A Weird, Wild and Entirely Typical Day at the U.S. Open
BROOKLINE, Mass. — M.J. Daffue of South Africa, ranked 296th in the world, was not invited to the hospitality tent alongside the par-5 14th hole during the second round of the U.S. Open on Friday. But when his tee shot came to rest on the tent’s carpeted balcony next to a tree trunk, fence railing and overhanging, leaf-filled branches, Daffue was welcomed to the party.
Eschewing the safety of a free drop on nearby grass, Daffue, who was leading the U.S. Open at the time, decided to use a 4-wood to smack his ball around the tree trunk, over the railing and under the branches to the 14th green 278 yards away.
Nick Faldo, an NBC analyst, yelped: “What is he thinking?”
As fans held drinks tinkling with ice nearby, Daffue implausibly curved his shot away from all the danger and watched as his golf ball settled feet off the 14th green to set up a chance at an eagle that would extend his improbable lead.
“Made bogey instead, unfortunately,” said Daffue, who never again held the second-round lead. “It was kind of a crazy day out there.”
Daffue could have been speaking for the entire field. While the first round of the 122nd U.S. Open on Thursday featured the theater of a first-ever face-off between PGA Tour loyalists and rebel golfers who have defected to the Saudi-financed LIV Golf Invitational series, on Friday that drama had receded at the Country Club outside Boston.
It was replaced by something more typical for a U.S. Open: a topsy-turvy day in vexing golf-course conditions that had a cavalcade of famed and anonymous players jockeying up and down the leaderboard.
An hour before the sun set, Joel Dahmen, who has missed the cut in four of the nine major tournaments he has entered and is ranked 130th, was tied for the lead at the halfway mark with Collin Morikawa, who at 25 is at the vanguard of the youth movement overtaking professional golf.
Morikawa shot a four-under-par 66 on Friday to move to five under par for the tournament. Dahmen, a popular, convivial presence on the tour known for the bucket hat that rarely comes off his head on the golf course, matched Morikawa with a steady round of 68 after shooting 67 in the first round. Dahmen, 34, has never finished higher than tied for 10th at a major championship and has never held the 36-hole lead at the PGA Tour event.
An eclectic fivesome of golfers were one stroke behind the co-leaders: Jon Rahm, who is ranked second worldwide; Rory McIlroy, who survived a scare on the third hole when he needed three swings to get his ball out of thick greenside fescue but still shot 69; Hayden Buckley, a PGA Tour rookie; Beau Hossler, 27, who played his first U.S. Open as a teenager; and Aaron Wise, who has one career PGA Tour victory.
Morikawa noted that there were more than 20 players within five strokes of the lead.
“No one has kind of run away with it,” he said. “But I guess that’s to be expected on a challenging golf course at the U.S. Open. But right now, my game feels really good and the last few days is a huge confidence booster for me heading into this weekend. Hopefully, we can kind of make some separation somehow.”
But the unpredictability was personified by Buckley, 26, who did not play competitive golf until he was a junior in high school and walked on to the golf team when he attended the University of Missouri.
“It’s all happened kind of fast to be sure,” Buckley, who had a victory on the minor league Korn Ferry Tour before earning his PGA Tour card late last year, said. “But I felt pretty relaxed and confident today.”
Buckley faltered in the middle of his second round when he had three bogeys in five holes. But Buckley rallied to shoot four under in his final seven holes.
There was some normalcy to the second round. Scottie Scheffler, who sits atop the men’s world rankings, shot a three-under-par 67 to vault into contention. Scheffler, who won this year’s Masters Tournament and three other 2022 PGA Tour events, jump-started his round by pitching in for an eagle on the 14th hole. He did not do it from the hospitality tent balcony where Daffue found his golf ball, but his tee shot bounded into the thick rough 40 yards right of the hole.
Then, in a scene that fit the day’s uncommon nature, Scheffler had to wait nearly a minute while a turkey sauntered across the 14th green. Smiling, Scheffler, who shot even par 70 on Thursday, reset his focus and knocked the ball in the hole. With a birdie on the 16th hole and two closing pars, Scheffler finished at three-under par for the tournament.
Collin Morikawa, the seventh-ranked player worldwide, began his round at one-under par but quickly stormed up the leaderboard with birdies on the 12th, 14th and 17th holes. (He started his round on the 10th hole.) Morikawa, winner of the 2020 P.G.A. Championship, first took the second-round lead with a fourth birdie on the first hole before registering his first bogey on the fourth hole. But he closed with a flourish, a birdie on the par-5 eighth hole to finish with four-under-par 66.
Morikawa has four top-10 finishes this year, including fifth at the Masters.
Jon Rahm, the U.S. Open defending champion, began his round at one under par like Morikawa and teed off on the 10th hole. He eagled the short par-5 14th and deftly putted as the sun emerged on Friday afternoon and subtly dried out the fast, undulating greens. Rahm had three birdies and two bogeys.
Matthew Fitzpatrick of England, who won the 2013 U.S. Amateur at the Country Club when he was 18, was among the first-round leaders when he shot 68 on Thursday. He continued his consistent, measured play with a 70 on Friday.
Two familiar names also climbed onto the first page of the leaderboard Friday: Sam Burns, 25, who has won twice since March and finished second in another event, shot a 67 to move to two-under for the championship, and Brooks Koepka, the last man to win back-to-back U.S. Opens, shot 67 after an unsteady 73 in the first round. Koepka was recently married, and he conceded the wedding limited the amount of practice time he could devote to his golf game. But he said he has regained his confidence with more work out of competition.
Phil Mickelson improved on his erratic 78 from Thursday’s first round to shoot a three-over-par 73 in the second round, but his putting continued to be the worst part of his game and he did not make the cut.
Mickelson, usually garrulous, did not talk after his round on Thursday and kept things brief on Friday. Of his comeback after five months away from competition, Mickelson said: “I missed competing, but I also enjoyed some time away.”
Other prominent players to miss the cut included Kevin Na and Louis Oosthuizen, who have joined Mickelson on the LIV Golf tour, and Billy Horschel, who won the Memorial Tournament earlier in the month. Also not eligible for the final weekend rounds will be Viktor Hovland and Tommy Fleetwood.
Daffue, who finished at one under par for the tournament, was more than content to have more golf to play.
“I’ve had goose bumps thinking about it,” he said. “I had an up-and-down day today, but to me, it’s nothing but good. I’m still going to play tomorrow in the U.S. Open.”