Brits, led by Ian Poulter, get on board early at U.S. Open


SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – The wind whipped up early at ruthless Shinnecock Hills and a gang of Englishmen stepped up as if playing on home turf.

“Where I grew up, this is pretty normal,” said Matthew Fitzpatrick, a boyish-looking 23-year-old who honed his craft at Hallamshire Golf Club in Sheffield.

Ian Poulter posted a sturdy 1-under 69 to take a share of the early clubhouse lead at the 118th U.S. Open, while World No. 3 Justin Rose added 71 and Paul Casey, Andrew “Beef” Johnston and Fitzpatrick opened with 73s.

Believe it or not, it was the Brit at the bottom of the leaderboard who most impressed. Not because of his play, but because of what happened afterward.

Scott Gregory, the 2016 British Amateur champion, opened with a shocking 92, hitting only five fairways and four greens. Gregory’s attitude with the press wasn’t anything one would expect from a man in last place. The 23-year-old was calm, affable, even funny at times as he patiently answered questions.

“I qualified last week, so I can’t be that bad,” said Gregory, whose highlight to the week so far was getting a picture taken with childhood idol Tiger Woods. It’s already framed and in his locker, awaiting a potential signature.

Gregory, playing in his second U.S. Open, managed only three pars on a forgettable day.

“I was frustrated,” he said. “There’s not really anything I could do about it. I tried to fix it, but I couldn’t. I was just trying to get it in play and go from there. I’m not one to give up, so I kept plugging away.”

Meanwhile the seasoned Poulter, who hadn’t played in a U.S. Open since 2015, flew into New York on Monday evening and played nine holes apiece on the next two days. In a week where, as Poulter said, patience is everything, he brought a stronger mental outlook.

“Every one of the U.S. Opens I’ve played in the past, you know, I’ve been kind of – I’ve been disappointed,” he said. “I’ve been angry. I’ve been frustrated. … They’re supposed to be difficult. But shooting over par is hard to take sometimes.”

Poulter nearly aced the par-3 11th and added another two on the par-3 seventh. The wind presented a challenge completely different to practice rounds. After hitting driver-hybrid on the 18th Wednesday, Poulter hit 3-wood, 8-iron in Round 1. He likened it to a tussle at Royal Birkdale in the British Open. Coming in under par was “extremely satisfying” to the 42-year-old from Buckinghamshire.

“I don’t want to get carried away,” he cautioned. “This is Day 1 of four extremely tough days, and three bad holes on this golf course can take you home pretty quick.”

Poulter looked at the forecast before going through his yardage book on Wednesday evening. He knew what was coming and mentally prepared. Rose, however, woke up at 4:30 a.m., hopped in the shower, had a cup of tea and headed to the course. The conditions caught him completely off-guard. Regardless, the 2013 U.S. Open champion expected a stern test and took it in stride.

“I enjoy the fight,” he said.

Nothing these Brits haven’t seen before.

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