They call Saturday “Moving Day” out here on the PGA Tour – a chance for guys to make their run up the leaderboard with a low score and set up a prime chance at the trophy on Sunday.
But in the US Open at Pinehurst, “Moving Day” takes on a whole new meaning. Quite simply, the players head in the wrong direction. I’d rather call it “Survival Saturday.”
The bogeys were more plentiful than bunkers around the grounds on this day. And that’s saying a whole lot on this sandhills classic.
One player in particular, Japan’s Toru Taniguchi, was having a nightmare round put on display for all to see. He was hacking from one side of the green to the other like he was playing tennis. Wrong sport, sir. But in his defense, Pinehurst was showing its teeth on Saturday.
I prefer to stay on the lighter side of a major championship if at all possible. The first tee is a ceremonial celebration on days like these. So naturally, I wanted to take in the scene.
Even early in the morning, the atmosphere was building. There was a sense of anticipation in the air as the golfing duos strolled from the driving range over to the sequestered putting green for a few last rolls of the golf ball and a couple last exhales and collection of thoughts before the commencement of battle.
What an idyllic setting – the calm before the storm. A packed clubhouse porch with rocking chairs in full force and members peering out to view the proceedings. Everything is in order. It’s a swell sendoff.
I hung out for a while as the USGA announcer introduced the competitors to the throngs of fans crowding around.
Sergio Garcia and Boo Weekly were a popular twosome. Garcia, the wily Spanish veteran, must have been trying mightily to block out the humiliation his country went through Friday when the defending World Cup champs were smacked around by the Netherlands in Brazil. He couldn’t draw his inspiration from there.
But for a while Saturday, Garcia was the only man under par on the golf course. He could wave the Spanish flag proudly.
Boo Weekly is another animal altogether. The dip-spitting and beer-bellied guy from the South is a symbol of the common man. People like this dude. I know because they affectionately yell, “Boooooo!” after he strikes a shot. That’s his calling card.
Ernie Els’ silky smooth swing graced the crowd with its presence on the first teebox. “The Big Easy,” as he’s called, was paired with a talented up-and-coming American, Harris English.
Bill Haas received a nice ovation. The son of PGA pro Jay Haas, Billy is making a name for himself. But he’s yet to claim his maiden major title. He was alongside Stewart “The Man Who Beat Watson” Cink. The lanky and wiry Cink famously outlasted the ageless 59-year-old Tom Watson at Turnberry in 2009 to claim the British Open, and with it the Claret jug.
Kenny Perry, at 53 years young, was playing with Billy “The Kid” Horschel in the group just ahead of Phil Mickelson – always a difficult position to be in with the swarming galleries.
Perry striped it right down the middle of the first fairway with his distinctive slingshot swing, while Horschel (not surprisingly) bombed it past the aging Perry.
Next up was the main event: Phil and Webb. Phil is a big enough draw on his own, but with former US Open champion and North Carolina boy Webb Simpson in his group, the crowds were simply unbelievable.
The clubhouse veranda was packed, as everybody wanted to catch a glimpse of this powerhouse grouping.
The dynamic duo strutted down the fairway followed by 20,000 of their closest friends, and slowly but surely the sea of humanity that painted a speckled picture through the Carolina pines disappeared from view deeper into the course. Order was restored once again to the first tee as “Phil’s Posse” vanished.
Saturday at a US Open is a fascinating event to experience. There’s no doubt about it. But it’s all just setting the stage for what’s to come. Sunday awaits…