The first day of the 2017 US Amateur was a hot, steamy affair, with clouds that threatened rain at any moment. Fortunately, the weather held off.
During the morning rounds, I decided to follow University of Michigan sophomore Nick Carlson on the South Course. Carlson had a terrific round, finishing with a 67 (-3). The South (as expected), played much tougher than the North. Carlson was one of just two players in the top eleven who played the South. Only seven of the top thirty played the South.
Carlson started on the back nine and got off to a good start with an opening birdie. He added two more birdies to one bogey on his first nine before making the turn. Then, at the par five second, Carlson’s eagle sent him to the top of the leaderboard. A string of pars followed until his final hole of his day — the par 3 ninth. There, a missed short putt resulted in bogey.
In the afternoon, I followed the group of Maverick McNeally, Jackson Bishop from Western Carolina University and Andreas Gjesteby of Baylor, by way of Norway. Thanks to McNeally’s status as the number one ranked amateur, the group likely had the largest gallery on the course. When I left after nine, McNeally was striking the ball well, but struggling on the greens. McNeally finished +3. Bishop had a good swing and a good game, but ultimately finished at +4. Gjesteby hit the ball a long way, but had dropped too many shots punching out from the trees. He finished at +6.
The good news for everyone on the South is that they should be able to gain some ground on the easier North on Tuesday.
Gjesteby was one of several players I saw on the course carrying his own bag. Throughout the day, I saw quite the variety of arrangements. McNeally’s caddy was pushing a Clic Gear cart. Some players looked as though their kid brothers and sisters had been drafted for the duty. I watched one youngster pushing a cart that was only a little shorter than he stood tall. Another was pushing a pull cart — and not very effectively. Carlson employed a friend from his hometown. Quite a few had what appeared to be their fathers — or some other older male relative — on the bag. I am certain that one player I watched was romantically involved with the young lady carrying his clubs.
A couple of the caddies were sufficiently inexperienced that their players were giving them instructions as to where to place the bag and stand.
Push carts, players carrying their own bags and caddying-as-an-educational-experience is quite a difference from other tournaments I have attended. I know that Oakland Hills had caddies available who were familiar with the course, but many, I think, wanted to share the experience with someone important to them. I wonder if others opted for a friend or relative (or to carry their own bags) because they had blown their budget on travel and lodging.
I wish I had known players would be out there on their own. I would have loved to caddy for a player, and would have done it for free. I know the basic caddy rules: Show up; Shut Up and; Keep Up. I can rake bunkers, wipe equipment and pull clubs with the best of them. I wouldn’t need to know the yardages, because the vast majority of the players had range-finders. And if my hypothetical player didn’t have one, I always have one in my car (which Mrs. GolfBlogger calls my “pro-shop.”
Still, I am sure that I am not the only one who would have volunteered, so I suspect that some of those carrying their own clubs are just used to playing that way.
Another significant difference from other tournaments was in the lack of ropes separating players from galleries. When I first got out on the course, I looked for the usual well marked paths but found none. The only areas roped off were teeing grounds and near the greens. I was further confused when I observed spectators following their groups down the fairways. Those, I thought, must be family members with “inside the ropes” access. Then I realized that even the folk with day tickets were “inside the ropes.” So I just joined a pack of spectators and followed along.
It felt weird, though. Ultimately, I could not bring myself to walk down the middle of the fairway with the others. Instead, I stuck to the rough on the sidelines. I wonder if ropes will go up for the match play rounds on the weekends.
Crowds were quite sparse, but I think that’s to be expected for what were essentially qualifying rounds on a Monday. Three hundred twelve players teed it up on Monday. After Tuesday, that will be down to just 64.