2023 US Open: X’s and lots of O’s: Xander Schauffele and Rickie Fowler burn LACC, but USGA ready to turn up the heat?

LOS ANGELES – After going through half a dozen interviews and satisfying a long line of autograph seekers, Rickie Fowler hung around the scoring area long enough to congratulate the newest member of the 62 club.

Fowler had held the US Open single-round scoring record by himself for less than 25 minutes before Xander Schauffele rolled through and matched him with his own 8-under round. No one else in the early wave at Los Angeles Country Club shot better than 67, and the early record-setters seemed to defy belief.

“I personally didn’t see it,” Scottie Scheffler said, “but I think it was out there. That’s some serious golf.”

Afternoon starters approached the mark but ultimately fell short in a round in which six players shot 65 or lower on a favorable day that felt more like the old LA Open than the National Championship.

Full field scores from the US Open

Of course, there were ample reasons why a pair of Cali kids each carded their lowest major rounds by three strokes, erasing 127 years of US Open history in less than half an hour. Separated by a single group in the morning wave, Fowler and Schauffele warmed up in a drizzle, then played under overcast skies, enough to take some of the fire out of the wickedly fast greens. There was virtually no wind, making the fairways (already 43 yards wide on average) play true to their enormous size. And the USGA adopted a friendlier, gentler setup (“There were definitely some pins,” Scheffler said) that allowed the 156-man field to get through in a reasonable time frame.

“It’s not really what you expect to play a US Open,” Schauffele said, “but monkey see monkey do. I was just chasing Rickie up the leaderboard. Glad he was just ahead of me.”

Fowler set the pace by carding a tournament record 10 birdies, a continuation of the rejuvenated form that has seen him end his long slump and return to the top 50 in the world. Since reuniting nine months ago with swing coach Butch Harmon, Fowler has transformed from a below-average ball striker on Tour to one of the game’s best. Thursday was an important step, the first time in four years that he actually threw himself into the mix at a major. As he walked off the green, he casually told caddy Ricky Romano that this was how he’d been playing lately — he just dropped a few more putts.

“It’s been going in the right direction,” Romano said, “and it all kind of came together today. Golf is a lot of confidence, and I think he’s just built a lot of that.”

No one should have been surprised by Schauffele’s blistering run. Of the world-class players without a major title, Schauffele has played the best in the game’s biggest events over the past six years, particularly in this championship, with six consecutive top-15s.

“It’s built for his game,” said his caddy, Austin Kaiser. He is consistent. Complete. Unflappable.

HL: Shauffele’s matches Fowler’s 62 at US Open

Even with Schauffele’s game in gear, Kaiser said he would have taken a 3-under start at the beginning of the day and stayed home. maybe a 64 was out there, he said, if anyone really got food.

But a 62?

“It’s indescribable out here,” Kaiser said.

Schauffele, however, seemed less impressed. It could have been a historic day – the USGA collected artifacts from both players to keep in their museum – but in the end it didn’t mean much to him. In interviews, he was quick to downplay the achievement.

“It’s only Thursday,” he said. “It’s literally just the first day of a tournament. It’s a good start.”

His reluctance to rejoice was likely twofold: The Open is a quarter complete, and the USGA is likely to tighten the screws over the next three rounds. There was a general feeling that the first round was the easiest LACC would play all week, and the setup czars could be eager for revenge.

“I think the USGA is going to be a little bit frustrated that the number was so low today,” Scheffler said.

“I’m sure after Rickie did what he did, they’ll make it quite a bit more difficult for us,” added Max Homa.

Smiled Kaiser, “I’m sure the USGA is sweating a little right now.”

John Bodenhamer, the USGA’s chief championships officer, warned the field that even with LACC’s unique features, “it will be a good old-fashioned US Open” in place.

“We haven’t thrown in the towel, that’s for sure,” Bodenhamer said. “It’s going to be tough. That’s what we do.”

The opening round scoring average (71.3) suggested otherwise, the lowest mark – by nearly a stroke – in tournament history. But with a dry forecast that should allow the USGA to have complete control of the setup, it shouldn’t remain forgiving for long. They can deprive greens of water. Cut holes on humps, mounds and knobs. Extend some tee markers. Set the torture meter. Bodenhamer promised a “spice” setup.

“You just have to wait until this place is better,” Schauffele said. “It’s going to be ugly.”

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