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The ‘strange thought’ haunting U.S. Open contestants at Pinehurst

Brooks Koepka was off to a flying start at the 124th U.S. Open at Pinehurst. With three birdies and no mistakes early on, it seemed like classic Koepka—powerful drives, meticulous approaches, and minimal chatter. Paired with Collin Morikawa and a struggling Justin Thomas, Koepka appeared to be in full control. But then, things began to unravel.

Koepka’s first bogey appeared after a three-putt on the 13th hole. Then, a tugged tee shot on the 15th and a blocked tee shot on the 16th led to two more bogeys. An even-par 70 might not seem disastrous, but Koepka surely felt it could have been much better. Unlike usual, he declined to discuss his round post-game, signaling his frustration.

The U.S. Open is notorious for silencing even the best players. One moment you’re doing great, and the next, you’re struggling with the turtleback greens. Koepka, in his 11th Open, knows this well. He’s won twice before and finished in the top five two more times. His mental strength and self-confidence often set him apart from his competitors. He once laid out his winning formula, saying, ‘There’s 156 [players] in the field. At least 80 of them I’m just going to beat. Half of them won’t play well, so you’re down to about 35. From there, some will crumble under pressure. That leaves just a few more to beat.’

Martin Kaymer, the 2014 champion at Pinehurst, echoed the mental strain this course exerts. ‘Maybe 50 percent of the field doesn’t believe they can do well here,’ he noted. He described the course as ‘scary’ and highlighted the shift in mentality from aiming for birdies to avoiding bogeys. A ‘strange thought,’ he called it.

Tiger Woods, after an opening round of six bogeys, agreed on the need for defensive play. ‘Being aggressive to a conservative line is how you need to play this course,’ he said. Tony Finau experienced this firsthand when his best shot of the day on the par-3 6th missed the green entirely due to the tricky setup.

Collin Morikawa felt the pressure too, making two double bogeys but managing to finish even for the day with two closing birdies. He summed it up, ‘Every hole out here is so tough. If I let it affect me, then you might as well just call it over.’

The U.S. Open at Pinehurst is a test of not just physical skill but mental fortitude. The greens challenge players to rethink their strategies, often forcing even the best to adopt a more defensive approach. For Koepka and others, navigating this ‘strange thought’ is part of what makes this tournament uniquely challenging.

Source: Golf


Paul Lewis is a lifelong golfing enthusiast who has dedicated his life to the game he loves. With a passion that has fueled his journey, Paul's unwavering commitment to golf has shaped him into a knowledgeable and experienced individual in the world of golf.

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