Originally Published: June 15, 2017 10:15 p.m.
ERIN, Wis. — Erin Hills played like a pushover for a U.S. Open.
Check out the score of Rickie Fowler, who matched the U.S. Open scoring record to par for the opening round with a 7-under 65. Right behind him were 43 other players who broke par, breaking a championship record that had stood for 27 years. Adam Hadwin tied a U.S. Open record with six straight birdies.
Erin Hills also played like a beast.
Look no further than Rory McIlroy, the No. 2 player in the world, who didn’t hit a fairway after the 10th hole, shot 42 on the back nine and posted a 78, his worst score in 27 rounds at the U.S. Open. Jason Day made two triple bogeys and closed with a birdie to avoid the indignity of shooting 80. He still had his worst score in a U.S. Open.
There were as many amateurs who broke par as players in the top 10 in the world — two each.
On a wild day of highs and lows — and even a commercial blimp that crashed and caught fire outside the golf course during the round — Fowler emerged with a one-shot lead over Paul Casey and U.S. Open rookie Xander Schauffele in a most peculiar debut for the 11-year-old golf course.
“Definitely not U.S. Open-like,” Marc Leishman said.
Defending champion Dustin Johnson made only one birdie in his round of 75. Taking the long walk to sign his card, he looked back at the rain-softened course and mild breeze and said wistfully, “You won’t get a better day for scoring.”
No one took advantage like Fowler.
Fowler, who shared the 36-hole lead at the Masters in April, never came seriously close to bogey because he was never in trouble. He kept it in the short grass, the secret to Erin Hills that wouldn’t appear to be that difficult with some of the widest fairways for this major.
“You don’t get many rounds at the U.S. Open that are stress-free,” Fowler said.
Fowler’s seven birdies were from no more than 12 feet, including three in a row around the turn. His 7-under par tied the record to par for the first round of a U.S. Open held by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf, who each shot 7-under 63 at Baltusrol in 1980. He also joined McIlroy (2011 at Congressional) and Tiger Woods (2000 at Pebble Beach) as the only players to shoot 66 or better in the opening round without a bogey.
“It is always cool to be part of some sort of history in golf,” Fowler said. “But I’d rather be remembered for something that’s done on Sunday.”
The 44 sub-par rounds broke the first-round mark of 39 at Medinah in 1990.
Day fell back when it took him three chips from behind the green at No. 4 to get it on the putting surface, leading to the first of his two triple bogeys.
“I just played bad golf, man,” Day said.
McIlroy joked earlier in the week that anyone who couldn’t hit such wide fairways “might as well pack your bags and go home.” He spent all day in the knee-high fescue.
“You cannot play this golf course if you’re not in position off the tee, and I wasn’t in position,” McIlroy said. “Obviously, I paid the price for it today.”
Casey started eagle-birdie and finished with two birdies over the final four holes for his 66.
“I was just trying to have half as good a round as Rickie had,” said Casey, who played in the afternoon. “The scoring was so good this morning. I was happy it stayed benign for us, and I capitalized on it.”
Schauffele had a chance to tie Fowler for the lead until his 12-foot birdie putt on the par-3 ninth slid by on the right.
The opening round was without Phil Mickelson for the first time since 1993. He was in California for his daughter’s high school graduation, hopeful for enough of a weather delay to jet across the country to Wisconsin. But as the sun rose over Erin Hills, and the forecast was for no rain, Mickelson withdrew.
More startling than the low scores was smoke rising from about a half-mile away when a commercial blimp, not affiliated with the tournament, crashed into a field and burst into flames. The pilot, the only one aboard the blimp operated by Florida-based AirSign, was being treated for injuries.
“I was teeing off and I looked up and saw it on fire, and I felt sick to my stomach,” Jamie Lovemark said.
On the golf course, there was only a barrage of birdies.
Hadwin made his six straight birdies from No. 18 through No. 5. The Canadian was 100 feet away for birdie on No. 6 and burned the edge of the cup on that one, except that it ran by some 7 feet and he three-putted for bogey.
“You don’t often see that in a U.S. Open,” Hadwin said.
The course was set up at 7,845 yards, the longest of any major. Length wasn’t the issue. It was sporadic storms earlier in the week that has softened the greens. One example of that was Fowler hitting 3-wood into the green on the 632-yard 18th hole, with a breeze at his back. His ball landed on the green and only rolled out about 10 feet. On typical U.S. Open greens, that would have run all the way off the back of the green.
Still to be determined is what kind of test Erin Hills can present the rest of the week, especially with more rain on the way Friday and Saturday afternoon.