News & Opinion

Was Winged Foot too easy? Hey, it’s only 1 round

1st-round leaderboard 2020 U.S. Open
Red reigns on opening day at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot as Harris English finds that he has company near the top of the leaderboard. English finished at 2 under, 3 strokes behind the 65 shot by leader Justin Thomas, as 21 players broke par in the 1st round.

John Hawkins and Mike Purkey debate the unthinkable regarding Winged Foot, whether it was a pushover for the U.S. Open, but agree on this point: That’s not our grandfathers’ Winged Foot

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Longtime golf journalists John Hawkins and Mike Purkey, who co-host the weekly Hawk & Purk podcast on MorningRead.com, also discuss and debate the game’s hottest issues in this weekly commentary.

Was Winged Foot too easy in the first round of the U.S. Open?

Hawk’s take: Winged Foot? Too easy? The next thing you know, somebody will invent a transportable telephone that doubles as a camera, provides access to the Internet and turns 17-year-olds into zombies. Seriously, this was just one day (scores). Absolutely benign weather conditions contributed to all those low scores, and though a lead of 5 under after 18 holes isn’t exactly USGA-like, there’s still a good chance that Sunday’s winner will check in with a total closer to even par.

You certainly can’t judge a golf tournament simply by what happened on a Thursday. The most surprising element to this opening lap was the receptiveness of the greens, even on shots from what some might consider to be debilitating rough. It was unusual to see a slow-pitch softball game break out at our national championship, but there have been numerous instances in recent U.S. Open history when scoring opportunities were plentiful at the start, then dried up as the week progressed.

Three under led after the first round at Pinehurst in 1999; Payne Stewart needed that 15-footer at the last to become the only man to finish below par. Tiger Woods had sole possession of the 18-hole lead at 3 under in 2002; he played the final three rounds at even and won by three. It won’t take much to toughen up this baby, not at Winged Foot, where a half-dozen diabolical pin positions can turn a 68 into a 75 really fast. And we all know that the USGA loves those 75s.

Purk’s take: You’ll never confuse Winged Foot with TPC Boston, which gave up 30 under to Dustin Johnson four weeks ago. But for Thursday, at least, it was far from being as brutish as advertised. In fact, when taken in context for the first round of a U.S. Open, it was practically a cupcake.

More under-par rounds were posted on Thursday (21) than there were for the entire 2006 U.S. Open (12). The assault was led by Justin Thomas’ 65, which was the lowest first-round score in any of the six Opens conducted at Winged Foot.

The reasons: accessible pin placements and greens that were more receptive and not up to Open speeds. You’d think that approach shots from the rough would go bounding over greens. Not often. Trying to get up and down from the tall stuff would be impossible. Far from the case. Breaking, sloping putts would at times get away from the players. Seldom. Wedge shots from the fairway stopped quickly, and some even spun back.

That’s not how a U.S. Open should play, especially at Winged Foot. With 2½ hours' less sunlight in September than June, officials wanted to make sure that the entire reduced field of 144 finished before dark. That’s understandable.

Regardless, expect "Revenge of the USGA" for the next three days, and by Sunday, Winged Foot should grow back its teeth. But on Thursday, the Foot didn’t kick nearly enough keisters.

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