Only in the U.S. Open could a player shoot 74 in the opening round and feel pretty good about it. Stephen Ames of Calgary came in with that four-over-par score in the opening round of the U.S. national championship at the difficult Olympic Club, and that's exactly how he felt.
"I'm happy," the 48-year-old Ames said after he finished. "I didn't hit any wayward shots except for my drive on the seventh [hole]."
That, as it happened, was on Ames's second-to-last hole because he started on the ninth hole. Players in the first two rounds are starting on either the first or ninth holes because of Olympic's configuration. The eighth finishes nearer the clubhouse than the ninth. The seventh hole, meanwhile, played as a 256-yard par-four in the first round. Most players tried to drive the green on the slightly uphill hole, which was playing into the wind.
Ames had to wait for two groups there before he could, as he said, "try" to hit a driver. He pushed it into the crowd, but got up and down for birdie. Ames's only other birdie, against six bogeys, came on the 15 th hole. He said his putting was the problem.
"I played well, but putting was the issue, so far for me this week," Ames said. He was in a group with Tim Herron and Joe Ogilvie. The threesome played immediately behind the marquee group of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson. Mickelson lost his opening tee shot in a tree, and after he and everybody in the area searched for his ball for the five minutes that are allowed, he returned to the tee to start again.
Ames saw Mickelson returning to the tee, and being his usual joking self, he had something to say about that.
"I wondered if we could play through," Ames said. "Just kidding."
Meanwhile, he was more concerned with the course difficulty. He said PGA Tour players don't usually see greens as fast and firm. He also referred to the 670-yard, par-five 16 th hole as a "beast." He made a bogey on the hole.
"I missed the fairway to the right, laid back with my second, and then laid up with my third," he said. "I'd have had to hook the shot 50 yards [to get to the green]."
Ames played in the morning half of the draw. Conditions are usually more difficult in the afternoons at Olympic, where the wind tends to get up as it comes in off the nearby Pacific Ocean. He'll be in the afternoon part of the draw for the second round.
"It will be interesting to see the conditions [in the second round], if they let it get away like they have in the past," Ames said.
Whatever the course plays like, Ames figures he's hitting the ball well enough to contend. Whether he does will probably come down to how he putts. He can afford one 74, but probably not another.