6:20 p.m. EDT: Bunkers will play a big role this week
BETHESDA, Md. – The rough is always one of the largest concerns at a U.S. Open. Congressional’s bunkers, usually a safe haven from the gnarly grass grown by the USGA, also will penalize stray shots this week.
The USGA softened the sand in Congressional’s greenside bunkers in order to give players another challenge.
“When (the sand) is a little softer, they can’t compress the ball against the sand, … so it comes out knuckly,” said USGA executive director Mike Davis. “The idea is when a player hits it in a bunker, which by definition is a hazard, we want it to be a tough recovery.”
Players have drawn their share of fried-egg lies in practice rounds, but it’s not going to look like a Denny’s menu out there.
“I’ve noticed around some of the greens, some of the lips are a bit soft,” Rickie Fowler said. “There will be some plugged balls. Hopefully mine roll in.”
That’s a possibility both around the greens and in the fairway. The USGA has shaved the banks around some of the greenside bunkers, and mowed grass around the fairway bunkers, so that balls roll into the sand, giving this Open a bit of a links-golf feel.
– Sean Martin
6:15 p.m. EDT: Rise to prominence has even surprised Manassero
BETHESDA, Md. – No one envisioned Matteo Manassero getting this big, this fast. Matteo Manassero certainly didn’t.
“It’s been a fantastic and very fast year,” Manassero said. “I didn’t know I would play like that, so it’s obviously been well above my expectations. Now I’m trying to move forward to bigger goals and better goals.”
That starts this week at the U.S. Open at Congressional. Manassero, 18, who finished T-13 at the 2009 British Open and was low amateur at the Masters the year after he won the British Amateur as a 16-year-old, is playing in his first U.S. Open.
Playing at brawny Congressional, Manassero, a player that doesn’t hit the ball exceptionally long, will rely heavily on his putter, which has already led him to two European Tour wins before his 18th birthday. He was in contention through 54 holes at the BMW Championship, the European Tour’s flagship event, but stumbled to a final-round 75 to finish T-7.
“The course is really tough and long – especially the back nine,” he said. “I know I’m going to have some par saves to make on this course, so if I can do that, I think it will suit me well.”
One thing that will ease the nerves of his first U.S. Open is Manassero’s 1:35 grouping – he is playing with fellow Italians Francesco and Edoardo Molinari.
“That will be great,” Manassero said. “It’s a bit strange – you don’t see that very often. But I think it will certainly take a bit of pressure off.”
– D.J. Piehowski
5:35 p.m EDT: First the bar exam. Now the Open.
BETHESDA, Md. – It’s been a busy couple of months for Michael Barbosa. He passed the bar exam last summer. Got married in March. Now it’s time for his first major.
Barbosa was an All-American Scholar at Georgia Tech, but bypassed Q-School for law school. He graduated from Stetson University College of Law last year.
“I love golf, but it’s no cakewalk to be one of the best 125 players every single year,” said Barbosa, 28, of St. Petersburg, Fla. “I thought I’d enjoy myself doing something else.”
Barbosa, a bond trader at Peraza Capital, may be playing his first professional tournament, but isn’t intimidated by the U.S. Open’s traditionally extreme course setup. He’s a regular on the mid-amateur tournament circuit, which includes stops at prestigious Pine Valley (Crump Cup) and Seminole (Coleman Invitational).
“The greens here are slower than they are during the Coleman, and Pine Valley, when it’s firm and fast, is probably the hardest test in the world,” Barbosa said. “Playing the Crump Cup with greens that are 12 (on the Stimpmeter) is more difficult than this.”
He made the quarterfinals of last year’s Crump Cup, and finished seventh at the Coleman.
He’s been trying to qualify for the U.S. Open since he was 15 years old, twice advancing to sectional qualifying. He lost a playoff for one of the final spots into the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock, then advanced this year out of a qualifier in Florida
Barbosa’s Georgia Tech connections paid off Wednesday. He played a practice round with fellow alums Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar, as well as Steve Stricker.
– Sean Martin
5:09 p.m. EDT: DeForest soaking in Open experience
BETHESDA, Md. – Chris DeForest was at the U.S. Open last year, standing outside the ropes and watching Illinois teammate Scott Langley. This year, he’s on the inside as a player and enjoying each swing and autograph request.
On his way to the practice range, DeForest, a long-hitting, recent Illinois graduate, was interacting with the fans like a seasoned veteran, telling jokes, taking pictures and promising (genuinely) that he would get back and sign for everyone he missed after he hit balls.
“I’ve been there plenty,” DeForest said of standing on the outside looking in. “I really just feel pretty blessed that all these people even care enough to ask for it.”
One player who is sure to have received his share of autograph requests this week is top-ranked Luke Donald, with whom DeForest played a practice round on Tuesday.
“Luke was really just absolutely awesome to play with,” DeForest said with a smile. “He offered just some small tips and advice, but I picked up some odds and ends watching him.
“He kept to himself mostly; he’s a businessman getting ready for a big event.”
DeForest was reunited this week with a face from his past, Rory McIlroy. The two played against each other in the 2004 Junior Ryder Cup.
DeForest said the results of the match were “foggy.”
– D.J. Piehowski
• • •
4:24 p.m. EDT:
BETHESDA, Md. – Hunter Mahan was signing autographs between the 17th green and 18th tee when a fan, trying to gain his attention and nab a signature, shouted the chorus of “Oh, Oh, Oh” – the “hit” single from the Golf Boys.
Teaming up with Rickie Fowler, Ben Crane and Bubba Watson, Mahan and the Golf Boys released the video Tuesday night on the Golf Channel. If you haven’t yet, you can see the video here.
“It was fun. The reaction has been great,” Mahan said. “We put it up on iTunes and are giving all the money to charity, so that’s a nice part of it.”
Whether it’s positive or negative, the video has been the talk of a mostly boring early week at Congressional.
“We are gauging people’s reaction to it, and no one really seemed to have too much of an issue with it,” Mahan said. “They understood we were just having fun.”
The young pros shot the video in Dallas, and luckily it was a cool day, as Mahan was wearing a three-quarters-length fur coat (open without a shirt). Mahan said all the clothes were purchased at a local Goodwill store, except for Ben Crane’s now-signature one-piece jumper, which can be seen in his spoof workout videos.
“It’s a good thing it wasn’t very warm,” Mahan said. “That coat would have been a little ridiculous.”
– D.J. Piehowski
• • •
10:41 a.m. EDT: A youthful practice-round group
BETHESDA, Md. – Under different circumstances, the 8:50 a.m. practice round this morning could have been a grouping of college golf’s top three players.
Oklahoma State’s Peter Uihlein and UCLA’s Patrick Cantlay were joined on the first tee by PGA Tour pro Rickie Fowler (of Golf Boys fame). Fowler left Oklahoma State after his sophomore season to turn pro and, had he stayed, would have recently completed his senior year.
Cantlay and Uihlein, Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, were both finalists for the Hogan Award, which Uihlein won. Fowler was in attendance to watch Uihlein and fellow OSU teammate Kevin Tway, who also was a finalist.
It’s interesting watching Cantlay alongside the two outgoing Cowboys from Oklahoma State. Standing next to Fowler, a man who was publicly shirtless in leather pants yesterday, it’s easy to notice that Cantlay’s expression rarely changes. He’s all business this week, which is nothing out of the ordinary.
“He’s like that all the time,” said a childhood friend who was following Cantlay’s group. “He jokes around with his friends a little, but he usually is pretty calm and collected. He doesn’t get too worked up one way or the other.”
– D.J. Piehowski