Has the US Open lost its bite?
For a moment during the opening verse at Erin Hills, I thought I’d slipped into a coma and woken up during the PGA Championship.
Seven under leading a US Open? The toughest major?
Rickie Fowler’s classy start broke and equalled all sorts of records. The lowest first round, in relation to par, for 37 years.
At one point 46 players were in red figures.
If you’re scrabbling around the history books to find out when that was last the standard, I’ll tell you. It was 1990 at Medinah, the year Hale Irwin won with a very un-US Open-like eight under.
Compare that with Merion, four short years ago, where only five of the competitors had a minus next to their name at the end of the first day.
So has the US Open lost its bite?
Rain helped soften conditions and definitely put the morning players into attack mode on willing greens.
But Erin Hills was not a drowned Congressional.
It feels like player power is starting to get its way. Has Kevin Na and his candid camera pals inflicted a mortal wound on the USGA?
There’s nothing like the bleating of a few journeymen to get the blood up in mid-June.
Na’s video made him a social media star for a day – and he started with a 68 to make his moan look even more ridiculous – but he again highlighted the divisions between the rank-and-file and the organisers.
The latter like their tournaments to be torture, with par the ultimate barometer. The players wouldn’t mind it looking like every other pit stop they make all year.
Usually, the USGA put their fingers in their ears and start singing. This time, the organisation is on the defensive.
With the greens debacle at Chambers Bay, and the bigger furore of Dustin Johnson’s rules ‘breach’ still fresh in the memory, I reckon CEO Mike Davis would happily trade a year’s salary for this tournament to run controversy free.
And so we’re seeing some curious stuff. Massive fairways. Rough being cut back on several holes. Anyone buy the explanation that was because of the ‘weather’?
Davis will take 20 under as a winning score if he can just get to the end without another barrage of Twitter bile hurled in his direction.
It’ll be a surprise, then, to see a tricked-up course in the second round. With the threat of inclement weather on the horizon, he just can’t take the risk.
Let Mother Nature do the damage for him.
All of which made the desperate assertion, both of pundits and players, that this was business as usual all the more unbelievable.
Paul McGinley warned in whispering tones there was danger everywhere at Erin Hills – just as Brian Harman tried to roll in a putt to go six under.
Fowler insisted only woe awaited anyone who missed the fairways. Yes, Rickie, but, as Rory kindly revealed, if you miss the fairway you’ve hit it into another state.
Jason Day’s calamities on the fourth were presented as de facto evidence of the US Open curse. Not that he just played a poor chip.
The 18th was an absolute giveaway. Let me hammer home that point. A US Open with a hole playing a third of a shot easier than its par. It yielded more than a half century of birdies, as did the second.
If you put it in the infamous fescue, I’ll accept bad things happened. McIlroy and Day can attest to that.
The sixth was also a fiendishly long par 3, with a green almost impossible to hold. It was not the place to pick up a shot.
But the first round at this US Open was not the relentless struggle that we’ve come to know and expect.
The big four struggled because they played badly, not because they were beaten by the course.
Whether it gets progressively more difficult, as the greens get firmer, remains to be seen.
For the moment, though, we could be at the Houston Open for the way the leaderboard looks.