News & Opinion

2020 U.S. Open: Justin Thomas has 'fun' at Winged Foot

Justin Thomas early leader 2020 U.S. Open first round
Justin Thomas shoots 5-under 65 at Winged Foot for the early U.S. Open lead on Thursday.

American shoots 5-under 65 and shows that Winged Foot might not be the site of another ‘massacre’ this year

MAMARONECK, N.Y. – U.S. Opens are not supposed to be fun, especially at Winged Foot.

The site of the 1974 “massacre,” which Hale Irwin won with a 7-over score, had all the makings of another week of carnage. Instead, Justin Thomas talked earlier in the week about the "fun" of playing Winged Foot, understanding that it would be anything but easy.

Thomas talked about the thrill of playing for those tough pars and the need to hit solid 4-, 5- and 6-iron approaches into the middle of greens at the 1923 A.W. Tillinghast-designed gem.

“Really, just who can manage everything the best,” is how Thomas simply explained it.

Forty-eight hours, six birdies and one bogey later, Thomas turned out to be the player who managed everything the best, and he clearly had fun in the process (scores).

“It's one of the best rounds I've played in a while, tee to green,” Thomas said after hitting 9 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens. “There are a couple things here and there that definitely could have been better, but I made sure all of my misses were in the right spot, and that's what you have to do at a U.S. Open.”

Thomas, 27, whose 13 PGA Tour victories include one major title, the 2017 PGA Championship, is not in unfamiliar territory.

Thomas shot his lowest opening-round score in 19 major-championship starts, and the 65 was the second-best score in his 17 U.S. Open rounds. It was the lowest score in a U.S. Open at Winged Foot's West Course, which hosted the national championship in 1929 (won by Bobby Jones), 1959 (Billy Casper), 1974 (Irwin), 1984 (Fuzzy Zoeller) and 2006 (Geoff Ogilvy).

“I was in a really good frame of mind, and I was focused,” Thomas said. “I just was sticking to my routine and playing every shot, as opposed to getting ahead of myself. It's one of those rounds where it's just kind of like, next thing you know, you make the putt on 18, you're done for the day.”

Thomas made his move near the turn at Winged Foot, holing three consecutive birdies, on Nos. 9-11, before grabbing the solo lead with a birdie at the par-4 18th.

Relatively soft course conditions contributed to scoring that was unusual for a U.S. Open at Winged Foot.

In 2006, only one player was under par after the first and second rounds: Colin Montgomerie at 1 under after the first round and Steve Stricker at 1 under after the second round. By the end of 72 holes, Geoff Ogilvy had won with a 5-over score.

In 1974, no player was under par after any round, and Irwin won with a 7-over score in what came to be known as the “Massacre at Winged Foot."

This year’s Open looks more like the 1984 edition here. Multiple players were under par after each round, and Fuzzy Zoeller won a playoff against Greg Norman after they had tied at 4 under.

Thomas called his lead “helpful” but added, “it's not even remotely close to being over.”

“As great of a round and fun as it was,” he said, “it's over with now, and I need to get over it because I’ve got 54 more holes to try to play well and shoot some good scores.”

Only once, in 2017, has Thomas recorded consecutive under-par rounds in the U.S. Open. He shot 69-63 in the middle rounds at Erin Hills before he tied for ninth, his only top 10 in the Open.

Now, with his best opening round and his first lead in the national championship, Thomas put himself in position to become a multi-major winner. Winged Foot was at its most vulnerable Thursday, but with no rain in the forecast for the next three days, the course could become firmer and faster for the final 54 holes.

The USGA, for its part, can turn to Winged Foot visionary Tillinghast for inspiration about the setup for the rest of the tournament. When asked before the 1929 Open at Winged Foot, before Bobby Jones won the first of his four U.S. Opens, Tillinghast was asked whether the course would be tricked up.

“We're not going to outfit Miss Winged Foot in any different way than she otherwise would be,” Tillinghast said. “No fancy clothes, no special jewelry, just a simple calico dress, and no furbelows. Just wash her face up for the party, and she'll be good enough.”

Sign up to receive the Morning Read newsletter, along with Where To Golf Next and The Equipment Insider.