U.S. Open Notebook
June 15, 2012
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Beau Hossler used a practice round with his idol, Phil Mickelson, to build confidence early in the week at the U.S. Open.
Then, the 17-year-old in braces shot an even-par 70 at Olympic Club in the first round Thursday and was six shots better than Mickelson, a four-time major champion.
Hossler, the first high school player since the early 1950s to qualify for consecutive U.S. Opens, wasn’t surprised in the least by his own performance in front of dozens of family members and friends who made the trip from Orange County.
“Not at all,” said Hossler, one of eight amateurs in the field. “I’ve been playing really well lately. I expected myself to go out there and get a lot out of my round.”
Oddly enough, he said Mickelson’s advice to him after a Tuesday practice round was “conservative lines and aggressive swings” and “taking your medicine” with pars on the tight, twisting layout.
Hossler, who recently took second at the state high school championship as a junior, had 12 pars, three bogeys and three birdies Thursday. His biggest par was the one he made with a putt on No. 1.
“That was huge because it gives me a little confidence,” Hossler said.
It also helped having qualified and played in last year’s U.S. Open at Congressional, even though he missed the cut with rounds of 76-77.
“I was a lot less nervous,” he said. “Not saying I wasn’t nervous at all, because I was pretty nervous. But last year was pretty ridiculous.”
Hossler and fellow amateur Alberto Sanchez earned bragging rights over Mickelson and Mark McCormick on Tuesday in a little old-vs.-young match by winning 1 up.
“It was great,” Hossler said. “It was great to see how he prepared. Even though he hasn’t won, he’s had five second-place finishes and he’s consistently in contention. … I thought it would be great for me to learn from that.”
After the opening round, the kid still has bragging rights.
CUT RULE: The USGA decided this year to eliminate the 10-shot rule in making the cut. Starting this year at the U.S. Open, the cut will be only top 60 and ties.
About the only problem appears to be neglecting to tell the players.
Carl Pettersson said he just found out about the change earlier in the week – from the caddies. Phil Mickelson might need the 10-shot rule after opening with a 76, which left him 10 shots behind Michael Thompson. He was asked if he was told of the change.
“Honestly, I haven’t looked,” Mickelson said. “If there might be a note or something, I don’t know. I haven’t really looked at it.”
Players often get notices of local rules or golf course information when they register for a tournament, and they don’t always read it. Dustin Johnson comes to mind about the bunkers at Whistling Straits, which cost him a spot in a playoff two years ago in the PGA Championship.
But the information sheet in the locker room, which told about local rules and which holes would be used if a playoff went extra holes, didn’t mention the 10-shot rule.
USGA executive director Mike Davis had said Wednesday that the idea was to keep from too many players making the cut – 108 got into the weekend at Oakland Hills in 1996 – and slowing down weekend play, perhaps even forcing a two-tee start in threesomes.
Besides, no one has ever made the cut through the 10-shot rule and gone on to win. Lou Graham was 11 shots back at Medinah in 1975, but he was within the top 60.
Zach Johnson, who opened with a 77, said he found out when signing his card, and officials began telling other players after their rounds. When told the rationale behind it, Johnson said, “It’s just odd they didn’t announce it.”
Another out of the loop was Padraig Harrington.
“But that’s not what I’m thinking about when I turn up at a major,” he said, grinning.
OH ZHANG: Andy Zhang finally looked his age when the U.S. Open began.
Not that a lot of seasoned veterans fared much better.
The 14-year-old from China, believed to be the youngest player in championship history, shot a 9-over 79 in the opening round Thursday. He finished only a stroke behind Masters champion Bubba Watson, who Zhang played with in a practice round earlier this week, and three strokes behind four-time major winner Phil Mickelson.
“At least I broke 80,” Zhang said.
Zhang, still preparing for the ninth grade, was born in China and has lived in Florida since 2008. He lost in a playoff at a sectional qualifier near Orlando, Fla., and was the second alternate when the week began at The Olympic Club.
Brandt Snedeker and Paul Casey withdrew with injuries late Monday evening, paving the way for Zhang to make history. The 6-foot, 174-pounder can hit the ball a ton but is still so young when it comes to his short game and mental makeup.
Zhang’s jitters got the best of him in front of the largest gallery he has ever seen – let alone played against – on the unleveled Lake Course. He dropped eight strokes on the first five holes, including a triple-bogey on No. 1.
“I was really nervous the first few holes,” Zhang said. “But then they started cheering for me and I know I can kind of handle it a little bit so it got better.”
Zhang proved to be a quick learner.
He played the last 13 holes 1 over, and a 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th kept him out of the 80s. While his start wasn’t what he envisioned, signing autographs and posing for pictures – not to mention meeting Tiger Woods this week – was a thrill.
“I kind of didn’t care that much about how many over I am,” Zhang said. “I’m trying to forget about that, because I never had that big a crowd following me ever. And I never played a course like this before. The greens are just unbelievable. Everything is, to me.”
ANOTHER ALBATROSS: Nick Watney holed out with a 5-iron from 190 yards for a 2 on the par-5 17th, the second albatross in a major this year.
Watney raised his arms and ran back to celebrate with his caddie, Chad Reynolds, and then playing partners Bill Haas and amateur Jordan Spieth. The shot brought him back to even par through nine holes in the opening round.
Louis Oosthuizen also made an albatross on the second hole of the final round at the Masters, that put him in the lead. He wound up losing in a playoff.
It was only the third albatross in U.S. Open history. T.C. Chen made a 2 on the second hole of the first round at Oakland Hills in 1985, and Shaun Micheel had one on the sixth hole of the final round at Pebble Beach two years ago.
ALLEN’S BIG SHOT: Even at 53, Michael Allen wasn’t going to miss qualifying for the U.S. Open because he’s a member at Olympic Club.
On Thursday, the Champions Tour player made sure the opening round was a memorable one. Allen had one of the day’s many highlights when he holed out from 142 yards on the 14th hole for an eagle. He wound up with a 71.
“At that point, I just felt I really needed to hit a good shot and get a good birdie putt and then to see it go in,” Allen said. “I felt like maybe now I’m kind of back in the tournament and having a chance to still be, get things going out here and get things going the right way.”
Allen said he has probably played Olympic some 2,000 times from being a member as a kid.
And how many times did he make eagle on 408-yard 14th hole?
“That would be the first,” he said. “It took me three years before I could actually get to the green in two.”
AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson and AP Sports Writer Antonio Gonzalez contributed to this report.