ERIN, Wis. – As Scottie Scheffler hit bunker shot after bunker shot in Erin Hills’ practice area Wednesday afternoon, Texas head coach John Fields could feel that his player was in store for a good week.
“He’s playing some of the best golf that I’ve ever seen him play,” Fields said.
A day later, Scheffler backed up that belief, shooting 3-under 69 in the opening round of the 117th U.S. Open.
“I’ve been swinging it really well and putting it pretty good, so definitely feeding off that confidence,” Scheffler said.
Of course, Scheffler admits he hasn’t displayed his best golf yet. He enters his second straight U.S. Open having just capped his junior season with four straight top-3 finishes, including a T-3 at the NCAA Championship, where he held the 54-hole lead.
“But I wasn’t able to win any coming down the stretch,” Scheffler added.
Scheffler is hoping to close better in his second crack at the U.S. Open. Last year, he was the clubhouse leader after the first day at Oakmont, but ended up missing the cut. That experience gives him more motivation this time around.
“Last year, I was a little less comfortable, kind of getting used to everything,” Scheffler said. “But now I’ve done it the second year in a row, I feel much more like I belong. Mentally, I think that’s really big.”
Texas A&M rising senior Cameron Champ feels that sense of belonging, too. He certainly fits in with the big boys off the tee, leading the field in driving distance average at 349.4 yards.
“I was just being aggressive,” Champ said. “Probably the best I’ve hit my driver, honestly. … Every hole I’m not holding back. I’m just going to keep hitting it.”
More importantly, Champ carded a 2-under 70. Not a bad way to celebrate one’s birthday. (Champ turned 22 years old on Thursday.)
“Not too bad,” Champ said with a smile.
The amateurs had plenty more reasons to smile on Thursday, especially considering six of them beat the top three ranked players in the world – Dustin Johnson (76), Rory McIlroy (78) and Jason Day (79).
Stanford grad Maverick McNealy shot 73, as did Arizona State signee Mason Andersen and Duke junior Alex Smalley. The world’s top-ranked amateur, Joaquin Niemann of Chile, carded 74.
“The amateurs that are here are great players,” Champ said. “… I think my class and the amateurs coming up are just getting better and better.”
Only four amateurs have won the U.S. Open, Francis Ouimet first accomplishing the feat in 1913. But these amateurs aren’t scared of contending. Not anymore. They have the games to stack up and nothing to lose.
“No matter what I’m going to gain a lot of experience this week, so I really feel like I can’t go wrong,” Scheffler said. “I don’t know how I’m going to play the next three days, but my game’s feeling pretty good, and we’ll see what the Lord has in store for me the next couple days.”
It’s not crazy to expect even more from the amateurs this week at Erin Hills.