ERIN, WISCONSIN – It wasn’t what Rory McIlroy had expected. He knew he hadn’t played competitively for a month but after spending two days at Erin Hills the week before the US Open – often with Dana Fry, one of the three course designers, walking alongside him – he was confident that the wide fairways of this sprawling course would suit him, one of the most accurate and longest of drivers.
He even slapped down Kevin Na and others who had suggested that the fescue lining the fairways was too thick. McIlroy said Tuesday: “We have 60 yards from left line to right line. You’ve got 150 of the best players in the world here. If we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home. These are the widest fairways we’ve ever played in a US Open.”
At the time McIlroy was hailed as a realist, one who spoke what many observers felt was the truth. The best players in the world shouldn’t be perturbed if required to land their drives within a 60-yard space.
You can guess what happened next. McIlroy missed nine of the 14 fairways in the first round. His play from the tee was the worst in the field, equalled by the amateur Walker Lee. Again and again the world No 2 was to be seen up to his ankles, sometimes higher, in the very fescue he had said he ought to be able to avoid.
He wasn’t much more accurate when his drives did stay on the fairway. He hit only nine of the 18 greens.
It was a horror show for the Northern Irishman. Even though he was 2-under par after the second, thanks to an eagle on the shortest par-4 on the course, he was 8-over par for his next 16 holes. His 78, 6-over par, was 13 strokes more than Rickie Fowler, the leader, and left McIlroy staring elimination from a championship he won in 2011 unless he produces a remarkable score in his second round.
Next time McIlroy might be more careful what he says.