When he played 27 holes at Oakmont Country Club six weeks ago, Jordan Spieth said he would sign for even par right then and take his chances of defending his U.S. Open title.
But, after a gusty practice round Sunday and nine more holes Monday — the first day for fans to attend the U.S. Open — Spieth thinks an acceptable score could be higher once the second major of the season begins Thursday.
“With the wind [Sunday], I would have signed for somewhere around 75 or 76 and shaken everyone’s hand and said, I’m going to go back and have a beer,” Spieth said. “I don’t think anybody will be in the red come 72 holes.”
It is getting tougher by the day at Oakmont, where the density of the rough has become a popular item on social media and the greens are starting to firm like an overcooked pork chop.
Spieth was only 13 the previous time the Open was at Oakmont, so his recollection of Angel Cabrera’s winning score of 5-over 285 comes only from reading the web. Only seven players in 2007 posted a subpar round in four days. Cabrera had two of them.
Last year, when Spieth won at 5-under 275 at Chambers Bay, eight players finished under par. Seventy players posted subpar scores over four days.
“That won’t be the case [this time],” Spieth said. “If it’s like it is right now, I think if you’re under par, you certainly win. I don’t think it takes under par to win.”
Spieth is trying to become only the sixth player in history and first since Curtis Strange in 1989 to win back-to-back U.S. Open titles. And he is trying to do it after failing to defend his title at the Masters, when he blew a five-shot lead on the final nine holes to hand Danny Willett the green jacket.
In many ways, the same could be said for what happened with Spieth last year at the U.S. Open, when Dustin Johnson three-putted from 12 feet at the final hole to give him a one-shot victory. The experience at Augusta National gave Spieth a little more insight to what Johnson felt like after he lost the U.S. Open.
When he ran into Johnson outside the scoring trailer at Chambers Bay, Spieth admitted he didn’t know what to say to him.
“There’s nothing taken away from my win last year off of that, and there’s nothing taken away from Danny Willett’s win at the Masters this year,” Spieth said. “The more you look at it, there’s no pictures on scorecards. You just count them up at the end of 72. Ultimately, when I look back, I don’t remember Dustin’s putt. I remember us winning the U.S. Open.”
If Spieth is to do it again, he said the first order at business at Oakmont is keeping the ball in the fairway and out of the rough. Oakmont’s rough is so thick and dense that Spieth’s closest friend on tour, Justin Thomas, posted a video on Instagram in which his ball in the greenside rough at No. 17 was not visible while standing over it.
“Winning a U.S. Open is a different experience than winning at any other venue,” Spieth said. “You learn that literally anything can happen, especially out here where the way the course is set up right now, the way the rough and the bunkers are.
“If you don’t hit fairways on the last five holes, you could lose a 4- or 5-shot lead like that. Just not even doing anything wrong. You can hit decent shots that just barely miss the fairway, and, all of a sudden, you have to do well to have 10 feet for par.”
Gerry Dulac: email@example.com and Twitter @gerrydulac.