SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Ian Poulter made his U.S. Open debut at Shinnecock Hills in 2004 and didn't have much nice to say about his experience there or the tournament.
Returning for 12 straight years, Poulter faced all of the classic U.S. Open struggles: Four missed cuts, including in '04. Just four of his first 42 rounds under par. He has never cracked the top 10. In the last two years, he didn't make it into the field at all.
"I haven't enjoyed very many, to be honest," Poulter said after shooting a 1-under 69 in the opening round on Thursday to take an early lead. "They're difficult. They're hot. They're stressful. Feels like you're pulling teeth every single hole you play. How I've got any left, I don't really know."
The 2008 British Open runner-up, Poulter said he changed his approach to the U.S. Open and came into the week just hoping to enjoy it. He wasn't without his mistakes on Thursday — he had a pair of bogeys to go with three birdies — but he avoided the double and triple bogeys that plagued would-be contenders like Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.
"Every one of the U.S. Opens I've played in the past, I've been disappointed. I've been angry. I've been frustrated," he said. "They're tough. They're always set up difficult. They're supposed to be difficult. But shooting over par is hard to take sometimes. So this week for me ... it's really about trying to just enjoy my golf."
The 2004 U.S. Open is perhaps best remembered for high scores — no one broke par in the final round, when wind and sun left the seventh green so hard that the USGA watered it during the round because players couldn't keep shots from rolling off. Rain on Wednesday this year softened the course a bit, but wind gusts of more than 20 mph dried it right back out.
Poulter wasn't around for the weekend at Shinnecock Hills in 2004, shooting 74-72. Despite his previous struggles at Shinnecock, he thinks the links-style course with its undulating greens and the gusty winds could match well with his playing style.
"I thought the setup was brilliant," he said with a laugh. "It's not often I've ever said that at a U.S. Open."
Poulter sank a 45-foot putt for birdie on the par-4 third hole and then made a curving 20-footer on the par-3 seventh to drop to 2 under. After starting the back nine with a bogey, he missed a hole-in-one on No. 11 when his ball rolled right over the cup; he tapped in to return to 2 under.
On No. 13, he came out of a fairway bunker and rolled off the green into another trap. But he managed to get up and down from there to escape with a bogey.
"I enjoyed everything about the round," he said. "When I look back to 2004, my first U.S. Open, that wasn't a very enjoyable experience. Today was the exact opposite. To post that number today, (I'm) very pleased."