DUBLIN, Ohio – A game that’s widely considered more of a mental grind than a physical test has reached the blue-collar portion of the season.
After 31 holes in the heat and humidity at the Memorial on Friday, Branden Grace was finished. “They say Monday is the longest day of golf but try to play 31 holes around this place, that's going to beat you up,” he said.
Grace is signed up to play Monday’s final qualifying for the U.S. Open at his home club in South Florida, a 36-hole marathon that is widely considered the game’s ultimate grind, but Friday was hardly a walk in Jack Nicklaus’ lush park.
Because of storms that started and stopped and started and stopped play on the first day, more than half the field failed to complete the first round forcing Friday’s overtime.
Moments after Grace had completed his round, Joel Dahmen slumped against a wall after a second-round 73 that could have been so much better if not for a collection of late miscues. He wasn’t making excuses, but 33 holes in day is a haul.
“I’m not in great shape,” Dahmen smiled. “Facts are facts. I don’t know if I can go 33 [holes] and then go 36 [on Monday] a couple of days later. I don’t have great cardio. I laughed in the scoring area and asked Louis [Oosthuizen], ‘Is this why guys workout on Tour?’ It must be.”
Dahmen is also scheduled to play Monday’s U.S. Open qualifier here in Columbus, Ohio, which only adds to what has already been a long week.
Thanks to perfect weather on Friday officials at Muirfield Village will be back on schedule for the third round but that was little solace for those who have endured two wet days of golf-ball-grabbing rough and steep hills.
“I'm pretty tired. I woke up at 4:30 this morning and started my warm-up and played 33 and this golf course is one of the harder walks,” said Patrick Cantlay, who pulled away from the field with a second-round 67 for an 8-under total.
Beyond the cost of playing 33 holes players also have to deal with that rough that makes any shot that’s off-line an adventure. Following the first round Rory McIlroy suggested the rough was boarder line unfair, but that’s nothing new at Jack’s Place.
“It’s really brutal and it’s wet. The fairways are generous enough but if you don’t hit them, the first hole is one of the hardest fairways to hit,” Dahmen said. “The par 5s if you hit it in the rough you can get it back into play but then you have, I had a 5-iron today into No. 7. I hit driver and could only chop it out 100 yards.”
Although that might sound like a complaint, the truth is the Memorial has long been considered one of the PGA Tour’s most demanding tests and a dramatic overhaul of the course following last year’s tournament hasn’t softened any of its edges, although Nicklaus said earlier this week he thought the course would play about a stroke easier.
So far Nicklaus’ prediction is nearly perfect. Last year the scoring average was 74 strokes and through 1 ¾ rounds this week the average is 72.92.
But that probably doesn’t inspire any of the players who awoke of 4 a.m. for a marathon Friday or all those who have been unlucky enough to find the rough this week.
“When I've been in the rough I've had a few of them where you know you just take it on the chin and advance it 100 yards forward, try and save a par or something from there, but it is thick,” Grace said.
Although the physical grind is very real it’s the mental toll that’s the most challenging for players. Cantlay said he spent Friday trying not to fall “asleep” on the course.
“We're out there for such a long time today that you could fall asleep at the wheel a little bit,” Cantlay said. “Just being cognizant of that and checking in with yourself, are you as focused as you can be, when you need to be, I think is key.”
With Monday’s U.S. Open qualifier looming for many it’s just the beginning of professional golf’s most grueling stretch.