On Day 2 at Winged Foot, the U.S. Open started to feel a lot more like a U.S. Open
MAMARONECK, N.Y. — The tournament began Thursday morning at 6:50 a.m. The 120th playing of the National Championship (as Arnold liked to call it) began Friday afternoon at 2:15.
That’s when the front moved in. Dry air out of the north, wind blowing 15 miles an hour and gusting north of that. Nary a cloud. Greens getting crispy. Level par for 72 holes starting to look better and better. Maybe not a winning score, but pretty darn close.
By 3 p.m. Friday, if you were in, you were happy. You know what they say on the PGA Tour: happiness is being Matthew Wolff, in at even through two rounds. Happiness is being Xander Schauffele, ditto. Happiness is being Bubba Watson, in at one over. Jon Rahm, ditto.
You remember Thursday. We all know Thursday. Thursday was when Justin Thomas shot 65, five under par on this West Course at the Winged Foot Golf Club. Sixty-five. Now that’s not very U.S. Openish, is it?
There were no second-round 65s, of course. There will be no weekend 65s. With the original 144-golfer field basically cut in half, having enough daylight to get the players around is no longer an issue. That means you can tuck the pins. On this course, pin position — hole location if you must — is everything. If you can’t get a ball near a hole, and you can’t reach the two par-5s in two, you can’t make birdies. You know what that leaves? Pars and bogeys and others.
Hello, 280! How you been?
What Tiger has been telling people about this course, that it’s Augusta National with rough and trees, gets the idea across. He shot 40 for his third nine.
If you drill deep, yes, that summary doesn’t exactly hold up. The terror of Augusta National is all that water, coupled with the greens, and topped off by all that history. There are no real water hazards at Winged Foot, even if Tony Finau did manage to find one (a creek) on Friday. But just about every Winged Foot green slopes as wildly as the 1st and the 9th at Augusta National, holes on which anytime you two-putt you’re doing well.
At Winged Foot, come this weekend, almost anytime you two-putt you’ll be doing well. That includes the many times players will miss greens with their approach shots, pitch to 15 feet and need two putts for a bogey.
Welcome to the U.S. Open.
On Saturday and Sunday, the temperatures will be in the high 50s and low 60s, with air so dry those greens will be crispier than Bubba’s Sunday morning bacon. Old-timey Northeastern greens in early fall do not retain any moisture. Not when the wind is out of the north and northeast at 10 to 15 miles an hour all day long.
Nobody would confuse Winged Foot for a links course, but it is only a couple miles from the Long Island Sound and in many places it plays like a links course, with open gates at the front door of the greens, allowing for running shots that are made more challenging by the inclines on your way to them.
Good courses are subtle artworks. That’s why the U.S. Open has been to Winged Foot and Shinnecock Hills and Merion so often. Will it ever go back to Erin Hills? Survey says: We shall see!
If you like watching putting carnage, this event is on TV all weekend long. The pace of play will s-l-l-l-o-w. That’s good for Bryson DeChambeau and nobody else in the top-10.
At 3 o’clock on Friday, 45 minutes after this championship began, Rory McIlroy, your 2011 winner, went full Charlie Brown while playing the 5th hole. The shot went one way. His cap went another.
By 4 p.m., Jimmy Johnson, Justin Thomas’ caddie, was reading wind, finally, by tossing tiny pieces of bent grass into the air.
By 5 p.m., there were swatches of brown and khaki on these beautiful country-club greens, courtesy of the wind and the sun.
By 6 p.m., a large electronic leaderboard in the press tent showed the top-10 players, 11 players in total. All but two of them were either done or long done.
Like the bumper-sticker says: Happiness is being in the clubhouse by tea time.
By 7 p.m., the sun was setting the weekend was nigh and the board had six players under par.
Three takeaways for your weekend forecast:
*On Saturday, playing late will be a bear. The 54-hole leaderboard will look significantly different from the 36-hole leaderboard.
*The USGA, taking its cues from the Winged Foot superintendent, Steve Rabideau, will have nothing to apologize for, even if the player grumbling finally starts to percolate.
*The down-the-stretch contenders, come late on Sunday, will feature as many non-American players as American players. This weekend at Winged Foot is the closest thing this golf year will have to a men’s British Open. To win, you’re going to have to be able to hit it low, on the face, and figure out what the ball will do once it makes landfall.
Enter Louis Oosthuizen.
Yep, King Louie. One over through 36. Looking good, Louis.
Michael Bamberger may be reached at Michael_Bamberger@Golf.com