Erin, WiS. – Kevin Na complained about the fescue that surrounds the fairways at Erin Hills, then avoided it.
Rory McIlroy told players who couldn’t avoid the fescue that they might as well pack their bags, then spent the afternoon flailing in it.
With low scores and high scores that proved stunning Thursday, Erin Hills provided an unusual test in its first round of major championship play.
The course severely punished the wayward. Unlike most U.S. Open setups, it didn’t severely test straight hitters with impossible greens or greenside rough.
Rickie Fowler shot a 65 to take a one-stroke lead after the first round. He didn’t make a bogey. Paul Casey shot a 66 despite making two. Jason Day, who won his only major in Wisconsin in the 2015 PGA at Whistling Straits, made two triple bogeys. Xander Schauffele, ranked 352nd in the world, shot a bogey-free 66.
“Not sure I’ve ever played a U.S. Open where I had that much enjoyment,” Casey said.
Of the top 10 players in the World Golf Rankings, Fowler was 7-under and the other nine were plus-24.
At one point, there were five amateurs under par and only one player in the world’s top 10 under par. Sergio Garcia eventually finished 2-under to join Fowler.
And Adam Hadwin made six consecutive birdies to tie a U.S. Open record.
The USGA is known for protecting par and sometimes punishing even quality shots. With Erin Hills soft because of recent rain and boasting wide fairways, those who hit it straight off the tee found scoring opportunities.
“This morning, the breeze was the perfect amount,” said Tommy Fleetwood, who shot a 67. “It wasn’t strong enough to have any effect. And the course was as receptive as it’s going to be.”
The low scores produced by the leaders led to a strange sentiment from those chasing: They want the course to play tougher over the weekend, so Fowler can’t run away.
“It would be interesting if it played firm and fast,” Dustin Johnson said after shooting a 75. “Right now it’s really soft. The greens are soft, so you can get to the green with any club. I think if it got firm, it would definitely play difficult.”
Jordan Spieth hopes so. A player whose game is supposed to be perfect for a typical U.S. Open, he shot a 73 on Thursday.
“Neither one of us could make a putt,” he said of himself and Johnson. “DJ and I will be on the practice green. We might have a pillow fight putting contest, just to see if we can spark anything.”