Lee Thrilled With Scrambling Round of 69
By Bill Fields
OAKMONT, Pa. – After three weather suspensions, more than 24 hours and too many missed fairways, Danny Lee, of New Zealand, had no complaints after finally finishing his first round in the 116th U.S. Open Friday morning at Oakmont Country Club.
Lee, 25, the 2008 U.S. Amateur champion, bogeyed one of the five holes he had to complete on a cloudy morning, but still shot a 1-under-par 69 to put himself in very solid shape after an unusual 18 holes.
“I’m happy with 1 under,” Lee said. “I thought the course would play a lot tougher than this. The rain kind of helped us. You could actually hit it close to the hole and not worry about it releasing. That was a big help.”
In a grouping with fellow U.S. Amateur champions Byeong Hun An (Southern Hills, 2009) and Matthew Fitzpatrick (The Country Club, 2013), Lee struggled off the tee, hitting only seven of 14 fairways.
“It was actually good that I was hitting it so bad,” Lee said. “My ball was going where people are walking and the grass is all flattened down. I don’t think it’s my swing. It’s more the type of shots out there. I’m a draw-ball hitter and I think a fade hitter has a lot of advantage on this golf course.”
Despite his inconsistency off the tee, Lee made 15 pars, offsetting a bogey on No. 16 with birdies at No. 4, where he sank a curling 30-footer, and No. 6, where he chipped in from behind the green. “I wasn’t actually trying to make it from there,” Lee said, “I was trying to hit a good chip, which I did, and it hit the flag and went in.”
Lee turned pro in 2009, a year after the Republic of Korea-born golfer defeated Drew Kittleson, 5 and 4, at Pinehurst No. 2 to become the youngest winner of the U.S. Amateur at 18 years, 1 month. (An bettered the mark when he won a year later.) Lee had his best season on the PGA Tour in 2015, winning the Greenbrier Classic in a playoff.
“Winning definitely gave me a confidence boost that I can win out here,” Lee said.
This is only Lee’s second U.S. Open and sixth major championship, but he is coming off his best performance, a tie for 17th in the Masters. That week would have been a lot better if not for a third-round 79. “Even at the Masters, I was so close. I just had a rough, rough day on Saturday.”
After finishing his first round early on Friday, Lee will now have to bide his time until Saturday to begin Round 2.
If Lee’s delayed second round is as good as his first, he’ll take it. It has been a year, after all, of lots of weather interruptions on the PGA Tour. But he knows that despite the softer conditions that the weather has caused, a wet Oakmont can still be a worrisome Oakmont.
“I think it’s still brutal out there. I see some high numbers on the board,” Lee said. “I think if you play four rounds, you’re going to have one brutal round.”
Lee’s number was one of the low ones, and he’d like to keep that going, when he finally gets going again.
Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer who contributes frequently to USGA websites.