CHARLOTTE, N.C. –– Somewhere, J.D. Tucker is raising a toast of good cheer to salute a comrade with whom he can commiserate. “Well done, Mr. de Jonge. Well done,” is pretty much what Tucker would have said had he been present for Friday’s second round of the Wells Fargo Championship.
Tucker may have then regaled Brendon de Jonge with his historic scoring accomplishment in that toughest of all U.S. Opens, the 1898 affair at the Myopia Hunt Club north of Boston. The sheep must not have been hungry that year, for the rough was impossible and to understand how difficult it was, consider that Fred Herd broke 80 just once in four rounds – and still won by seven strokes.
So it’s hardly a surprise that Tucker established a bit of infamy that year, by shooting the worst recorded professional score ever, a 157, in the first round. Clearly out of the competition, Tucker gutted it out and came back with an even 100 the next day and while he wasn’t around for the final two rounds, the fact that he improved by a whopping 57 strokes has him as part of folklore – perhaps forever.
Certainly, de Jonge didn’t come close to moving Tucker out, though the personable Zimbabwean did himself proud with his turnaround at the Quail Hollow Club. One day after failing to make a birdie in shooting an 8-over 80, the 33-year-old de Jonge gave his parents, family members and assorted friends from his adopted hometown of Charlotte plenty to cheer about in a bogey-free 62.
How does one improve by an average by one stroke per hole?
“Low expectations,” de Jonge said with a smile.
Give him high marks for honesty, because come on, you open with an 80 you’re not thinking about getting yourself into contention. “I was just trying to shoot a good score and get a little momentum for next week (The Players Championship),” he said.
Then crazy as it sounds, “as bad as yesterday was today was nice.” A birdie at his first two holes, the 10th and 11th, then at the short, par-4 14th, de Jonge pitched in from 20 yards. When he birdied the demanding 16th and tough 17th, he turned in 30 and was suddenly just 2 over. Making the cut, not a predominant thought to start the day, was suddenly a reality and then the great ride got even better.
He birdied the first, third, fourth, and seventh. Silly stuff. Brilliant stuff and while de Jonge said he didn’t pay too much attention to it, he knew he had birdie bids from 31 feet and 17 feet at the eighth and ninth holes, respectively, to surpass the course record.
Alas, he missed both tries, and will settle for 62 and a share of the mark with Rory McIlroy. And, no, not one ounce of de Jonge was thinking he left a few out there. In fact, when asked if he felt as if he has stolen a check this week by making the cut after having opened with an 80, de Jonge said, “Very much so, and I’m going to run with it.”
Surprisingly, de Jonge wasn’t significantly improved in two stats categories – fairways and greens. He hit only three more fairways Friday than Thursday (11 to 8) and five more greens (13 to 8). But when it came to the club that matters most, the putter, was a difference a day makes. De Jonge required 34 putts Thursday, just 22 in Round 2.
When he went home Thursday night, de Jonge knew he did not beat one of his 155 competitors. That’s a tough reality to swallow, especially when your parents, your wife, and a list of friends are in attendance. But the glory of the story is this: De Jonge went home, manned the grill, and was still the perfect host.
“Nothing changes at home,” de Jonge said. “Same deal. Golf’s definitely not life and death.”
Nor was he doing what others may have done, seize upon the sore ribs that plagued him earlier this season.
“I’ve been healthy the last month,” he insisted.
And neither did he feel as if Thursday was the continuation of bad form, because “I’ve not been playing badly,” he said. “But not everything’s been clicking.”
Friday, of course, it did click in a most inexplicable and deliriously happy way. How so? Consider that as he stood talking to the media after his morning round, de Jonge sat at 2 under, tied for 16th, whereas six hours earlier he had been T-150.
No doubt about it, the evening’s festivities would go on again at de Jonge’s home and once again he’d man the grill for “good steak, good rib-eye, with a lot of marble.”
Only this time, he’d most certainly by the happy chef as opposed the disappointed chef from one day earlier.