Dougherty - Feel Like a Stranger

By: Jay Flemma


Even though only two players were under par, the players were bloodied but unbowed as the rainstorm that blew through Wednesday evening at least softened things up so they could have soft enough greens.

Late Wednesday, the greens were beginning to develop that shine: the dry and almost crusty veneer they get after being pounded all day by the sun. The putting surfaces baked and hardened and golfers were in the mumble tank even before they began play. But as the evening wore on, a fierce electrical storm battered Oakmont with marble-sized hail, sheets of rain and buffeting winds. The press tent - seemingly a bulwark against the elements - actually swayed and sprung a small leak.

But between the rain and the short length of several par-4s, scores were in bunches. Day 1 ended with unknown Englishman Nick Dougherty leading. Not only was his round unconventional for a 68 at Oakmont - he chipped and putted lights-out over some of the most severe greens in America, but Dougherty floored the nation in his press conference by saying, "The U.S. Open is my favorite tournament to play, which is unusual because I'm British. So you think it would be the British Open. But Pinehurst is the most special week I've ever had on a golf course and this here is fabulous."

Strange names are often seen on top of the leaderboard early in the U.S. Open. One year, Jim Thorpe led and everyone wanted to know if he ran track. Another year, Bill Rogers and George Burns led and everyone asked if they ran marathons and told jokes. In still another U.S. Open, Bruce Devlin left and people asked him what he was doing outside the broadcast booth; some asked to bum a smoke.

Although Dougherty has a second-, third- and fourth-place finish on the European Tour this year, he is not the odds-on favorite to run wire-to-wire in the U.S. Open. Indeed, he lost several shots to par early, but his affable personality and playing to the crowd won him friends. "I love the fun. You Americans are noisier than us. I like that, I love the atmosphere."

Instead, a mix of Europeans and grinders peppered the leaderboard, along with Tiger Woods, of course. Jim Furyk, winner in 2003 and runner-up last year, matched Woods with a one-over 71. "I think the rain had a little to do with scoring . . . we got quite a bit of rain in a short time and it helped on the greens. You could stop the ball and it wasn't releasing out as much."

Furyk again credited his phlegmatic demeanor and laser accuracy with his hot start. "If I hit the ball in the fairways, I grind it out. My strengths are hitting the ball accurately and doing well with my wedges and putter, and those are important in the U.S. Open," he noted with a knowing nod of his head. "If you hit it in the rough, it will catch up with you. Maybe not the first day, but eventually."

Slugger Bubba Watson agreed with part with Furyk's assessment, adding "The goal is no doubles." But he could take another cue from the major-winning Furyk - keep a level head during this long hot grind. Watson made a long putt to save bogey on No. 1, his tenth hole of the day. "The marshals let some people walk through the fairway while I was getting ready to hit and I had to wait. I have no patience and hate waiting, so I let it get to me."

That is not the way to win the U.S. Open, where one mistake can end your week in a heartbeat. "Just keep your head down and keep plugging away," advised England's Luke Donald, another European looking to break the 37-year drought in this tournament by European players.

Still, several Europeans have a shot. As we near the end of Day 2, Paul Casey shot 66 to move to plus-3. Sweden's Peter Hanson stands at two over nearing the end of his second round. Justin Rose shot a pair of 71s to stay at plus-2, with Aaron Baddeley, among others.

In 1973, an intense electrical storm nearly blew down the media tent. Then a tempestuous Johnny Miller brought down far more cataclysm than any thunderstorm could. Was it an omen then, when early Wednesday evening, pebbles of hail, torrents of rain and peals of thunder buffeted Oakmont? Was it a harbinger of another record-setting performance? Will a European finally close the deal? The Euros have shown signs they've adapted to both the Open grinder-mentality and have embraced the linksier feel of Oakmont.

Finally, it's easiest American major to back into. For a real confluence of the unexpected, Peter Hanson, playing in his first major, may not hear the clock strike midnight. Anything can and does happen here.

You know, it's gonna get stranger. So lets get on with the show.

Another Postcard from Oakmont

Oakmont Beats Up Youngster

Richard Lee, the 15-year-old amateur and second youngest contestant to compete in the U.S. Open, withdrew after 13 holes because of a wrist injury. The injury occurred as he tried to pitch out of greenside rough on the par-4 11th hole. "I caught my wrist a little bit and it hurt a lot," he said. Lee played two more holes before walking in.

Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://www.jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.


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