U.S. Open a surprising struggle for Donald, Johnson

Luke Donald talks to the media during a press conference on Tuesday before the start of the 113th U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club.

Luke Donald talks to the media during a press conference on Tuesday before the start of the 113th U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club.

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— Look up and down the entry list and you’ll find curiosities with players when it comes to the U.S. Open, but nothing confounds quite like the overall record of Luke Donald and Zach Johnson.

Arguably two of the premier fairways-and-greens machines, neither has figured out how to master this U.S. Open business.

It’s difficult to get your arms around Donald’s last six visits to this major: Three missed cuts, a withdrawal, a T-47 and a T-45. He’s yet to record a top 10.

Johnson is no less mystifying. In nine appearances he’s missed four cuts, and his best finish is a T-30.

On the other hand, just getting into the U.S. Open is a major challenge – and you can understand that by looking in any number of directions.

Ryan Palmer, for instance, is in his 10th year on Tour, but he’ll be playing in just his fourth U.S. Open. Stuart Appleby will miss for the third straight year after having played in 14 straight, and Davis Love III will miss for just the second time in 22 seasons. Justin Leonard? He had played in 15 in a row, but has missed each of the past three.

• • •

HE’LL WALK, THANK YOU: What do you get an icon? That was the quandary years ago when Eddie Lowery pondered a gift idea for the man with whom he was eternally entwined: Francis Ouimet.

It was late into Ouimet’s life, and Lowery decided on a golf cart. Granted, there was delightful irony in this, Lowery having been the caddie for Ouimet in that stirring 1913 U.S. Open triumph at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., and here he was years later offering a motorized substitute for a caddie.

But John Sears, a former Massachusetts politician who is one of the few people alive who can speak to having known Ouimet, said Lowery saw it as a way of extending the great man’s love of golf. “But Francis had one or two colorful sides,” Sears said, “and one of them was his dislike of golf carts.”

Sears said Ouimet accepted the gift “but wouldn’t use it.” Instead, he gave it to Sears’ father. “But my father wouldn’t use it, either.” It was offered to Dick Haskell, the late and great former executive director of the Massachusetts Golf Association, but he, too, turned it down. Sears said the sentiment was pretty much the same: “If Francis refused to use it, no one wanted to use it.”

Eventually it collected dust in a barn or shed, Sears said, and never was used before it was thrown out.

• • •

RICH MAN, POOR MAN: Here was the news, according to published reports a few weeks ago: Tiger Woods’ worth was $20 million less in 2013 than in 2012, and he had slipped to fifth in something called Sports Illustrated’s annual Fortunate 50 list. Total income was reported as $40,839,027.

Then there was this, just last week: Forbes estimated that Woods earned $78 million in 2012.

So, let’s see. Either Woods made about $30 million in a few weeks' time, or there are a lot of irresponsible people reporting a lot of silly things they cannot verify but will not let that stop them.

• • •

A BREAK IN THE ACTION: A par 5 of rainy-day thoughts as we measure the gloom at Merion:

• USGA pairs Nos. 1-2-3 (this time, Tiger Woods-Rory McIlroy-Adam Scott) together for the first two rounds of the U.S. Open. It was relatively entertaining when it debuted in 2008, but has grown steadily mundane. Heck, are the boys in Far Hills aware of the fact that Woods and McIlroy have been paired about 27 times this year alone?

• If this Merion experiment goes poorly, do you guess that the apprehension increases exponentially about playing the men’s and women’s U.S. Opens back-to-back at Pinehurst No. 2 next year?

• Figures that a group staunchly against anchors could use a few to keep Merion’s 11th hole from floating away.

• I’m fairly certain that this week is payback for all those years of bad Open Championship weather jokes.

• Robert Allenby needs more tournaments in Memphis. He finished T-10 Sunday at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, his first top 10 since he was T-7 last year at that tournament.

• • •

CHANGING PLACES: That music you may have heard recently comes from the Caddie-Go-Round on the PGA Tour.

One of the biggest surprises of late was hearing that Adam Hayes had gone to Charleston, S.C., to work with his new boss, rookie Russell Henley. That prompted Hayes’ longtime boss, Jonathan Byrd, to reach out and call Henley.

“He just wanted to call me and say there's nothing weird with us, no hard feelings,” Henley said. “I'll definitely always remember him stepping up and calling me. I didn't really know what to do in that situation, being new out here, and haven't really dealt with that really in my life.”

Byrd had worked with Hayes for years.

“I was caught off guard,” Byrd said. “It’s a headache in the middle of the year to try to find a caddie.”

Dustin Johnson also was forced to used a pinch-hitter at The Memorial, because his regular caddie, Bobby Brown, was called home due to complications with his wife’s pregnancy. Johnson’s brother, Jordan, caddied at The Memorial, but for this week’s U.S. Open, as at last week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic and the upcoming AT&T National, Johnson is expected to use someone with whom he has worked in the past: TaylorMade vice president Kenny Sbarbaro.

• • •

WELCOME MAT: Continuing its annual trend of giving chances to young players, the Travelers Championship has extended an exemption to Chris Williams, No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. Williams, who recently completed his senior season at Washington, will play his final tournament as an amateur at the U.S. Open, then turn pro at TPC River Highlands next week.

Justin Thomas, a rising junior at Alabama, also will tee it up at the Travelers, as will a name from the other end of the spectrum: 2005 Travelers champion Brad Faxon, 51. Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano also was given a spot.

• • •

SHORT SHOTS: After having missed all 12 cuts in 2012 and 16 in a row dating to 2011, Steve Flesch has cashed a check in each of his last two starts. . . . Since closing T-4 at the 2011 PGA, Scott Verplank has finished no better than a T-47 at last week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic. . . . Aaron Baddeley isn’t exactly “in form,” as they say, coming into the U.S. Open. He has missed the cut in each of his last five starts, going 31 over in those 10 rounds. . . . Sang-Moon Bae is 17 over in eight rounds since winning the HP Byron Nelson Championship. . . . Here is all you need to know about the U.S. Open: Ernie Els has twice ranked first in greens in regulation – his wins in 1994 (Oakmont) and 1997 (Congressional). . . . In four previous appearances and 12 U.S. Open rounds, Rickie Fowler has broken 70 just once. His best finish is a T-41. . . . Good sign for Robert Garrigus: In four previous U.S. Opens, he has made just one cut, that being a tie for third in 2011, when it was like this year: soft, muddy and ideal for bombers . . . . . In seven U.S. Opens, Lucas Glover has missed the cut four times, finished T-58 and T-42 – and won at Bethpage. . . . Since a sizzling 65 to open the Honda Classic on Feb. 28, Branden Grace has played 21 rounds on the PGA Tour and broken 70 just twice. . . . Jerry Kelly has but two top 10s in his last 42 PGA Tour tournaments; in nine U.S. Opens, he is 140 over in 30 rounds, with more 80s (five) than 60s (one).

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