On the ground at the 122nd U.S. Open

  • Jon Rahm, of Spain, reacts after missing a putt on the 15th hole during the first round of the U.S. Open at The Country Club Thursday in Brookline. AP

  • Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, watches his shot on the fourth hole during the first round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at The Country Club, Thursday, June 16, 2022, in Brookline, Mass. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) Robert F. Bukaty

  • Stewart Hagestad hits on the fourth hole during the first round of the U.S. Open at The Country Club Thursday in Brookline. AP

Staff Writer
Published: 6/16/2022 6:37:40 PM
Modified: 6/16/2022 6:35:25 PM

BROOKLINE — Three years ago, a pack of local golfers tackled the course at The Country Club in the 111th Massachusetts Amateur Golf Championship.

Things looked a lot different Thursday, when the professionals opened play at the 122nd U.S. Open.

Giant grandstands occupied open spaces, as tens of thousands of fans filtered throughout the storied course for the first round of action. Thick rough, fast greens and all the accoutrement that comes with golf’s most difficult tournament gave audiences around the world plenty to watch.

When I was here three years ago, the access was incredible. I was able to walk up the fairways and on the edges of greens, following local duffers like South Deerfield’s Jonathan Elkins and Greenfield’s Cody Booska. When Booska tangled with Matt Parziale in the Round of 16 that year, I got to know the course well. But a lot has changed, and as I ventured through the grounds on Thursday, I almost didn’t recognize the place.

My first stop of the day was a trip to the 16th hole, one of my favorites here. During the 2019 Mass. Am, this was where I caught up with Elkins during one of his stroke play rounds. I wasn’t sure how they’d fit seats around the narrow green that sits nestled along the edge of the course’s grounds. There’s a small grandstand but not many seats to be had, certainly nowhere near the size of the massive grandstand that flows along the 18th hole. You’ll hear lots of roars from 18 over the weekend, with plenty of attention from fans focused on the signature finishing hole.

Cutting through packs of attendees, I made my way to the third tee box just in time to watch Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele and Hideki Matsuyama navigate the 504-yard par 4. McIlroy hit an iron off the tee, which tells you all you need to know about the way these guys play. The crowds were massive following Rory all morning, and he responded with a low round to set the tone for what should be a big weekend.

Former Mass. Am champion Michael Thorbjornsen was in the first group out on Thursday, teeing off before 7 a.m. when the crowds were just starting to arrive. The Stanford star shot a 7-over-par 78 in his opening round.

If you’re making the trip from Western Mass. for any of this weekend’s rounds, I highly recommend spending some time around the tee box at No. 6. An elevated box on a par 3, it’s a great vantage point to watch ball flights, and I spent about an hour watching five or six groups move through.

Perhaps the most relatable moments, however, came while watching these world-class golfers struggle. U.S. Opens are rarely easy, and it’s an opportunity to watch the course fight back against the greatest in the game. On several holes, the rough features four and five different cuts, each one more difficult than the last. On the 15th hole, I caught a glimpse of someone who was only able to punch their ball out about 50 yards back into the fairway. That’s something I’ve been known to do at places like Northfield Golf Club or Ledges in South Hadley – I can only imagine how I’d fare here.

So if you’re lucky enough to head east this weekend for our nation’s major, soak in the spectacle. All eyes are on the Commonwealth, and a place that has been home to plenty of historic moments. And with tickets as in demand as they are (upward of $500 on the secondary market), save those (virtual) ticket stubs.


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