BROOKLINE — The Country Club’s blind shots and the US Open’s diabolically thick rough can send even the most gentlemanly of golfers into fits of rage.
For proof, look no further than Rory McIlroy.
McIlroy, always calm and composed and one of golf’s most thoughtful spokesmen, was a ball of fury over his final five holes in Thursday’s opening round (he began his day on the 10th).
Never mind that McIlroy sits just one shot off the lead after firing a 3-under 67. Or that he carded nary a bogey until his final hole.
A punishing round combined with a lengthy backup on the fifth tee box — the drivable par-4 that played like a par-3 — lit McIlroy’s fuse.
“The guys in front of us were playing so slow. They were like a hole or hole and a half behind the group in front of them,” McIlroy said. “So yeah, that was a little frustrating.”
Not just frustrating — McIlroy exploded, at least by his standards.
On No. 5, shortly after his long wait, McIlroy slammed his wedge twice into the sand after he flubbed a chip out of the thick bunker-side rough. On No. 6, he flipped his putter in frustration after missing a birdie attempt. And on No. 9, McIlroy tossed his iron in disgust after his approach from 193 yards landed well to the right of the green. When he carded bogey, he pulled his hat down over his face to hide more frustration.
“I was sort of cursing the USGA whenever I was going up to the ball,” McIlroy said. “You’re going to encounter things at a US Open, whether they be lies or stuff like that, that you just don’t really encounter any other week.”
McIlroy’s rage, though, perhaps helped him focus. He had a miraculous par save on No. 5 by getting up and down from the bunker and nailing a 13-foot putt. And he birdied Nos. 7 and 8 to get to 4 under before dropping a shot on the last hole.
McIlroy’s outbursts were a bit unseemly, but it’s also fun to see him show a little fire on the course to show the fans how much the majors mean.
“Almost to remind yourself sometimes how much it means to you, as well,” he said.
Other observations from the first round:
▪ The USGA may have let Phil Mickelson and the other LIV golfers participate in this US Open, but the organization isn’t doing them any favors.
Twelve of the 15 LIV players were placed in the more difficult late Thursday/early Friday wave, which allows for far less recovery time. Mickelson, for example, ended his first round at 7 p.m., and only had 13 hours until his Friday tee time at 8:02 a.m. Compare that with McIlroy and the golfers from the early Thursday/late Friday wave, who were off the course by 1 p.m. and have a full 24 hours to prepare. Those 11 hours make a difference to a 52-year-old like Mickelson.
Noticeably, all of the big-name golfers that defected to the LIV Series were placed in the late Thursday/early Friday wave, including Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia, Kevin Na, and Louis Oosthuizen. The only three placed in the early wave were lesser-known guys — James Piot, Branden Grace, and Jinichiro Kozuma.
Absent the LIV controversy, you’d think the USGA would put Mickelson in the early wave to help him make the cut, since he attracts the most eyeballs and can boost TV ratings over the weekend. It couldn’t have been a coincidence that at both the Masters and PGA Championship, Tiger Woods was in the early Thursday/late Friday wave, giving him enough time to get his body right and squeak past the cut line.
Friday afternoon also seems to be a prime TV window. Woods often plays on Friday afternoon to help maximize ratings. But Mickelson, Johnson, and the rest of the LIV stars will be well off the course before Friday’s NBC broadcast begins at 2 p.m.
Nor did the USGA make the LIV players part of the “featured groups” on the online broadcast. Mickelson’s return is the biggest story for fans and media, but the USGA didn’t provide him or any of the other LIV guys with additional TV coverage.
The message from the USGA seems to be: We’re not making the LIV guys the face of our tournament, and we’re not helping promote their new tour.
▪ The LIV guys didn’t fare too well, either. Johnson was the low man at 2 under, which ties him for seventh place. Piot, the 2021 US Amateur champion, was the only other LIV golfer under par (1 under). Reed, Richard Bland, and Shaun Norris were even, and DeChambeau carded a respectable 1 over.
None of the other nine LIV golfers would make the theoretical cut at plus-2. It was an especially brutal day for Jed Morgan (12 over), Mickelson (8 over with a four-putt), and Oosthuizen (7 over).
▪ The USGA may need to figure out a way to promote better traffic flow at No. 5, a 310-yard par-4. Only a handful of golfers didn’t go for the green from the tee, and it caused major traffic jams throughout the afternoon.
The threesome of Mickelson, Oosthuizen, and Shane Lowry took nearly 30 minutes to complete the hole. First they waited 12 minutes on the tee for the group ahead to finish. Then they waited another five minutes while on the green to let the group behind tee off. Mickelson’s group finished putting out the fifth hole with the other group’s tee shots sitting just yards behind them.
The USGA has three more days to figure out how to ease the bottleneck.
▪ The golfers certainly weren’t fazed by the new 11th hole that was added to the championship routing — a downhill par-3 into a tabletop green that played 131 yards on Thursday. No. 11 rated as the fourth-easiest hole, with the field shooting even par. The hole saw 27 birdies, 27 bogeys, and nothing worse than a bogey.
▪ Length was a killer on Thursday. The easiest holes were the two drivable par-4s (Nos. 5 and 7), the two par-5s (Nos. 8 and 14), and the short par-3 (No. 11). The aggregate score on those five holes was 97 under.
The two par-5s rated as the easiest holes of the day. No. 8, at 557 yards, saw six eagles and played at 56 under par. No. 14, playing at 619 yards with a blind second shot, only saw two eagles, and both were relatively lucky. Amateur William Mouw holed out from the sand from 81 feet, and Taylor Montgomery sank a 53-foot putt. But the hole did allow 39 birdies and played 26 under for the day.
▪ Conversely, the toughest holes were the long par-4s and par-3 — No. 12 (473 yards), No. 15 (510 yards), No. 10 (501 yards), and No. 2 (215 yards). The aggregate score on those four holes was 253 over.
Hole No. 1 had the fewest birdies, with just three out of 156 golfers.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.