The scoreboards all say that PGA Tour rookies Austin Eckroat and Greyson Sigg are the clubhouse leaders in the first round of the Butterfield Bermuda Championship, but no one had a morning quite like Mother Nature.
Port Royal Golf Club in Southampton, Bermuda, the shortest course on the PGA Tour at 6,828 yards, turns nasty when the wind blows in from the Atlantic Ocean and the sun gives way to rain. On Thursday morning, Port Royal rolled its shoulders and stirred awake, an unpleasant combination of howling winds, gusting to 35 miles per hour, and sheets of sideways rain, which combined to send scores ballooning.
“It was a day to kind of survive and I’m glad I kind of hung in there,” said Scotland’s Russell Knox, who knows a things or two about playing in inclement weather, and signed for 1-over 72.
Bermuda Championship: Scores
On Tuesday, England’s Matt Fitzpatrick said he welcomed the wind, but he didn’t have a day like this in mind.
“This is the hardest wind I’ve ever played in. You see winds like this, but normally you don’t play in them,” he said. “People are going to laugh at this because they probably think it’s my normal tee shot, but anyway, I ripped it (on No. 7) and it went 245. I think my season average last year was like 295. Just shows you how strong it is.”
A different type of golf – and temperament – was required to keep the ball flight low and help lessen the effects the trade winds have on ball flight.
“I had like a chip 4-iron to about 35 feet and I was absolutely delighted,” said Fitzpatrick who carded five birdies in a round of even-par 71. “There’s a few shots I hit that were, yeah, I was just happy to get them on the green. That’s kind of what it felt like today anyway.
“We were three, four clubs up every time on a yardage just trying to chip everything in there. There was just a couple that I maybe didn’t quite strike very well and they just ballooned off into no-man’s land.”
Getting to the green was only half the battle.
“Five foot for birdie and a foot and a half for par and, yeah, I was scared to death of it,” Fitzpatrick said of his putting adventures at the ninth hole. “I honestly didn’t know what to do, I’ve never had a putt like it.”
Nick Watney, who managed three birdies in his round of 70, said Nos. 7, 8, 9, the most exposed corridor of the course, played toughest.
“It was gusting too, I mean I’m not good at that, but it felt like at least 40 miles an hour. There were a few shots that I was just like, I just want to hit this ball and I want to be able to see it when it stops. If I do that, then it’s a successful shot,” he said. “We could see the sheets of rain coming (at No. 9), so it was like I wanted to hit it as fast as I could without trying to rush it. Luckily, it stopped about a foot away and I felt like I had to pay attention on that one-footer.”
Knox grew up playing in a wee bit of wind and rain in Scotland, but even he conceded that the conditions in Bermuda were trying at times.
“Every shot was extremely difficult,” he said. “I think I hit a 7-iron from 120, I hit 4-irons from 150 at times. Chipping, I barely hit a full shot all day.”
Knox typically thrives in windy conditions, noting it brings out his creativity and “kind of activates something in my brain which I think makes me a better player.” But the conditions in Bermuda became so extreme for a stretch that the course was unplayable.
“No. 9, we were on the front edge of the green there and I’ve never experienced wind that strong, I think, on a golf course. I mean, we were down on the ground holding an umbrella. My fingers were like cramping I’m holding on so tight,” Knox said. “It wasn’t a question of they needed to blow the horn, there was no like physical way that you could play. We were like, well, we’re just going to wait until we can stand up. It was a good five minutes. That’s as hard as it’s rained plus wind that I’ve ever seen on a golf course.”
Competitors in the afternoon fared better as the rain halted and sunshine burst through the clouds. Scores improved ever-so slightly. Still Knox, who played alongside friends Austin Cook and Ryan Armour, was able to find the brighter side on a gloomy day.
“It was a nice day to experience the wildness with those guys,” Knox said. “Honestly, it was a day that anyone out there will never forget.”