SAN FRANCISCO – Contrary to a rumor being spread by younger readers, I wasn’t there for the first U.S. Open in 1895.
However, I was there in 2002 at Bethpage Black when Dudley Hart struck the opening tee shot hit off the 10th tee in a U.S. Open.
Now I can brag I was there in 2012 when Shane Bertsch struck the opening tee shot hit off the ninth tee in a U.S. Open.
Because the ninth tee is close to the clubhouse and practice range at The Olympic Club, and the 10th tee is not, U.S. Golf Association officials elected to start players on the first and ninth tees rather than the customary first and 10th tees.
At 6:50 a.m. Thursday, Bertsch was 10 minutes early for his historic tee shot.
“I feel like Sam Snead,” he said jokingly as 500 or so spectators looked on.
At 7 a.m., Bertsch’s Sam Snead impersonation ended when he pushed his opening drive into the right-hand trees. Fellow competitor Martin Flores joined him, while Tommy Biershenk hit a pull-hook into the left-hand trees.
On this opening hole, a 449-yard par-4, the opening threesome was 0-for-3 in fairways hit. Ultimately, the three would be 0-for-3 in greens hit and 0-3 in pars made.
And this was supposed to be an easy hole.
Biershenk’s excellent little adventure took him to the base of a large tree, where his drive nestled down into the grass. He decided to make a left-handed swing with his right-handed 8-iron, a strategy that might have succeeded if not for a dozen trees that stood in his line.
His second shot hit one of them, the ball bouncing sideways into the rough. His third landed in a greenside bunker, and he bravely got up-and-down from 60 feet for a bogey-5.
Bertsch and Flores, meanwhile, made routine bogeys. Because No. 1 is a 520-yard par-4, everyone has been saying that 9 is the better place to start.
I suppose this message was lost on Bertsch, Flores and Biershenk.
What a golf course. Most of the fairways are about 30 yards wide, although they look as narrow as railroad tracks. The tangly rough is a combination of rye and zoysia grasses.
For players who start on No. 1, the first 15 holes are a gantlet of par-4s and par-3s. The 16th is the first par-5, and it measures 670 yards from the back tee.
I heard all kinds of comments from players on the opening morning of the 112th U.S. Open, but I didn’t hear the one I expected: “Where is the first-aid tent? I need CPR.”