By DOUG FERGUSON Associated Press
ERIN, Wis. — Erin Hills made its debut as a U.S. Open course Thursday with a most gracious welcome for Rickie Fowler (Navajo), who matched the record to par in the opening round with a 7-under 65 on the longest course in major championship history.
Fowler had a one-shot lead over Paul Casey and U.S. Open newcomer Xander Schauffele.
And they had plenty of company in red numbers, so much that Erin Hills set a U.S. Open record for the first round by yielding 44 sub-par rounds, breaking by five the record set in 1990 at Medinah.
Such low scoring might suggest the 11-year-old course was a cream puff, hardly the USGA’s idea of the ultimate test in golf.
Just don’t mention that to some of the best players in the world.
Jason Day had two triple bogeys and posted a 79, his worst score ever in the U.S. Open.
“I just played bad golf, man,” Day said.
Rory McIlroy joked earlier in the week that anyone who couldn’t hit such wide fairways “might as well pack your bags and go home.” He spent all day in the knee-high fescue and shot 78, his worst U.S. Open score.
“You cannot play this golf course if you’re not in position off the tee, and I wasn’t in position,” McIlroy said. “Obviously, I paid the price for it today.”
Defending champion Dustin Johnson probably didn’t feel so badly by the end of a most peculiar day. He only shot 75, with just one birdie.
“You won’t get a better day for scoring,” Johnson said wistfully during the long walk to sign his card.
No one took advantage like Fowler.
Fowler, who shared the 36-hole lead at the Masters in April, never came seriously close to bogey because he was never in trouble. He kept it in the short grass, the secret to Erin Hills that wouldn’t appear to be that difficult with some of the widest fairways for this major.
“You don’t get many rounds at the U.S. Open that are stress-free,” Fowler said.
Fowler’s seven birdies were from no more than 12 feet, including three in a row around the turn. His 7-under par tied the record to par for the first round of a U.S. Open held by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf, who each shot 7-under 63 at Baltusrol in 1980.
“It is always cool to be part of some sort of history in golf,” Fowler said. “But I’d rather be remembered for something that’s done on Sunday.”