MAMARONECK, N.Y, – Dustin Johnson was seen searching for a lost ball in the rough three swings into a practice round at Winged Foot Golf Club on Monday.
Bring an extra sleeve.
Players filed in and were taking a look at the famed West Course from every angle ahead of this week’s U.S. Open.
“The rough is going to be difficult,” said Rickie Fowler, who played nine holes before a work session in the practice area. “The rough off the tee is deep, so if you aren’t driving the ball well, it’s going to be a long day. I’ve gotten two looks at the course so far, and it’s hard.”
While there was a buzz on the grounds, the level of traffic was anything but normal.
Only essential personnel are being shuttled into Winged Foot, so the atmosphere was almost casual. The players and their entourages were able to move about without interruption. Nobody is allowed on-site without first testing negative for COVID-19.
The staff, volunteers and media also have to pass a health screening prior to boarding a shuttle.
After dealing with a postponement that became necessary with the pandemic forcing the region to lock down and months of uncertainty, this was a moment to celebrate.
— lohudgolf (@LoHudGolf) September 14, 2020
“We reached a point in March where everyone here was thinking, ‘No way is there going to be a U.S. Open this year,’ ” longtime Winged Foot general manager Colin Burns said. “The first call I took about us hosting was in 2012, so we’ve been getting ready for a long time. It was a pretty dramatic turn of events. So the fact we are hosting is awfully special. And while 50,000 people will not get to see Winged Foot in person, 50 million people will get to see the golf course in a way they have not seen it ever. There are no tents, no bleachers. It’s spectacular to see the push-up greens and rolling fairways without any of the infrastructure disrupting that beautiful view.”
Players began to show up on Saturday to get acquainted with the redesigned West Course.
Rory McIlroy and Fowler were up and on the course early. Defending champion Gary Woodland and Johnson played together after lunch.
Phil Mickelson remained under the radar.
“It’s absolutely impeccable,” Winged Foot head professional Mike Gilmore said of the current setup. “It’s going to be a memorable championship. The fairways, the tees, the greens, the rough – everything is in perfect condition right now. I think it’s just going to be an old-fashioned, challenging U.S. Open, the kind we watched when we were kids.
“I like plus-six to win. They have to be careful it doesn’t get higher than that. If we get windy conditions and the course begins to get crusty, who knows what could happen.”
The rough is between 5 and 6 inches in many places.
Jason Gore was on the first hole Monday surveying the players. The former Tour player is the USGA’s director of player relations and the feedback so far is largely positive, but the mood is likely to change if it gets any higher.
The club talked about bringing a few regular caddies in on Tuesday and Wednesday to help spot balls off the tee.
“We played on Sunday and found four balls that belonged to other people while looking for my ball,” said Danny Balin, a Valhalla resident who is the head professional at Fresh Meadow Country Club on Long Island. “There could be some lost balls this week.”
The USGA has plans to cut the rough on Tuesday, and then let it go.
If the weather forecast holds, the cool nights will help the grass recover quickly. By the weekend, the rough will likely again reach 5 or 6 inches. The greens could become a concern if the wind that follows the latest tropical disturbance appear on the weekend.
Sam Horsfield became the second player to withdraw following a positive test for COVID-19. The 24-year-old European Tour standout tested negative before traveling here, but the mandatory U.S. Open screen came back positive.
He will be replaced in the field by Rory Sabbatini.
Scottie Scheffler tested positive and withdrew on Sunday, opening a spot for Branden Grace.