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‘All hands on deck’: How The Country Club is messing with players’ minds

BROOKLINE, Mass. — There may be no player at the U.S. Open more confident than Brooks Koepka, by his own admission.

“People hate confidence,” he said after his second round 67. “That’s why people aren’t a big fan of me.”

But even still, there’s one thing that has him rattled this week. It’s not the hefty rough, the slopey greens, or even the awkward tee shots. Rather, it’s the fairways. This week, the short stuff is a little too short, and the prospect of playing from it has been wrecking havoc on Koepka’s iron game.

“It has a little bit of it has to do with the tighter lies in the fairway,” Koepka says. “You see some of these guys fat it from the fairway just because you’ve got to hit it so perfectly. I did it once yesterday, and today I think I was being a little extra cautious to make sure I lean on it.”

Such is the emotional warfare the U.S. Open wages on players. And it was a beautiful, brutal full display on Friday.

Ordinarily, the USGA will quicken the greens on the eve of the tournament to set the tone for the week, but multiple coaches told me that didn’t happen this year. It was a welcome, if unexpected, surprise. Turns out tournament officials were anticipating a bout of rain forecasted for Friday. They got heavy wind instead, and players were left to navigate the guesswork all day.

“Three of my four bogeys were all three-putts, so that kind of sums up the day,” says Matt Fitzpatrick, who spends his non-U.S. Open weeks ranked 22nd on Tour in SG: Putting. He shot an even-par round of 70. “I don’t know what it was. I just couldn’t really see anything going in.”

It’s the kind of mind games that become synonymous with the U.S. Open. Ordinarily on Tour, players rarely have the luxury of not chasing birdies, Seamus Power, who comes into the weekend one over, says. A wayward drive calls for a more-aggressive recovery shot. This week, players are ushered into a humble new reality.

“Here when you miss a green it’s all hands on deck. Even if you’re only 30 feet off the green, it’s hard accepting the best you can do is a 30-foot par putt,” Power says. “Because if you don’t, you could end up with a double bogey or worse.”

Sam Burns, whose three-under 67 was one of the low rounds of the day, agrees.

“If I hit it in a certain spot, I know there’s going to be a lot of bogeys made on this hole,” he says. “I may just lay it up in the fairway and be happy to give myself a look for par.”

It’s not often that players find themselves having to fight their instincts. But that was the task at The Country Club on Friday. High rough, tight fairways, firm greens and whipping wind, all around a course so Americana it’s not just synonymous with the U.S. Open, but one that embodies its very essence.

For a golf fan, it was a delight to watch. The kind of day that will that will live long in the memory. It may well for pros, too. Although when it does, it’ll be for different reasons.

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