SAN DIEGO – The U.S. Open is billed as the toughest tournament in golf, exacting pain and potential humiliation to anyone in the field. In many cases, just saying the course names out loud elicits a cringe from players, like saying “Voldemort” in Harry Potter’s wizarding world.
“Oakmont, Winged Foot, Oakland Hills.” Shhhh!
Torrey Pines South Course does not instill the same fear, but its length, thick rough and tricky poa annua greens command the respect of every player in the field here at the 121st U.S. Open. After a 90-minute delay due to fog and a marine layer that drifted over the course overnight, there was a healthy mix of both opportunities and ways to card big numbers.
Playing in the afternoon group (which turned into the night shift), Louis Oosthuizen did what he often does in big events: arrive under the radar and work up the leaderboard. He birdied 16, 17 and 18 to close his first nine holes at 3 under par. Then, as the marine layer returned to cover the blue sky, and temperatures dropped, he drained an 11-foot birdie putt on the fifth hole to reach 4 under. After making pars on the following two holes, darkness suspended play. He will return Friday morning to play Nos. 8 and 9 and complete his opening round.
The name beside Oosthuizen’s at the top of the leaderboard is somewhat surprising: Russell Henley. The 32-year-old from Macon, Georgia, has skipped the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open, played here at Torrey Pines, every year since 2014. His 4-under 67 in the morning group is 12 shots better than his last round on the South course seven years ago.
“I shot 79 on the South Course,” Henley said after signing his card on Thursday. “I don’t really remember (much about that round) besides just leaving the course feeling like I just got beat up.”
Henley said that he has been playing well and is happy with his game, but he knows there is a long way to go.
“I’ve played some good golf in some bigger events in the last year,” he pointed out. “But in terms of putting four rounds together at a U.S. Open, I’ve struggled with that. So I’m just going to keep trying.”
Italy’s Francesco Molinari, the winner of the 2018 British Open at Carnoustie, is tied for third with Spain’s Rafa Cabrera-Bello after shooting a 3-under 68.
“I haven’t played recently, so it’s nice to get off to a good start,” Molinari said. “But there’s a long way to go, so like I said, start over tomorrow like nothing happened today.”
Among the players who shot 2-under 69s are Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, Xander Schauffele, Jon Rahm and two-time U.S. Open winner Brooks Koepka.
“I’ve just got a good game plan, focused, I know what I’m doing, and I don’t try to do anything I can’t,” Koepka said. “It’s just all about discipline in a U.S. Open.”
Among the notable players who have work to do in order to make the cut (low 60 and ties) are Viktor Hovland (74), 2020 PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa (75) and 2021 PGA Championship winner Phil Mickelson (75). Jordan Spieth, the 2015 U.S. Open champion, shot 77 and Webb Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open winner, had 79.