U.S. Open is about so much more than scores
By Jim Brighters, Senior Golf Editor
San Francisco, CA (Sports Network) - After a day when the game's best struggled badly at the U.S. Open, there was plenty to cheer about if you dug deep at Olympic Club.
Tiger Woods may, or may not be back, but either way, for at least a day, he showed vintage form. Your opinion of the man notwithstanding, if you can't marvel at this ability inside the ropes, your hatred of his disgusting actions outside them has clouded your objectivity.
He had a spark in his step after the round, bouncing around with confidence.
And why shouldn't he have been positive? Six guys broke par, eight managed par and 142 were over par. The six players who went sub-70 should be proud of their accomplishments.
One of them, Nick Watney, recorded a double-eagle and chipped in. Think of it this way - it took those two unlikely swipes of the club for one of the top players in the world just to break par.
But most of Thursday's great stories came not from the game's elite, but from those who you don't know much about. The beautiful narrative was written by those we expected little from, or from those we were just happy made it to Olympic Club.
A few years ago, we weren't sure we'd see Casey Martin play competitively ever again. Nearly crippled by a birth defect that makes walking excruciating, he became the head coach of the men's team at the University of Oregon, made it through qualifying, and did quite well on Thursday.
Yes, his score was a 4-over 74, but that beat Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and a host of other players that were supposed to contend for this title.
Martin's start was, let's say, less than ideal. He bogeyed five of his first six, birdied seven, then calmed down. He played the last 11 holes in even par and can take realistic expectations of making the cut into Friday.
"I would say the birdie, just finally getting a putt to drop on seven finally settled me down," Martin said. "I haven't felt like this in a long, long time. It's the U.S. Open, you don't, you can play in PGA Tour events all day long it doesn't feel like this."
Discount, for a moment, Martin's disability and his odyssey to professional golf. Isn't it refreshing to hear someone so effusively gush about how this week has stirred excitement?
Martin wasn't the only great story in his own threesome Thursday.
There was Dennis Miller. We've all heard the name, but it's not the comedian, rather the viral hit from Youngstown, Ohio.
Miller, 42, is the director of golf at Mill Creek Golf Club and he found his way into a four-man playoff for three spots in the sectional qualifier in Columbus, Ohio.
He had 20 feet for birdie on the fourth playoff hole to get into the field at Olympic Club. Miller hit a great putt, but the ball, and his chances of finally playing in his national championship, hung ever so gently on the lip. Miller turned his head in disbelief, then, a mere second later, the ball fell and the jolly, ice-cream loving club pro, made it to the U.S. Open.
Granted, his 10-over 80 puts him at the bottom of the leaderboard, but Miller can always tell his grandchildren that he tied a former Masters champion (Trevor Immelman) and beat a perennial Ryder Cupper (Miguel Angel Jimenez).
Imagine the nerves a 42-year-old professional swam through on Thursday.
Now imagine what a 14-year-old kid would go through.
Andy Zhang is the youngest golfer to ever play in the U.S. Open. He told a fantastic story Wednesday that illustrated exactly how a high-school kid should feel playing on the big stage.
"I was on the airplane, and then I was asking Chris (Gold, Zhang's caddie), I was like, so I get to practice on the driving range and putt and chip in the U.S. Open facility," Zhang said. "So is that OK if I go up to Tiger and those great players for autographs. And he goes, like, no, you are going to be the one who is giving out autographs. And I came here and everybody knows me for some reason. Yeah. I'm signing autographs, I guess."
Zhang, like almost all of the newbies, had a rough go early thanks to the nerves. He opened with a triple-bogey, then a double-bogey, then three straight bogeys.
He calmed down some and had 15 feet at the last for a 79. Zhang poured in the putt and now should brag to the girls at the roller rink that he broke 80 in the U.S. Open.
"I am really proud of myself, actually. Well I shouldn't say proud, I'm really happy to be here," Zhang said. "I was on the first tee, I was like, just please don't hit a hundred-yard slice off the first tee and I was shaking really hard."
Again, genuine enthusiasm is so fun to hear. We take for granted that this is just another major championship. Will Tiger finally win a major? Will Luke Donald break through? How will Phil do?
It means a lot to guys who have virtually no chance to win the championship. Technically, they do, and that's part of the magic.
We won't be talking much about Martin, Miller or Zhang come Sunday evening, but we should celebrate what they did on Thursday.
06/15 10:22:39 ET