SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — The U.S. Open is supposed to be hard. But this hard? The first round at Shinnecock Hills brought some of the highest scores in two decades. With no rain in the forecast, and the wind still set to blow, the question is whether the USGA will dial back the course a bit and give the players a chance or continue to exact revenge for all those low scores a year ago at Erin Hills.
Some of the world’s best — that’s you, Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose — dealt with it just fine. Pretty much everyone else had a fight on their hands Thursday, and some of the best will have a battle on Friday just to make the weekend.
Just trying to stay on top of everything
The odds coming into this U.S. Open were not great for Dustin Johnson. Sure, he entered as the No. 1 player in the world. And yes, he won last week at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. No top-ranked player had won this event in a decade. And no player had ever won the U.S. Open after winning the week before.
So, of course, Johnson went out and shot 1-under 69, one of only four players in red figures on a bruising day at Shinnecock Hills. So now, the odds get better, right? Well, yes and no.
Johnson has led three majors after the first round, all three times coming in 2015. He didn’t win any of them. In 2016, when he won the U.S. Open at Oakmont, he was second after the opening round. So that’s the bad news. The good news, for Johnson, is that the conversion rate when the No. 1 player in the world has the lead after the first round is pretty good. Eight times in the past 20 years, the top-ranked player has left the course on Thursday leading or tied and four times he’s won.
How many of the best players will be around on the weekend? While Johnson made his way around Shinnecock Hills without too many major issues, the rest of the top 10 in the world weren’t so fortunate.
That’s a combined 52 over par.
How many will be around for the weekend? The top 60 and ties make the cut. Right now, Johnson (T-1), Rose (T-6) and Fowler (T-19) are the only three in the top 20. Justin Thomas (T-37), Koepka (T-46) and Matsuyama (T-46) are in the danger zone. Spieth (T-102), Rahm (T-102), Day (T-114) and McIlroy (T-128) have some serious work to do to be around for the weekend.
When the key players hit the course
When the wind blows
The wind blew in a different direction than it had all week on Thursday, coming from the west for the first time. That helped contribute to the high scores. On Friday, the wind still will blow, though this time it’s forecast to come from the north.
How much does the wind impact Shinnecock Hills?
When asked what members do when the wind blows from the opposite direction as the normal prevailing winds, one Shinnecock caddie said, “They play cards.”
Not all the world’s best struggled
Rose won three weeks ago in Fort Worth, Texas. He is a U.S. Open champion. He’s the No. 3-ranked player in the world. Yet, he somehow sneaks below the radar. Maybe his opening-round 1-over 71, which was tied for sixth, will get people to notice a little more. Surely, his arrival at Shinnecock Hills for Thursday went largely unnoticed. He was here so early that not many people were around yet.
“Woke up this morning very early, 4:30, got in the shower, got dressed, had a cup of tea,” said Rose, who was on the first tee at 7:27 a.m.
He figured with the rain Wednesday and the early tee time, likely before the afternoon winds kicked up, he’d be OK.
“Arrived here, I’m like, ‘Whoa, what’s going on?’ The wind, the flags were already fluttering dead straight,” he said. “So I knew I was in for a tough day when I saw that, and then I heard it was going to pick up even more. … I’m happy it’s over.”
The 71 puts him in position to chase another U.S. Open. The wind, the firm greens, the unlucky bounces that come with a U.S. Open didn’t bother him Thursday, and they won’t bother him as the year’s second major progresses.
“It’s a different type of enjoyment, right?” he said. “It’s a sort of, I enjoy the battle, I enjoy the fight, I enjoy the grind. I do enjoy it, especially when you’re on the right side of the fight. When you get a bit cut up and bruised, it can change pretty quick.”