Just a little over a year after surrendering record-breaking scores, Congressional Country Club is playing like a U.S. Open course in U.S. Open-like conditions. The course is firm and fast. The heat is sweltering. And the scorching temperatures aren’t letting up at the AT&T National.
Only ten players in the morning wave broke par, including Vijay Singh, Dustin Johnson, Davis Love III, Hunter Mahan, Stewart Cink and Marc Leishman, who captured his first PGA Tour victory last Sunday at the Travelers Championship.
Tournament host Tiger Woods struggled to find fairways on the front nine and grinded to shoot a one-over 72. Bo Van Pelt, who placed T14 at last year’s U.S. Open here, fired a bogey-free four-under 67 to take the first-round lead over Singh, Brendon de Jonge and Jimmy Walker.
Players weighed in on Congo’s conditions today compared to last year:
*Hunter Mahan: “It’s going to be hot this coming weekend, so the course is in unbelievable shape right now. It’s perfect as it gets from the rough perspective, and the greens are rolling very true. It’s playing similar (to the U.S. Open last year), but this is probably tougher, I would think.”
*Brandt Jobe: “Compared to the U.S. Open last year, the greens are much firmer. Tee to green is much faster, and the rough is much deeper, so that combination makes it a little more difficult.”
*Marc Leishman: “I think the conditions make it harder. The rough is not quite as long as it was last year, but the greens are a lot firmer. In that respect, it’s tougher, definitely.”
*Davis Love III: “I think it’s playing a lot like a U.S. Open. Not quite what they wanted last year, but they got it this year. The course is playing tough.”
*Beau Hossler: “From what I can tell it’s set up harder than last year. The scores seem like they’re lower because maybe the pins aren’t quite as hard, but the greens are faster and firmer than last year, that’s for sure.”
*Bo Van Pelt: “I think everybody knows the golf course last year just wasn’t quite ready to be set up the way they wanted it to be set up, and it’s unfortunate. I know they spent a lot of time and money to get it ready, and some things are out of your control. I said it last year, they needed one more year, and basically you could have a U.S. Open here this week if you wanted it. That’s the way it’s set up. The rough is very uniform, it’s very thick. The greens are firm and they’re fast. It’s a great golf course, and when it’s set up like that, it’s going to play tough all week.”
What did you do the summer before your senior year in high school? I’m betting you didn’t play in your second U.S. Open and weren’t playing on a sponsor’s exemption at the AT&T National. 17-year-old Beau Hossler, who missed the cut at last year’s Open here, is back at Congressional and posted a first-round even par 70.
Although he three-putted his last hole, the 9th, from 25 feet, he can’t draw many negatives.
“I had a pretty good day,” said Hossler. “Unfortunately I had some three‑putts. I had four birdies, which is pretty good, so just got to work on the putting a little bit.
“These have got to be the fastest greens I’ve ever putted on. I don’t know, maybe the same speed as Olympic a couple weeks ago, but these have a lot more pitch to them, so if you get on the wrong side of the hole, you’ve got no chance.”
Hossler, who is headed to play for the University of Texas next year, is growing accustomed to the spotlight and the big stage.
“I’m starting to feel pretty comfortable out here, so I feel like I belong,” he said. “Obviously my game needs to get better before I’m out here all the time, but I feel pretty comfortable out here, feels like I can make the adjustment from junior to amateur to professional golf.”
The kid is doing alright.
Billy Hurley III isn’t your average rookie on the PGA Tour. For starters, he’s 30 years old, attended college at the Naval Academy, where he majored in quantitative economics, and spent five years as an officer in the Navy.
“There’s certainly a mental toughness that I learned from the Navy and the Naval Academy that translates well into golf, but the pressures and the life are very different,” he said.
It’s only fitting Hurley chose to post one of his best rounds of the season at the AT&T National, a tournament that honors the military. On the 17th hole, a servicemen tends the pin that has an American flag attached to it. Hurley discovered that the guy works with his roommate from his last post at Pearl Harbor.
Despite a bogey on the last hole, the Leesberg, Virginia, native shot a two-under 69, two strokes behind leader Bo Van Pelt, on the steamy Thursday.
“This is certainly a special tournament, and you have a lot more military out here, which is really fun for me today,” said Hurley, who was granted a sponsor’s exemption. “There was a lot of military, a lot of ‘Beat Armies’ getting thrown around there. Somebody said, ‘Go Army.’ We had to correct him.
“But the tournament here is ‑‑ I mean, the connection to the military, and I got to play here last year when it was in Philly, so just the way that this tournament has decided to honor the military is fantastic, and it always seems to fall around 4th of July. I mean, not obviously this week, but sort of in that mix. And I think that any time that we as an American public take time to pause and remember, reflect and honor the military, it’s a great thing.”
(Getty Images/Patrick McDermott)