Course Softened, But Not Moods

Rory McIlroy returned to a soggy Oakmont this morning to finish his first round as fans get a close-up look of his second shot on the 18th hole.
Rory McIlroy returned to a soggy Oakmont this morning to finish his first round as fans get a close-up look of his second shot on the 18th hole.  (USGA/Jeff Haynes)

OAKMONT, Pa. – The dynamics have changed, but the name of the game is the same.

When the 116th U.S. Open resumed at 7:30 a.m. Friday at soggy Oakmont Country Club, patience was still required to go along with … more patience. Only nine golfers, led by amateur Scottie Scheffler with a 1-under 69, completed 18 holes Thursday after a series of thunderstorms washed out most of the opening day.

And despite the softened conditions from the outset after a good soaking Wednesday night, only six other players stood under par, including PGA Tour rookie Andrew Landry, who finished his round at 4-under-par 66 after making a 10-footer for birdie on the ninth hole, his final of the first round, on Friday morning.

The stop-and-start proceedings did nothing for anyone’s mood, especially when Oakmont was its old, obstinate self. But at least 78 players, half the field, got to play a little golf. Another wave that included world No. 1 Jason Day, 2015 runner-up Dustin Johnson and six-time runner-up Phil Mickelson finally got to hit shots in earnest on Friday morning, as they sought to overcome any effects of the forced day off on their rhythm and focus.

But golfers know how to handle the vicissitudes of weather. And players on the PGA Tour are all too familiar with the challenges that come with delays and suspensions. Eight of the last nine Tour events entering this week had been delayed by weather, and now 19 of 32 events dating to the start of the season last October.

“It’s obviously a frustrating day having to keep coming off, but there’s nothing you can do about weather,” said Lee Westwood, who finished his opening round on Friday morning at 3-under-par 67. “Experience obviously comes into play a lot at majors and U.S. Open, but it does so even more on days like this.”

Westwood said Oakmont’s greens retained most of their famous quickness despite the rainfall, though the last downpour caused some washout in the bunkers that had to be repaired.

From a strategy standpoint, nothing much has changed. Precision will still matter. Intelligent decisions will pay off, even if it’s just to save par. And a short memory helps.

“The course is still playing tough,” said Harris English, a 2011 USA Walker Cup player who finished at even-par 70. “You've still got to hit fairways and greens to have a chance at birdie. So, yeah, the rain made it a little softer and made it a little easier, but it's a real tough golf course.”

“I just kept fighting,” said Bubba Watson, who finished at 1 under par in Round 1. “You don't really think about the mistakes or the bogeys because everybody's going to make bogeys out here. The golf course is that difficult.”

And even with the slight permutations in playability, it’s still Oakmont.

“Nothing really changes [stategy-wise]. Just stick to the same game plan,” said England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick, the 2013 U.S. Amateur champion. “You don't play any more aggressive. It can still bite you if you miss the green or hit a bad shot.”

The game remains the same.

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.