Daily Digest: So Far, Phil is Right About No. 9

The ninth hole at Oakmont, which Phil Mickelson said was the toughest par 4 he's ever seen, played as the hardest hole on Thursday. (USGA/JD Cuban)
The ninth hole at Oakmont, which Phil Mickelson said was the toughest par 4 he's ever seen, played as the hardest hole on Thursday. (USGA/JD Cuban)

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As the early wave of players made their way around Oakmont Country Club in Round 1, they were proving Phil Mickelson’s point of a day earlier. Asked to pick out the toughest hole he has ever played, he immediately cited No. 9 at Oakmont. The uphill, 482-yard par 4 was playing to a 4.64 stroke average on Thursday, by far the toughest hole for the day, with just two birdies and 23 over-par scores.

“I think it’s the hardest par 4 I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Mickelson of the hole that played as a par 5 the first seven times Oakmont hosted the U.S. Open. “There’s no area to miss off the fairway. If you miss it left, you’re in the hazard. If you miss it right, you’re in the bunker, and you’re wedging out. That green is extremely difficult to get a wedge close, and we're coming in there with 3- and 4-irons. When you reach the green, you have one of the most difficult two-putts of any green on any golf course we play.”

Of Oakmont as a whole, Mickelson said, “I think it accomplishes the goal that the members want, which is to have the hardest course in the world or in America, and I think they’ve accomplished that. There’s no reprieve off the tee, there’s no reprieve into the greens, and there’s certainly no reprieve on the greens.”

Reprieve or not, Mickelson is prepared to embrace the challenge, which for him will start at least a few hours late because of two weather delays on Thursday, his 46th birthday. “After 25 years, you have to really know how to play this style of golf. It’s just not like a regular Tour event. This is a whole different style of golf, one that over the years I’ve become very effective at playing.”

Landry Roars Out of the Gate

The U.S. Open is known for producing surprises in the first round. Remember journeyman Andy Dillard registering birdies on his first six holes at Pebble Beach in 1992? How about Justin Hicks sharing the first-round lead in 2008 at Torrey Pines, or Michael Thompson opening with a 66 at The Olympic Club in 2012, the same venue where he was the runner-up in the 2007 U.S. Amateur? Unknown Lee Mackey is probably the ultimate first-round phenom, breaking the U.S. Open scoring record in 1950 at Merion with a 64 before shooting a second-round 81.

Andrew Landry may be a candidate for that list of unheralded players, having opened first-round play on Thursday with five birdies and eight pars to stand at 5 under through 13 holes before rain halted play for the second time. The 28-year-old from Austin, Texas was a three-time All-American at the University of Arkansas, where he produced one victory. He turned pro in 2009 and worked his way to the PGA Tour in 2016 through the 2015 Web.com Tour. He currently is No. 624 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

Landry, who owns one Web.com Tour victory, missed the cut in his first five events of the 2015-16 PGA Tour season, with his best finish in 11 events a tie for 41st last week in the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Tenn. Landry has only three rounds in the 60s on Tour all year. That doesn’t include the 68-67 he shot at Germantown Country Club and Ridgeway Country Club in Memphis on June 6 to qualify for his first U.S. Open.

Now Landry is on track to post one of the lowest first-round U.S. Open scores at Oakmont, which is hosting its ninth U.S. Open. Ben Hogan shot 67 en route to the title in 1953, and Gary Player shot 67 in 1973, the year Johnny Miller fired his final-round 63 to win.

Oakmont is known for producing great champions, including the likes of Hogan, Bob Jones, Jack Nicklaus and Miller. But in 1935, an unheralded local assistant professional, Sam Parks Jr., was the only player in the field to break 300.

Sunny Start, But Rain Looms

After more than an inch of rain fell on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, Round 1 began under sunny skies, and that is expected to continue throughout the morning. Temperatures are expected to climb into the mid-80s and winds are likely to be in the 5-10 mph range with gusts over 10 mph. However, rain is expected to move into the area Thursday afternoon, with a 40 percent chance of rain by early afternoon, increasing to a 60-80 percent chance mid-afternoon, and a virtual certainty of rain between 5 and 8 p.m., with the likelihood of an inch or more of total rainfall. The good news is that the weather is expected to clear out by 2 a.m. Friday and the weekend forecast looks outstanding.

Fallon on the Tee

Bill Fallon, a member of the USGA Executive Committee and a longtime Oakmont member, is serving as the 10th tee starter for Thursday’s first round of the championship. Fallon was the general chairman of the 2003 U.S. Amateur at Oakmont and a group chairman for the 2007 U.S. Open here. The Pittsburgh resident is in his fifth year on the Executive Committee.