Commentary

Rain rules Day 1 of 109th U.S. Open

Originally Published: June 18, 2009
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- The Brits would call this a fine day for their Open, but on this side of the pond, where rain tends to accumulate rather than run off, it is downright miserable.

Bethpage Black, site of one of the most memorable championships when it was dubbed the "People's Open" back in 2002, is a quagmire. Call the 2009 version the Precipitation Open.

Meteorological statistics don't do justice to what the rain is doing to the golf course and the 109th U.S. Open, which began in the rain Thursday morning and promises to finish … when?

"Who knows what the next three days are going to bring … or the next four or five days are going to bring," said Padraig Harrington, who didn't mean to be funny.

Half of the 156-player field never made it onto the course for the first round, which was first suspended at 10:15 a.m. ET because of heavy rain that continued through the afternoon. At 1:55 p.m. ET, the U.S. Golf Association announced the delay of the first round until Friday.

The round is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. ET, but that is being optimistic, given the amount of rain that has fallen and with more expected.

"It's only going to get worse," said England's Paul Casey, who completed five holes and was 1 over par. "You are certainly going to have to strike the ball very well, but it's going to be the guy who keeps his head this week. Patience is paramount, and you are going to have to deal with not only a very tough golf course but also some of the decisions that are being made, like not being able to lift, clean and place.

"That's going to be very difficult, and you are going to have to be patient and expect some difficult lies and some mud balls. That's the way it is. What does it say in the original rules of golf? Play the ball as it lies."

Yes, it does. And the USGA will not waver on that point. When asked before the tournament whether there was any circumstance that would lead to such a stipulation being put in place, Jim Hyler, vice president of the USGA and chairman of its championship committee, felt no need to elaborate: "No."

Lift, clean and place is common on the PGA Tour, which uses it as a local rule to keep its competitions on schedule. The USGA, however, scoffs at the idea, although it does allow for squeegeeing of the greens, which was quite common Thursday.

"We had to get in as many holes as we possibly could, and we played more holes than we thought," said defending champion Tiger Woods, who was on the seventh hole at 1 over par when play was suspended. "I knew it was going to be a tough day, and it was. … It was a good decision to start today. Playing was the right decision."

Whether it was good for Woods or others who had to endure a few holes was a matter of debate. No player made it past 11 holes and nobody is better than 1 under par.

"I don't think there's a guy who hasn't teed off today who is not sitting very happy in his hotel room right now -- or maybe at the cinema watching a movie or something like that -- who isn't particularly happy about not playing. Or gloating," said Harrington, who is 4 over.

"But that's the nature of the game. You're going to get bad breaks, you're going to get the wrong side of the draw."

Then there is Steve Stricker, who was on his seventh hole at 1 over, believing it was best to get a few holes in.

"The stopping and starting is the biggest difficulty," Stricker said. "Getting right mentally and getting yourself ready to play. It was nice to get out there and get playing. I've been here for three days and wanted to get going. I figured it was going to be tough for everybody out there."

Of course, more rain is expected.

"An ideal goal would be to get Round 2 finished by Saturday," said Mike Davis, the USGA's director of rules and competitions. "But based on that weather forecast, that's not looking terribly promising."

Weather delays are nothing new at major championships. The PGA Championship was postponed at Oakland Hills in the second round last year, and the Masters has been plagued by weather problems over the years.

But the U.S. Open has had a run of good luck, plagued only on Long Island. Five years ago, the Open at Shinnecock was suspended in the first round, the last time a round was not completed the day it was started. There were also delays in the 2002 Open here at Bethpage.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, famous for nasty British Open weather, it was sunny and mild at Turnberry, site of next month's British Open.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com