By Mark Gregory
ERIN, WIS –
Heading into the 2017 US Open, all the talk was about the man known as lefty, Phil Mickelson, withdrawing from the championship to attend his daughter’s graduation in California.
After three rounds of golf, it is another lefty that has all the fans buzzing.
Georgia-native Brian Harman, who had missed the cut in the two previous US Opens he has played in, holds the lead after 54 holes at 12-under par and looks to become the first-ever left hander to win a US Open.
“(My) first cut made,” he said. “So we’re breaking down all kinds of barriers. I’m proud of the way I hung in there today. I got off to a pretty good start, which I really haven’t done yet, so that was nice. Struck it well, had a couple putts that could have gone that didn’t, but had a bunch of looks, hit a bunch of greens, and that’s what you’ve got to do to play well around here.”
Harman carded a five-under 67 to take the lead and his 12-under par is the second best under par round in US Open history, two behind Rory McIlroy’s 2014 in 2011.
Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Tommy Fleetwood sit one shot back at 11-under and Rickie Fowler is two shots off the lead.
With an eight-foot eagle putt on the par-5 18th hole, Kentucky-born Justin Thomas – in only his third US Open – set a new record of score in relation to par in any round of the tournament.
Thomas bombed a 3-wood to within eight feet on his second shot to set up the record putt.
The nine-under par round of 63 came 44 years to the day from the previous record – held by Johnny Miller, who shot an eight-under 63 at Oakmont.
“That means I’m a part of history,” Thomas said after the round. “It means I have a lot better chance to win the tournament than I did when the day started. I mean, it’s all pretty self-explanatory, I guess, in terms of what it means. But just for me, I felt like I’ve been playing pretty well all week, and didn’t have quite the numbers to show for it. Obviously, today I definitely had something to show for it.”
Walking to his ball on the green, Thomas knew it was for a 63, but did not know the complete historical value.
“I told Jimmy (Johnson, his caddie) walking up there once I found out we had a putt, I said let’s try to become a part of history here. He said, yeah, let’s do it. But I had no idea in terms of 9-under being the best in the U.S. Open,” Thomas said.
Thomas said he has enjoyed playing at the first-ever US Open in Wisconsin.
“It’s up there with Kapalua in the hardest walk, I know that. It’s long and a lot of terrain. But it’s such a cool course standing on the tee,” he said of Erin Hills. “A hole like 3, that hole to me kind of epitomizes a U.S. Open. When you look down and you can see the fescue kind of lining the fairways and the severe slopes and the greens really far away, and you’ve got the bunkers that have the fescue coming out of it, and you can see the slopes on the green and the change of color, that’s cool to me.
“I love golf course architecture. I would love at some point in my career to be doing that and get involved in it. But it’s a spread-out course. I’m sure the spectators may not like walking it and spectating as much as other courses. But it’s cool. You get a nice day out there, you get some great scenes. You get on a couple tees like on 5, or 15, you can see a lot of the course, so that’s pretty cool to kind of see the crowd and stuff. It’s a great track.”
The Wisconsin fans have also treated Thomas well.
“I was blown away by the support that I got today and this week. It was really cool to be honest. To feel like I had that many (fans), I don’t know if they were faking or what they were doing, but I liked it,” he said. “They made me feel like they were pulling for me and helping me through that finish. The roars in a major in a U.S. Open are really tough to compare to anything. Just to hear all the people yelling my name and cheering me on between holes and in between shots is pretty special, so it’s a lot of fun.”
While Wisconsin native Steve Stricker and 28-year-old superstar Rickie Fowler may be the fan favorites, native Texan and Ryder Cup standout Patrick Reed is earning fans this weekend with his play and his wardrobe.
Before Thomas went nine under par, Reed missed a putt that would have tied Miller’s record round, but he still managed to card a seven-under and put himself in contention – all while wearing the red, white and blue all tournament.
On Saturday, Reed pulled out some of his Ryder Cup wardrobe and plans to don the colors of Old Glory tomorrow as well.
“(This was the) first time I’ve worn them in competition, yes. I’ve worn them a lot around the house and stuff like that and practice. Yeah, it was the first time popping them back out in play. They felt good,” Reed said of his Ryder Cup blue pants. “I think the biggest thing is the pants I’ve been wearing throughout the past couple of years, they’re the kind of material that if it rains, they repel water, as well. And whenever the PGA Tour comes into town, even if it’s supposed to be bright and sunny, you have a chance there’s going to be some rain or some kind of conditions. I’ve kind of stayed on the safe side there. But this week it’s red, white and blue week. “It’s awesome hearing the fans yelling “USA” and those kind of things.”
Reed admitted he is not the sole decision maker when it comes to his outfit.
“I have any wife, my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. And they mainly tell me, “This is what you’re going to wear.” I just say, “Okay. Sounds good, hun.” You know, happy wife, happy life,” Reed said. “I just go out there and when they decide red, white and blue this week, I was all for it. Just kind of bring back not only the patriotism, but also bring back some of that Ryder Cup feelings. I felt like I was getting it going a little bit today, especially on that 14, 15, 16 stretch, just the fans started going crazy. And anytime you start hitting some quality shots and making some putts, you feel the adrenaline going.”
Outside of just wearing the colors, Reed said he understands the importance of winning the US Open as an American.
“It’s where we’re from. It’s home,” he said. “To go out and just play well tomorrow and have a chance to win the golf tournament would mean a lot. I kind of do what I need to do today, shoot a low number, get myself back in this golf tournament. I was thinking if you can get 4 or 5-under par today, it would be a pretty good score to get yourself in the golf tournament. Go out and shoot 7 and exceed where my goal was, that’s always a positive. It just kind of builds up momentum and carries it over for tomorrow.”