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Parker Coody was relaxing in his hotel room Monday afternoon, having just accomplished the first task of his U.S. Amateur mission.
Survive Oakmont. Check.
“Oakmont is one of those courses where it just feels like if you get it going bad, it feels like it can never stop,” said Coody, who need only look at the leaderboard to see how impressive his even-par 70 was to open the stroke-play portion of this championship.
Yes, Coody, a rising senior at Texas, was T-43 after Round 1, but out of the half of the 312-player field who kicked things off at Oakmont, he was solo second, just a shot worse than Vanderbilt sophomore Cole Sherwood, who fired a 1-under 69 in the afternoon wave.
“If you tell anyone that they’re going to tee it up and shoot even at Oakmont,” Coody added, “I’m pretty sure they’re going to take it.”
So, just how tough was Oakmont on Monday? Consider this: The par-70 layout played an average of 7.16 strokes over par, nearly six shots higher than the other stroke-play co-host, Longue Vue Club, which yielded 41 under-par rounds on the first day. Clemson’s Jacob Bergeron paced the field with a 7-under 63, a shot better than Wake Forest’s Alex Fitzpatrick, Pepperdine’s Joe Highsmith and West Virginia’s Mark Goetz. (Those players are in great position, too, but they’ll get Oakmont, slightly firmer and with more wind, on Tuesday.)
Meanwhile, down the road, the top three players in the World Amateur Golf Ranking – Japan’s Keita Nakajima, Sweden’s Ludvig Aberg and Coody’s twin, Pierceson Coody – combined to shoot 22 over on the Henry Fownes gem, which is hosting its 18th USGA championship, and sixth U.S. Amateur, this week.
Nakajima, the world No. 1, carded 80 and still beat more than two dozen players. Texas A&M’s Sam Bennett, who three times last season in college, was only a shot better. Pepperdine’s Dylan Menante, who captured the Northeast Amateur this summer, got in at 77 along with Aberg and three-time Walker Cupper Stewart Hagestad.
Sherwood was unaware of most of those numbers. Before he came alive in the postseason for the Commodores, tying for fifth at the SEC Championship (which Vandy won) and leading the team in the NCAA Championship at Grayhawk (where the ‘Dores lost in match play), Sherwood teed it up in his first college tournament, in Gainesville, Florida. It was there that he played as an individual, alongside Illinois standout Michael Feagles, and saw how Feagles played to his strengths.
For Sherwood, that means relying heavily on his driver and not worrying about what everyone else is doing.
“I don’t really want a leaderboard to tell me where I think I am, but that’s the best I’ve seen my game in a while,” Sherwood said of his first round, where he bounced back from bogeys at Nos. 4-6 to birdie each of his last two holes, including the lengthy par-3 eighth.
“More than anything I’m just excited that I was able to execute a lot of scary golf shots that Oakmont can give you.”
There were plenty of players who didn’t. They misjudged a tough pin on the par-4 third hole, the most difficult on the day, and ended up bounding over the green, down a shaved runoff and ending up about 40 yards away. They got caught in deep fairway bunkers, or the dreaded church pews, and had to lay up.
A few players even saw near aces on the drivable par-4 17th hole turn into big numbers. One player lipped out a potential hole-in-one – and then needed six more shots to find the hole.
The greens were so fast in the afternoon, north of 15 on the Stimpmeter per one caddie, that USGA officials were out watering them between groups. Even the fairways were rolling “about 12,” according to the looper.
“I can’t say it makes a big difference, though,” Sherwood said. “You still have 100 yards in, and the ball is jumping 15 feet once it lands.”
Added Texas junior Mason Nome, who shot 73 at Oakmont: “There’s a lot of just tapping the ball on 40-footers.”
There is positive news, though: For those who got Oakmont out of the way, a more-gettable test awaits Tuesday. On the flip side, if you didn’t get your birdies at Longue Vue on Monday – most notably over par there in Round 1 were Texas’ Cole Hammer, Ohio State’s Maxwell Moldovan, Pepperdine’s William Mouw and reigning U.S. Amateur runner-up Ollie Osborne of SMU – Oakmont won’t be kind to those hoping to claw their way back into the match-play picture.
Parker Coody, who struggled last spring for the Longhorns while battling a back injury, credits his stellar start to some mental-game work he’s done recently. He’ll need every bit of it as this tournament progresses.
The last time the U.S. Amateur was played at Oakmont, in 2003, only three players broke par in stroke play (Pittsburgh Field Club was the second course that year): J.B. Holmes, Trip Kuehne and Billy Hurley.
Oakmont isn’t getting any easier.
“Pierceson and I were talking to Jason Gore last night and he said these greens have at least two more feet in them by the end of the week,” Parker Coody said. “I can’t wait to see what that looks like, and hopefully I do.”