US Open 2016: Weather Wreaks Havoc as Day 1 Marred by Delays

June 16, 2016
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Update: After more heavy rainfall overnight, the players returned to the course at 7:30 a.m. Andrew Landry buried the 10-foot putt that awaited him on the 9th green to sign for a four-under 66, the lowest first-round score ever carded in an Oakmont Open. He leads by one over Lee Westwood. Round two will begin at 2:30 p.m., but the afternoon wave, which includes Landry, won’t go off until Saturday morning at 7:30.  

OAKMONT, Pa. — As if Oakmont Country Club’s canted fairways, gnarly rough and treacherous greens weren’t daunting enough, the first round of the 116th U.S. Open threw another haymaker at the field: a maddening series of weather delays.

Intermittent waves of rain, thunder and lightning suspended play on three separate occasions, wreaking havoc on the day’s proceedings. When the horn blew for the third and what proved to be final time, at 3:51 p.m. local time, just nine players had completed their rounds and 78 had yet to even tee off, setting up a marathon session that will kick off tomorrow morning at 7:30. (Phil Mickelson, who turned 46 Thursday, is among the players who could face a grueling 36-hole Friday.)

Your early leader, at three under par: Andrew Landry, a former three-time All-American at Arkansas, who went off at 6:56 a.m. and managed to finish all but one hole. His formula? Simple. “I hit the ball really well today and just made a bunch of putts,” he said.

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Landry played his first nine (the back nine) in a tidy 33, then opened his second nine on a tear, birdieing the 2nd, 3rd and 4th holes to get to five under par — a run that had some giddy media members broaching the prospect of a barely-has-a-Wikipedia-page 28-year-old trumping the fabled 63 Johnny Miller carded at Oakmont in the final round of the ’73 Open. Alas, it was not to be. Landry gave two back strokes back with bogeys on 7 and 8 before more rain and lightning pulled the contestants off the course for the final time.

Landry is one shot clear of two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson and the eccentric New Zealander Danny Lee. Among a quartet of players deadlocked at one under are Lee Westwood, the grizzled Brit who has five top-10 finishes in his 16 U.S Open appearances, and Scottie Scheffler, a 19-year-old rising junior from the University of Texas who signed for a 69.

Fifteen players are at even par or better, evidence that the rain that has saturated Oakmont since Wednesday night has defanged the normally fearsome layout. The course was supposed to leave players squealing for their mommies; on Thursday it had some players woofing, “Who’s your daddy?!” Well, metaphorically speaking.

In one seven-hole stretch, Watson reeled off five birdies. On the par-5 14th, Westwood holed out for eagle from 114 yards. During a break in the action, a remarkably calm Landry told Shane Bacon of Fox Sports that the course was playing “way easier than it has been over the past couple of days.” (That thud you just heard was diabolical Oakmont founder H.C. Fownes rolling over in his grave.)

“Easier” doesn’t mean “easy,” of course, especially on a day that featured more horns than a symphony orchestra. The frequent stoppages prevented some players, including Rickie Fowler (six over through 12), from finding any kind of rhythm. Others were frustrated. After lengthy weather delays, players are customarily afforded time to loosen up. But after the first stoppage, which lasted 1 hour and 20 minutes, USGA officials decided against giving the players range time, because of the ominous forecast for the rest of the day. 

“That was a bad one,” said Danny Willett, who echoed the complaints of several other players. “We sat in a cabin for an hour and 10 minutes behind the seventh tee without being given a chance to hit any balls or do anything. You’re in a U.S. Open, they don’t give you a chance to even hit a few balls.

“Even the second time out, 1:47, and we were told to go back out again at 2:10, never hitting any balls. You can appreciate they’re trying to get as many holes in as possible, but sometimes you just have to call it a day and come back.”

World No. 2 Jordan Spieth, the defending champion, was among the players who appeared visibly rattled by all the stopping and starting.

Speith was even par for his round when he arrived at the driveable par-4 17th, his eighth hole. He elected to hit an iron off the tee, leaving himself about 120 yards to a front-right pin. His ensuing wedge shot landed 10 or 12 feet past the stick, from where it spun back to the hole … then past the hole … then off the green onto a grassy downslope. Spieth flung his wedge in disgust.

But he wasn’t done yet. While walking to the green with his caddie Michael Greller, Spieth groused about hearing thunder while he was over his approach shot. Moments later, the horn blew for the second time.

Gaaaawd,” howled Spieth’s playing partner, Zach Johnson.

Spieth vented in another way, drawing back his right foot and delivering a firm kick to his golf bag. When he retuned from that delay, Spieth saved par at 17, made two more pars at 18 and 1, but then bogeyed the 2nd to drop back to one over. He’ll resume play tomorrow morning on the par-4 3rd.

Rory McIlroy also struggled, bogeying two of his first three holes before turning with a two-over 37. The world No. 3 added two more bogeys at 12 and 13, leaving him a four over through 13 holes. Jason Day, the Vegas favorite this week, could have stayed in his peejays or spent the day at the movies. He was among the late wave of players who didn’t put a single peg in the ground.

You might have had Day in your office pool, but it’s unlikely you picked Landry. Sure, he once hung up a 58 on his now-defunct home course (a nine-holer in Texas affectionately known as “Pea Patch”), but his professional career has been largely undistinguished. Landry did pick up a title in Colombia last year but in his first nine starts on the PGA Tour in the 2015-16 season he made just three cuts. He punched his ticket to Oakmont by finishing fourth at the sectional qualifier in Memphis.

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The Open has a long history of relative unknowns leading after the first day (here’s looking at you, Michael Thompson, 2012; Justin Hicks and Kevin Streelman, 2008; and Nick Dougherty, 2007), and none of those players has gone on to win. If Landry is going to add his name to the glittery list of champions crowned at Oakmont, he still has yeoman’s work to do on a course that will most certainly dry out this weekend and bare all of its jagged teeth.

Players found all kinds of ways to fill their time during one of the most exasperating Open days in recent memory. Westwood, Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer ducked into media dining with their caddies to catch the England-Wales match on the telly. (Perhaps the outcome buoyed Westy — England 2, Wales 1.) Billy Horschel colored in the locker room. Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas and Bryson DeChambeau posed with the Stanley Cup, which members of the newly minted Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins had taken for a victory lap around Oakmont. Some of the Pens passed the time on a practice green banging putts and slugging cans of Stella Artois.

More rain could fall overnight, but the forecast for Friday (and beyond) looks much brighter, with sunny skies and temperatures in the low 80s. Said Spieth, “Hopefully, we’ll get some good conditions in the morning, and those other guys [will] have to play 36 holes in a row at a U.S. Open, which isn’t easy.”

Um, it’s not, no. But Opens aren’t supposed to be easy, especially not on this course.

Get your sleep, gentlemen. You’re going to need it.