SHINNECOCK HILLS, N.Y. — Nasty, brutish and long. That's how Shinnecock Hills played Thursday morning, and Thursday midday, and even Thursday evening, as golf's biggest stars made big numbers into the night during the opening round of the national championship.
It's time-honored tradition for pars to be good scores at U.S. Open venues. Shinny took that a step further. "The holes I got out of position, I was able to make bogeys," said Charley Hoffman after opening with a top-notch one-over 71. "That's really all you can ask for."
A lot of players would have gladly bartered for bogeys. Jordan Spieth would have gladly taken a bogey when he made triple on the short par-3 11th, his second hole of the day. Tiger Woods would have been fine with a bogey at his first hole, where he chipped and putted and putted again — and all that just to get on the green en route to a triple of his own. Scott Stallings would have gladly taken bogey at No. 14, where he hit the green in three shots and didn't leave until he'd made 9.
And then there was poor Scott Gregory, who would have taken all bogeys to shoot 88 rather than his unfortunate opening-round 92. On Thursday, there were a lot of ways to do a lot worse than bogey.
Charles Howell, who also fought his way to a 71, was effusive in his praise for the setup, though he acknowledged just how punishing it was. "Well, it takes every mistake you make, and it just makes it all worse," he said.
"I'm happy it's over," said Justin Rose.
Patrick Reed came off the course frustrated after his morning 73. "Even though it's really windy out there, someone gets going, someone's putter gets hot, they're going to go out and shoot a number," he said. Nobody shot a number. How could you? When it was all said and done, Reed's 73 had him inside the top 20. There were 29 scores of 80 or worse and not a single round better than 69.
I mean, listen to Scott Piercy. He's winning the tournament but even he is just a day removed from Shinnecock nearly driving him to madness.
"I was skanking it," he said of Wednesday's practice round. "And I lost like five balls in the first four holes. I'm like, I'm outta here." It didn't exactly sound like Thursday was a picnic, either. "When you get on the green, you're trying to putt with the ball wiggling, and there's a lot of stuff that is difficult. So there's a lot. It's not just, 'oh, yeah, it's tough out there.' There's every aspect." Again, that's the guy in the lead.
"Where they put some of these pins, just can't get to them," Woods said after his round. "So it was pretty evident nobody was making any birdies in the morning. Lots and lots of bogeys and others. And so my game plan was not to make any others, and I made three of them. So I didn't do very well there."
But it was notable, despite the pain, just how complimentary players were about the setup. There was an overarching sense of relief that as bad as things got, they didn't get worse as the greens dried out and the wind whipped across, particularly in contrast to the last time this event visited Shinny. "I think a lot of credit goes to the USGA and Mike Davis for what they've done today," Howell said. "I was here in '04, my last competitive round here. I've still got some scar tissue from that. But they did a heck of a job today."
Still, it was hardly unanimous. Defending champion Brooks Koepka stopped short of criticism but called the pins "brutal." "You've got a left pin hanging on a slope with left-to-right wind blowing 25," he said. "So it is very difficult to even have a decent look and, you know, with these greens having a little poa, they're not the smoothest either."
A terse Jordan Spieth went a step further. "There were certainly some dicey pins," he said. "But at the same time there was guys that shot under par." Tyrrell Hatton called three of the pins "stupid" in a tweet.
Wow that was a tough morning!! Couple of bad shots but overall happy with how I played.— Tyrrell Hatton (@TyrrellHatton) June 14, 2018
Was so tough out there without the need for a few stupid pins!! 3, 11 & 12 are good examples
Afternoon groups will enjoy those #USOpen
Paul Casey struggled with what he saw as variable green speed. "In all honesty the greens — and the USGA is trying to be careful — are inconsistent with the speed. Seven is much slower, notably slower than the other greens, as an example," he told GOLF.com.
Many days on Tour, it feels like there are plenty of birdies and low numbers to go around. Thursday at Shinnecock was much more Lord of the Flies. "It's all about saving yourself," Howell concluded.