Caleb Manuel was standing on the 18th hole at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, about to put a difficult opening round of the US Open behind him, when he looked up and caught a glimpse of the second hole.
And he saw Phil Mickelson, with a raucous gallery around him, preparing to shoot himself.
“It seemed like a Sunday afternoon, the gallery and all the people following him, and the noise,” Manuel said in a telephone interview Thursday after the first round of the tournament. “When someone makes a putt or chips, you can hear everyone on the course.”
It was a reminder to the 20-year-old of where he is playing and the level he is at. Unfortunately for Manuel, his round provided another kind of welcome to play in a major golf tournament for the first time. The Topsham resident battled back to a round of 83 at 13 over par in a tournament known for providing some of the sport’s toughest, fastest and most difficult greens and most challenging conditions.
Only four holes at The Country Club were played at or below par on Thursday. The course arrived with teeth, and Manuel saw it for himself.
“I would say the first two holes I was definitely nervous, and after the third hole it was just the golf course was hard,” said Manuel, a fan who defied the odds by qualifying for the US Open last week. “I told my caddy (Nick Hampion), I’m driving the ball and putting it pretty well. Not great, but solid. But my irons (weren’t) as solid as they normally are.
“I think if I adjust them, I can definitely be more successful.”
The defending Maine Amateur champion hit four of 18 greens and five of 14 fairways, and was often forced to pay the toll the Open routinely charges for wild shots.
“A yard or two from the fairway that’s rougher and friendlier, and then once you’re out of that, unless it’s sitting right, you’re basically hitting or trying to cut it there,” he said. “(And then) it could be buried again, or it could be in one of the bunkers or fescue.”
To add to the challenges, the wind picked up and started turning even good shots into misses.
“I hit a pretty good iron shot on the 16 today, it was a par 3. I landed at the front of the green, but it was downwind and it still rolled down the back of the green and pressed against the neck,” Manuel said. “I made par, but it was a hard up and down. I just looked at my caddy and said, ‘I don’t know what else I can do there.
Manuel started with five straight bogeys, then had his only double bogey in the sixth, but said nerves weren’t a problem throughout the round.
“I just put everything behind me and threw expectations out the window,” he said. “I think after the first couple of holes I expected too much of myself. After the first four holes, (I thought) ‘Okay, I’m at the US Open, let’s have some fun.’ Instead of ‘Hey, we have to make it perfect.’”
Manuel bogeyed the seventh but rolled a putt between 15 and 18 feet. He seemed to bring it to life, as Manuel parried three of the next four holes, closing with pars on the 14th, 16th and 18th holes.
Manuel, who came out after the round to practice iron shots, said he is looking forward to applying the lessons of the round in Friday’s second round. He tees off at 2:42 p.m.
“When I’m on the street, I attack and hopefully hit a few more streets,” he said. “The goal for (Friday) is to have the mentality of the last nine holes, we are in the US Open, let’s have fun. Hit some golf shots, get the crowd clapping. It’s fun. There are a lot of people out there.”
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