By Adam Schupak, in Southampton NY
Graeme McDowell turned on the TV in his rental home on Thursday morning and watched the marquee group of Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy play a handful of holes at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club while he ate his oatmeal. It wasn’t pretty. They shot a combined 25 over led by McIlroy, who was one of 29 golfers to shoot 80 or higher in the opening round of the 118th U.S. Open.
“I don’t think it was good for my morale for the day,” McDowell said. “I was thinking, ‘Boy, I’ve got to go do this in a couple of hours.’ “
Rory McIlroy. Picture: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
It only got worse when McDowell showed up at the course and ran into Pat Perez. When McDowell asked him how he was doing, Perez said, “Pretty good considering I’m about to get punched in the face.”
It left McDowell contemplating which is better: to be punched in the face by surprise or prepared for the blow?
“I think prepared because at least you can brace yourself and adjust your mentality and know it is going to be brutal out there,” he said.
Whether they knew what was about to hit them or not, the field of 156 took a beating in Round One at Shinnecock, and some of them, including McIlroy look like they may be down for the count. On a sun-splashed breezy day that tested the patience of players, only four golfers managed to break par and the average score was nearly 76.5. Americans Scott Piercy, Russell Henley, Dustin Johnson and Englishman Ian Poulter shared the lead after touring the windswept course in 1-under 69.
Poulter compared playing in the U.S. Open to having a tooth pulled on every single hole he plays.
“How I’ve got any left, I don’t really know,” he said.
Despite being prepared for the carnage, McDowell made double on his first hole right out of the gate, and it was a struggle from there.
“What would I give for 75 right now? I’d have taken it after six holes,” he said. “The only thing you can say to yourself is the cut is going to be double-digits so keep grinding out there.”
McDowell’s round can best be summed up by the bad break he endured at the second hole, his 11th of the day, when he short-sided himself in the bunker and his shot struck the flag and ricocheted back at him and into the sand. That was a punch McDowell wasn’t expecting, and it left him laughing at his misfortune.
“If you don’t laugh, you’re going to cry,” he said.
McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion, limped home in 9-over 79. That still was one better than McIlroy, who shot his highest score in 29 Open rounds. He declined to speak to the media afterward, stopping only to chat with Irishman Shane Lowry, who was warming up for his round before shooting 75. When one enterprising reporter approached McIlroy in the player’s locker room and asked for a word, McIlroy snapped: “What do you want me to say? I shot 80. I’m disappointed.”
Ian Poulter. Picture: AP Photo/Seth Wenig
McIlroy made as many double bogeys — 3 in his first 10 holes — as birdies. It took five spotters to locate his tee shot in the right rough on the 14th hole. He didn’t need help finding the next one. He chopped at it with a sand wedge and advanced the ball six feet. Double bogey. Later, at the 16th, his third shot hit the lip of the bunker, and his round continued to unravel from there. McIlroy had no answers for the puzzle that is Shinnecock.
“It’s hard to believe he could be 10 over after 11 holes on any golf course,” Fox TV analyst Paul Azinger said. “But if there’s one course where it could happen, this is it.”
But McIlroy wasn’t alone. Englishman Scott Gregory suffered through the most misery, shooting 92, the first round shot in the 90s at an Open since Felix Casas in 2002.
“Everyone has bad days,” Gregory said. “I qualified last week so I can’t be that bad.”
One of the players who punched back to some effect was U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Matt Parziale, who flamed out in the pro ranks and became a fireman in Brockton, Mass. He shot 74 and beat the likes of Tiger Woods, who made a triple bogey from the first fairway, and Spieth, who made a 1-putt triple at 11, to each shoot 78. Parziale also beat Phil Mickelson, who hit 13 of 14 fairways, but still posted 77 and Jason Day, whose chances of a second major were left blowing in the wind after 79.
When told that a firefighter had beaten him on Thursday, McDowell smiled and said, “That’s awesome. He can do my job, but I can’t do his.”