Welcome to “moving day” of the 121st U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, and moving is exactly what we expect today from a bunched field of 71 players who made the cut at 4-over-par 146.
The South Course at Torrey Pines has proven to be an exceedingly fair examination the first two rounds. Execute properly and a sub-par score can be had. Just ask Russell Henley, Richard Bland, Mackenzie Hughes or Collin Morikawa, who share the low round of the championship thus far, 4-under 67. On the other end of the spectrum, players like past U.S. Open champions Justin Rose and Webb Simpson and perennial major contender Tony Finau struggled mightily.
Kudos to the setup team, who has, in our humble opinion, done a terrific job but now needs to turn up the screws and really start identifying who has the goods to win the national championship. Regardless of pedigree, no one ever lucks into capturing the U.S. Open. The title has to be earned.
Here are three things to know as we eagerly await what is sure to be an entertaining Saturday in San Diego:
Follow the leaders
One overnight headline after Round 2 asked a question undoubtedly on many minds: “Can unlikely U.S. Open leaders hold off tight pack?” It’s tight all right. There used to be a 10-shot cut rule because it was believed that anyone within that margin after 36 holes still had a chance to win.
Russell Henley and Richard Bland reside in uncharted territory, with 69 players behind them all within nine shots. That is a tight pack. Might be cause for tight windpipes. We shall see.
Henley, 32, has much more major experience, playing in his eighth U.S. Open and 27th major, but he has never stood higher than T-9 through 36 holes in a major, that coming in the 2018 championship at Shinnecock Hills. Also the first-round leader, Henley has converted one 36-hole lead into victory, at the 2013 Sony Open in Hawaii.
Bland, 48, is playing in just his second U.S. Open and fourth major championship. Last month he finally won a European Tour event in his 478th attempt, and then finished third the following week, so he’s on a bit of a run. He also is 115th in the world, which only has meaning because 50-year-old Phil Mickelson won the PGA Championship last month when he was 115th in the world.
Like it or not, everyone is aiming for them today.
A swing adjustment he made overnight has gotten Bryson DeChambeau in position to successfully defend his title he won in September at Winged Foot. And when we say overnight, it literally was that.
“I was sleeping, and it came to me in the middle of the night,” he said after shooting a 2-under 69 in Round 2 that lifted him to even par for the championship. “Woke up and I was like, hmm, I’m going to try this, and my intuition is pretty good, so I went out and tried it and it worked, just keeping the right wrist bent for a lot longer through impact.”
We won’t delve into the technical aspects of the adjustment. It’s just fascinating that a guy who works so hard on his game when he is awake can’t turn off his golf mind when asleep.
But will it hold up? Swing flaws tend to reveal themselves under the greatest pressure, like in the U.S. Open. He knows how to win this thing, obviously. But today will say a lot about his chances.
11 is not heaven
The long par-3 11th hole, which plays up to 228 yards, is a terror, and it comes at a crucial juncture in the round. Sandwiched between the par-5 ninth and par-5 13th is a difficult three-hole stretch, and in the middle of that is the 11th, which really asks, “Who can hold it together?”
No. 11 is ranked the hardest hole of the championship – while No. 10 is ranked fifth and the 12th is second – with the field averaging 3.460. It has surrendered nine birdies the first two days, easily the fewest. Meanwhile, there have been 116 bogeys, 15 double bogeys and two “others,” and we don’t even know what happened on those two occasions.
Truly an authentic U.S. Open hole, where par is a great result, the 11th is as much a psychological challenge as it is a scoring one. Moving day doesn’t always constitute an upward direction, and the 11th can set the tone for a contender going the wrong way if he isn’t careful.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.