U.S. Open notes: Gregory faces music; Phil, Rory do not
Southampton, N.Y. — Twenty-three year-old Scott Gregory shot 22 over par — dead last in the opening round of the U.S. Open — and then cheerfully answered every question from a group of reporters wanting to know what went wrong.
(Spoiler alert: everything.)
Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, who have won a dozen majors among them, dodged the media after finishing a combined 25 over for the day.
“I’ve shot quite a big number today,” Gregory said Thursday. “Everyone has bad days. Look at Tiger, Rory and all of them.”
Mickelson finished the day at 7 over as he tries to win the only major in the Grand Slam that has eluded him. McIlroy shot 10 over. Spieth was 8 over and then gave a statement to the USGA that was distributed to reporters.
“There were certainly some dicey pins,” he said. “But at the same time, there was guys that shot under par. So I could have played better.”
Gregory finished the day five strokes behind the second-to-last golfer, Michael Hebert. The 92 was the highest score at the U.S. Open since Felix Casas shot 92 at Bethpage Black in 2002 but short of J.D. Tucker’s 107 at the Myopia Hunt Club in 1898.
The 2016 British Amateur winner guessed that he hasn’t shot in the 90s since he was 15 years old.
“It’s been a long time,” he said. “It’s not the week I wanted to revisit it.”
But he insisted that he will remember the week more for getting a picture with Woods, who finished later at 8 over, than his first-round score.
“I’ll forget about that pretty quickly,” Gregory said. “I’ve been waiting for that picture for 15 years. So it’s quite a big deal.”
Mickey DeMorat got off to a good start in his professional career.
DeMorat, who qualified for the U.S. Open after finishing his senior season at Liberty University, shot a 2-over 72 on a day many longtime pros struggled at Shinnecock Hills.
The score would have been even better had DeMorat not hit the wrong ball out of the deep fescue on No. 14.
“I had to take a two-shot penalty,” DeMorat said. “But I was able to rebound after that with a couple of birdies, got a couple nice putts to drop for me.”
DeMorat’s previous big tournament was the 2016 U.S. Amateur, where he missed the cut. He said his goal is to make the weekend in his first pro event.
“It’s just great to be able to compete out here against these guys,” he said. “Just walking the same fairways as Rory and Jordan Spieth and Tiger is pretty cool. I’m just trying to enjoy the experience.”
Taking a mulligan
Russell Henley seemed to have his shot-making under control while shooting a 1-under 69 to share the lead.
Now he needs to make sure he keeps his mental game sharp for three more rounds.
“You have to be in control of your emotions,” said Henley, who shared the lead with Dustin Johnson, Scott Piercy and Ian Poulter. “Emotionally, you have to be in control and really believe in what you’re doing out there.”
He didn’t do such a good job of that last year, when he was tied for seventh, four strokes behind the leaders, heading into the final round at Erin Hills. He was even par through 11 holes on Sunday before posting two bogeys, a double and a quadruple in the next four holes.
He shot 79 and dropped to 27th.
“I just lost it mentally,” said Henley, who tied for low amateur at the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. “I got emotional and just started just trying to hit stupid shots. It just takes one or two bad decisions to make it compile on top of each other, especially on a course like this.”
Former PGA champion Rich Beem isn’t in the field, but he helped out Dustin Johnson by stepping on his ball in the deep Shinnecock rough next to the sixth fairway.
About 30 people — TV crews, volunteers and even Tiger Woods — spent several minutes helping Johnson look for the ball. Beem, who is working for Sky Sports, eventually stepped on it.
If it had been Johnson or his caddie, that would have been a one-shot penalty. Because it was someone else, Johnson was entitled to drop it without penalty. (If he didn’t find it at all, he would have had to return to the tee to play his third shot.)
Johnson chose to hack out to the fairway instead of trying to carry the water and made a 5 for bogey.
Tiger Woods benefited from a rule that doesn’t penalize a player when his ball moves on the putting green accidentally, such as from the wind.
Woods set the putter down behind his ball on the 10th green and then backed away when he noticed the movement. He called over a rules official, who allowed him to replace the ball without penalty; he made the putt for par.
Under the rules before 2017, even incidental movement not caused by a player would have been a one-stroke penalty.
Every golfer made it to the course in time on Day 1 despite traffic that had players worried someone would miss his tee time.
With the 15-mile trip from the official players’ hotel to Shinnecock Hills taking two to three hours during the practice rounds, the USGA warned players to leave extra early for the course. A golfer who is late for his tee time is disqualified, and traffic is no excuse.
There was an accident that brought the roads just west of the course to a halt early in the afternoon — too late to affect the players but a problem for late-arriving fans. The USGA said both lanes were blocked and advised media to skip the 2 p.m. shuttle.
Scott Piercy was in the first group to finish, sending him to the clubhouse as the leader with a 1-under 69 that held up for the rest of the round.
He has social media to thank for that.
Piercy lost five balls in four holes before cutting his practice round short on Wednesday. Then he went back to his room and studied some pictures he had posted on Instagram to see what was wrong with his swing.
“You’ve got to ride the wave, figure out when you’re at the bottom of the wave how to get back to the top,” he said. “Last night was a big regroup for me.”