PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Early in the first U.S. Open round of his career, Rafael Cabrera-Bello looked up at the scoreboard, saw his name on top and had one thought flash to mind.
“I hope my dad takes a picture.”
Cabrera-Bello led the way Thursday among golfers making their U.S. Open debuts. The 26-year-old Spaniard posted a 1-under 70 after teeing off in the first group of the cool morning, then watched that score keep him near the top of the leaderboard for most of the afternoon.
The first-timers ranged in age from 42-year-old Deane Pappas to 18-year-old U.S. Amateur champ Byeong-Hun An.
Very few who played early found the success of Cabrera-Bello. He reached 2-under within his first seven holes and, with most of the field yet to tee off, found his name at the top.
“I looked up at the scoreboard and it’s hard for me to even believe I’m playing here. So when I looked up at the scoreboard I thought, ‘I hope my dad takes a picture,’ so I can remember that,” Cabrera-Bello said.
While Cabrera-Bello was making it look simple, recovering from a potentially disastrous string of three bogeys in four holes midway through his round to close strong, other newcomers were posting huge numbers.
Pappas and Travis Hampshire both shot a 10-over 81. Dan McCarthy, a Syracuse, N.Y., native, was 5 over through eight holes on his way to a 9-over 80.
“I tried to be steady. I tried not to look too much around me. I saw scores all day long off the charts, mine included. I just tried to hit the next shot. I couldn’t do anything else,” McCarthy said. “I’m still just playing golf, on a much bigger stage and in front of a lot more people than I’m used to. I tried to not let that bother me either.”
Amateurs found just as much trouble as the pros. Pepperdine golfer Andrew Putnam sent shots on Nos. 6 and 8 over the edge of Pebble Beach’s treacherous cliffs. Stanford’s Joseph Bramlett posted a triple-bogey eight on the 14th as part of a 44 on his opening nine holes. He rallied to shoot 35 on his back nine, but still sat at 8 over.
Morgan Hoffman was one amateur who appeared to figure out Pebble in the afternoon – until the 18th. Hoffman was even-par on the 18th tee, but put two shots into Stillwater Cove, posted a 9 on the final hole and finished at 4-over.
“The gallery was extremely nice today. I knew I had a lot of friends and family but I didn’t know that many were going to come out and support me like that,” Bramlett said. “Makes you feel better when you’re not playing so great.”
There weren’t any signs of Cabrera-Bello shooting a round like Thursday’s in his recent events. He missed the cut in three of his previous four European Tour events, shooting 71 or higher in 19 of his previous 20 rounds before Thursday’s effort.
The fact he even had his clubs to play with was an accomplishment itself.
As Cabrera-Bello attempted to board his flight in Madrid, a problem with his electronic visa waiver to the United States kept him from boarding his flight. He was forced to scramble, eventually staying the night with an uncle in Madrid and boarding a flight to Philadelphia on Sunday morning, but his clubs went missing in the process.
Cabrera-Bello was forced to walk the course on Monday with just a few wedges he borrowed. His clubs finally arrived on Tuesday in time to get a little feel for the golf course.
“It’s my first major and I just told myself ‘I’m finally here, so just try to enjoy and play your best and stay calm through your round,”’ Cabrera-Bello said. “It started good for me on the first hole and then I had throughout the middle of the round I made several bogeys but it was nice to get it back at the end.”
After making his par putt on the ninth hole – his last – Cabrera-Bello raced up to his family with a giant grin, then watched the rest of the field chase him.
“I could only dream about a day like this,” Cabrera-Bello said. “I maybe imagined it when I was 8 or 9 years old but never expected something like this.”