LOS ANGELES, CA – It took almost 130 years to happen once. It only took 15 minutes to happen twice: Ricky Fowler and Xander Schauffele, playing in consecutive threesomes, fired white-hot 8-under 62s at Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course during the first round of the 123rd U.S. Open Championship. They broke the U.S. Open record by one stroke – originally set by Johnny Miller and then equaled by five other players – and tied the major championship scoring record set by Brandon Grace in the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. They lead by two strokes over Wyndham Clark and Dustin Johnson, the 2016 U.S. Open champion who defected to LIV. Brian Harman and Rory McIlroy are tied for fifth with 5-under 65s.
Fowler also set another U.S. Open record by carding ten birdies in one round, including a run o f four consecutive from holes 18 thru three, (both he and Schauffele started their rounds on the North Course’s back nine).
“I knew there was birdies to be made out here, but you have to drive it well and get the ball in position first. Yeah, did that, and from there just managed our way around really well.”
The record was preserved with a gritty birdie on the par-5, 523-yard eighth hole after Fowler hit his tee shot in the barranca.
“I knew down there that it had a chance of having a lie and being able to at least get it out and move it forward…I had a gap, and the bridge that was kind of low left,” Fowler explained. “I took a club that I wanted to make sure I got above the bridge just in case I pulled it at all….I knew with where that pin was, I could get a wedge close. I stuck in the ground a bit, but I’ll take it. We ended up with a good look and walked away with 4.”
His birdie on the short, but sexy 330-yard par-3 sixth. Firing n all cylinders, Fowler lasered a wedge to eight feet, then made the difficult sharply-breaking putt. Dead center all the way. The ovation was deafening. L.A. knew what was happening, and they were all in.
Fowler’s resurgence has been long hoped-for but constantly derailed. But early in the season he showed signs of both improvement and consistency, and he entered both the Masters and the PGA Championship as a Golf News Net sleeper pick. His results those week underwhelmed expectations, but the breakthrough may have arrived this week. Day one may just be “getting to know you,” at a major championship, but Fowler has himself in contention to finally get that first official major to go along with his win at the PLAYERS Championship. There perhaps might be no better place than his home turf of Southern California. Fowler’s best performance at the open was a runner-up finish in 2014.
Not to be outdone, fellow SoCal wunderkind Xander Schauffele, also seeking his first major, tied Fowler atop the leaderboard immediately after Fowler and his group cleared the green. He posted a clean card, eight birdies, no bogeys.
“The sun didn’t come out and it was misting this morning, so I’d say the greens held a little bit more moisture. I think it made the greens sort of a more holeable speed, almost, and then coming into greens you’re able to pull some wedges back,” Schauffele observed, noting that the morning wave had softer conditions. “And then the fairways are a little bit softer, too, because of that sort of overcast, and without the sun out it’s not drying out much. I think fairways are easier to hit and greens are a little bit softer.”
Schauffele birdied all three par-5s on the golf course, the first, eighth and fourteenth. And twice he carded back-to-back birdies, at 1 and 2 and again at 7 and 8 en route to a score of 30 in his inward nine, the front side of LACC’s North Course. In particular, the birdie on the long, 234-yard par-4 seventh was a thunderbolt.
“That was a 4-iron. What Austin [his caddie] and I would call a tomahawk 4-iron. That’s pretty much all I have in my body,” he offered.
He hit it to four feet and made the putt. It snuck in the right side, but it was still a two on the card at the 260-yard hole.
Still Schauffele downplayed tying the major championship record and setting a new record 50 years in the making. He had to repeat several times in the post-round interview that it’s just day one, only a good start.
“You guys are interviewing my caddie,” he jested with the assembled media. “He’s not used to this!” he joked in mock protest.
Schauffele has finished among the top 15 in each of the last six U.S. Opens (T-5 at Erin Hills in 2017, T-6 at Shinnecock Hills in 2018, T-3 at Pebble Beach in 2019, 5th at Winged Foot in 2020, T-7 at Torrey Pines in 2021 and T-14 at The Country Club in 2022). The only players with a longer streak than Schauffele since 1920 are Jack Nicklaus (12, 1971-1982), Ben Hogan (12, 1940-1956), Sam Snead (9, 1947-1955) and Bobby Jones (11, 1920-1930).
Will we have a duel in the sun? Might the two of them run away form the field. Round two will clarify that question, as may three names in hit pursuit: Wyndham Clark, who shows no signs of flinching, Dustin Johnson, and Rory McIlroy.
Meanwhile, members of L.A. Country Club are more than mildly chagrinned.
“What’s going on?” howled one member. “This is a hard golf course! Really it is!” As birdie after birdie after birdie continued to ring up on the scoreboard and ovations erupted all across the golf course, some friend of his inquired whether we had come to the National Championship or the Quad Cities Open. He practically had an aneurism.
“This isn’t happening!” he moaned to the heavens.
He’s right. Thursday was the lowest average scoring average for a first round in U.S. Open history, 71.38). It was also the sixth-lowest first round scoring average in major championship history. And finally, and most embarrassingly for the host club, Thursday marked the first time in U.S. Open history that no player shot 80 or higher in the first round of the championship. How long before we see T-shirts that read, “Can you break par at LACC?”