Well, that didn’t go as planned. Just two days after his incredulous response to the fescue being cut down at Erin Hills, Rory went out and repeatedly blasted drives off the planet and into the thick stuff. McIlroy’s quote about the fescue alterations:
We have 60 yards from left line to right line. You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here, if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home. These are the widest fairways we’ve ever played in a U.S. Open.
Rory then went out and hit just 5-of-14 fairways in his opening round — which tied him for 155th out of 156 players in the field. McIlroy’s 78 was a disaster — there’s really no other way to put it. The score ballooned to that after McIlroy drove it to the edge of the green on the par-4 second hole. He poured in the eagle putt and that would be pretty much the only highlight of the day.
Also in that Tuesday press conference, Rory said the key to his success at major championships was getting off to a good start.
If you look at how I’ve started the majors that I’ve won, I’ve sort of led from the front. I shot 65 or 66 at Congressional. I shot 67 at Kiawah. I shot 66 at Hoylake and shot 66 again I think at Valhalla. So it is imperative for me to get off to a good start, I feel like, and I haven’t been able to do that.
It was all bad — the driver, the new putter — nothing seemed to come together for the 2011 U.S. Open champ. Rory’s 13 shots back of Rickie’s leading number and it will be a grind just to make the cut on Friday morning.
Expectations for Rory were all over the map. This was a course he said he loved and was supposed to set up perfectly for his strengths. But he’s also barely played since the Masters and was coming off another rib injury. So there was a wide range of expectations, but a 78 that puts him in a tie for 143rd was probably worse than anyone could have imagined.
The fescue, which was allegedly not supposed to come into play consistently with these wide fairways, was constantly featured in the FOX broadcast. They ran a montage of many of the aforementioned superstars just trying to hack out of the stuff. Spieth hit one and had no idea where it was, leaning on his caddie, Michael Greller, to catch a glimpse of it moving just a few feet into more of the thick junk right in front of them. DJ hacked out of it but across the fairway and into the crowd. The narrative about this being a bomber’s paradise may need some review. With the fescue coming into play more often than expected, it might be better to just be straight.
Common trend of top performers – most have hit 80% of fairways or better. Not a big hitter ballpark – a straight hitter ballpark.
— the fried egg (@the_fried_egg) June 15, 2017
I saw one tweet on Thursday morning that Jon Rahm, another trendy pick at the start of the week, was losing some fans. That’s because Rahm was hot from the very start of his round, hitting it off the fairway into the fescue and getting testy. He repeatedly dropped clubs, exclaimed in frustration, and stomped around in a morning struggle.
Golf Digest picked up a sampling of the social media complaints about Rahm’s behavior. Social media is always angry and unkind about what they’re watching, but the act was definitely noticeable. He’s a young star who is going to win plenty in the future, but it wasn’t the best look for the young Spaniard and became a side story to Rickie’s run.
The biggest news item of the day had nothing to do with golf. A blimp unaffiliated with the FOX coverage and running ads overhead had a malfunction and went down in a field nearby. There was smoke over Erin Hills and FOX later showed the blimp exploding in the field. ESPN reporters Kevin Van Valkenburg and Ian O’Connor went off the property to chase the story and found a crew chief that likely saved the pilot’s life.
The pilot took the blimp to ground and reportedly suffered serious injuries and burns but was “alert and conscious” on his way to the hospital.
After a sunup-to-sundown day, we’re ready for more on Friday. Here are your scores after 18 holes at Erin Hills:
2017 U.S. Open Leaderboard
|T11||Si Woo Kim||-3||69|
|T11||Scottie Scheffler (a)||-3||69|
|T18||Cameron Champ (a)||-2||70|
|T29||Davis Love IV||-1||71|
|T29||Byeong Hun An||-1||71|
|T45||Rafa Cabrera Bello||E||72|
|T61||Maverick McNealy (a)||1||73|
|T61||Mason Andersen (a)||1||73|
|T61||Alex Smalley (a)||1||73|
|T82||Ted Potter Jr.||2||74|
|T82||Joaquin Niemann (a)||2||74|
|T102||Scott Gregory (a)||3||75|
|T102||Christopher Crawford (a)||3||75|
|T131||Stewart Hagestad (a)||5||77|
|T131||Sahith Theegala (a)||5||77|
|T143||Scott Harvey (a)||6||78|
|T143||Brad Dalke (a)||6||78|
|T143||John Oda (a)||6||78|
|T153||Walker Lee (a)||9||81|