MAMARONECK, N.Y. – Donald Ross, the famous golf course architect who designed Pinehurst No. 2, Seminole and Oakland Hills, believed that the first hole of a course should let a player ease into the round and get an idea of what is to come.
But Ross did not design Winged Foot Golf Club’s West Course, site of this year’s U.S. Open. The man responsible for this gem was A.W. Tillinghast, another Golden Age master, and on Friday, the first two holes at Winged Foot wound up being among the hardest on the course.
The first hole at Winged Foot features the trickiest green on the course. It has so many severe slopes and undulations that the USGA has kept the putting surface slightly slower than the greens around the rest of the course. However, it typically plays downwind. On Thursday, when 21 golfers shot under-par rounds at the U.S. Open, causing eyebrows around Westchester County to furrow in disapproval, 37 birdies were made on the first hole because the wind was virtually nonexistent and the green was soft.
On Friday, the wind arrived, but instead of coming from the prevailing direction, southwest off Long Island Sound, it was coming from the north. As the hole dried under the sun and the wind continued to blow, the dogleg-left hole became a beast.
“The wind was not only out of a different direction, but it was also blowing about three times as hard as yesterday,” said Matthew Wolff, who will head into the weekend of his first U.S. Open at even-par 140.
“Number one, my gosh, everybody was hitting little sand wedges in there (Thursday), but today I think I had a 7-iron in there just because of the cold and the wind,” said Bubba Watson, who shot 69 in the morning.
Consider this: On Thursday, Watson’s tee shot on the first hole went 335 yards into the middle of the fairway and left the two-time Masters champion just 117 yards from the hole. Playing into the breeze on Friday, Watson’s tee shot went just 283 yards and left him 172 yards from the hole.
On Thursday, the opening hole played to a stroke average of 3.97, making it the 14th toughest out of the 18 holes. On Friday, that average rose to 4.5, making No. 1 the fourth-hardest hole. It yielded 21 fewer birdies and forced 16 double bogeys, including one from Justin Thomas, the overnight leader.
Golfers who were looking to catch their breath found no respite on the second hole. The 489-yard, par-4 also played into the wind on Friday and was the toughest hole on the course.
The second hole gave up 22 birdies on Thursday and played as the 12th hardest on the course, but just six players were able to circle a three on their scorecards after playing the hole on Friday. Its stroke average rose by 0.53 shots to 4.61. Bryson DeChambeau, Rory McIlroy, Jason Kokrak and Viktor Hovland all made five on the par 4 Friday.
The wind is forecasted to stick around through the weekend and continue to blow in from the north, which means the first and second holes will remain especially tricky. U.S. Opens are never easy, but this year at Winged Foot, getting off to a strong start is going to be even tougher.