UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wa. – Golf is a solitary sport – even among 40,000 spectators at the U.S. Open.
Because of Chambers Bay’s course routing, at times the players find themselves alone. The crowds are not towering over them. Several holes have no fans nearby at all, such as No. 1, No. 8 and No. 16.
“It is different than a normal Open in that it’s so spacious that we don’t have the same feel, because the people aren’t close like they normally are,” Phil Mickelson said. “They’re so far removed that it has a more spacious feel. But there’s been a lot of support out here from this community, a lot of people out here, it’s cool to see.
“Like No. 8 I know doesn’t have people. You don’t notice it, but at Merion on No. 16 it was very awkward to play the 70th hole of the championship and not have a soul around the green.”
Matt Kuchar said, “I have to say, there are a few holes where you just don’t see a lot of people. I think I made a 20-footer on the eighth hole and could hardly hear any claps. It was one of those times where there just weren’t a whole lot of people around that eighth green.”
Henrik Stenson said it’s not unusual.
“There’s a few courses we play, St. Andrews is not the best spectator course, and this one is a little bit of a tricky one, as well,” Stenson said. “I think you want to walk a few holes and then find a good spot in the grandstand.
“There are steep banks and I’m not sure if you’re allowed or can walk around all the holes. It’s definitely a place to bring some equipment so you can see from far, that’s for sure. But it was still a good atmosphere out there, there was lots of good crowds in the grandstands. I enjoyed playing it, it was good fun.”
Mickelson said that he hopes to have his wife Amy follow him around Friday. But this is not a follow course. It’s a grandstand course. You can’t walk along many of the fairways and it so crowded near the greens you can’t see the putting. Some fans have tried to climb the sand dunes that are restricted.
“Amy wants to come out and follow and she simply can’t, she just can’t come out and first of all see,” he added. “And I’ll tell you, the golf spectators are probably the most dedicated fans, when you think about it. Any other sport you buy a ticket, you sit in a seat and you watch a hundred percent of the action.
“In golf you buy a ticket, you’ve got to walk miles in rough territory and you see but a fraction of the event. So I give a lot of credit to the people who are out here. ”
GOOD FORTUNE TO BE SICK
Tournament co-leader Dustin Johnson thought he would use last week FedEx St. Jude Classic as a competitive tuneup for the Open. However, just of few holes into the first round, Johnson found himself 3-over and not feeling well.
“I got there early and I practiced and played and I was all right. And Thursday I just didn’t — maybe it’s the heat or something,” Johnson said. “I just wasn’t feeling well.”
He left Memphis early, got healthy and worked on his game with his coach Butch Harmon.
“It was definitely a blessing. I got to rest a little bit,” he added. “I went and saw Butch, got to work with him, got a couple of hours of work with him and then came up here and got to see the golf course. Because once I got here, it’s a golf course that you do need to see a couple of times before you play.”
PUTNAM STARTS IT
Michael Putnam might not have shown it but he readily admits, “oh, I was so nervous” when he was given the honor of being the first to tee off for the 115th U.S. Open at 7 am.
Putnam yanked his opening drive to the left, over into a bunker alongside the 18th fairway. He bogeyed the hole.
“I was pretty disappointed that they played that first tee shot as a par-4,” Putnam said. “Obviously, it’s the hardest par-4 on the golf course. You have to hit that tee shot in the fairway to do anything, and I didn’t. I was pretty nervous.”
Putnam recovered and shot an even-par 70.
“I played really well today. I got off to kind of a shaky start, but after that settled down, hit a lot of really good quality iron shots,” he said. “Really didn’t make any putts, which it’s hard to make putts out here, I think everyone is going to struggle with that this week. But to get in for even par-70 is pretty good.
“We had no wind and it was about as perfect conditions as you could get,” he said. “The USGA got tricky with the pin placements, a lot trickier than I thought they’d get. I think they thought they could keep the course playable, but it was a good round.” He also have a flock of supporters following him around.
“It was great. A lot of holes when we were walking up to the greens people yelling my name and cheering me on. Even after we putted out a lot, it was cool,” he added.
“My family was trying to walk all 18 holes. It’s a tough walking golf course. I saw them in spurts here and there. My dad has a good plan to run around this place to figure out the best spectator route. We saw them a lot and definitely heard them a lot and it was nice to have everyone out here.”
CELEBRATING GARY PLAYER
Gary Player, one of the legendary ‘Big Three’ along with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, was honored for his 50th anniversary of his U.S. Open victory, completing his career Grand Slam. He has won nine majors.
“Obviously, winning the Grand Slam was something that is very important in my life,” Player said. “(Jack) Nicklaus was actually instrumental in me winning, because I was going to Greensboro, and he said, ‘why don’t you come and practice with me for the week. And I reluctantly went along with him.”
That led to his victory.
Phil Mickelson is attempting to complete his personal Grand Slam, if he wins here. Player
said he is rooting for him but he added that the reason he has missed is “he’s been a poor driver of the golf ball.”
“And to win the U.S. Open there’s no question his driving has been the reason that he has not won the U.S. Open. I have no hesitation,” he added. “If you look at the stats and you watch him and you see how many times he’s in the rough. It’s very hard when you’re in the rough.”
NOTES: Matt Kuchar said, despite advance reports that the players were not going to be happy with Chambers, said, “I think everybody is having fun playing it. It’s got its challenges, but it’s so unique and different. I think everybody likes coming to a new venue. Veterans don’t have any advantage over the rookies here. We’re all playing a brand-new course. We’ve all got the same learning curve to figure it out. And it’s certainly fun because of all the different options you’re playing with. … Sergio Garcia was much less diplomatic. On Tweeter he wrote: “I think a championship of the caliber of US Open golf deserves better quality green surfaces that we have this week but maybe I’m wrong!” He later added, “If my problem is saying what everyone thinks but they don’t have the guts to say it, then I’m guilty of that for sure.” He just lost – and lost the crowd. … 51-year-old Colin Montgomerie, a regular on the Champions Tour, had a solid first round among players a generation younger. He shot a 1under 69 and is tied for 15th. “In practice, I was shooting more like 80,” he said. “But this morning the course was a little softer. … to break 70 was a little more than I was expecting.” … asked to describe the course, Henrik Stenson said, “it’s different. Of its kind, it’s one of the finest.” …Stenson’s caddie Gareth Lord, fell Wednesday and broke his wrist. He was still on the bag in the first round, sporting a cast.