• US Open, Round One

Olympic a brutal game of last man standing

Alex Dimond June 14, 2012
Like Augustus Gloop, Bubba Watson fell victim to Olympic Club early on © PA Photos

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If you want an idea about the type of US Open winners the Olympic Club produces, you need look no further than Jack Fleck.

Fleck, the oldest living US Open champion, won the title at the treacherous San Francisco course way back in 1955, defeating the legendary Ben Hogan in an 18-hole play-off after finding two birdies in the last four holes of his final round to tie Hogan's seven-over par total.

Fleck, now 90, was back at the site of his greatest victory on Wednesday for some media sessions with other legends of the game. Before he met the esteemed members of the press, however, he made sure his game was still in shape - hitting six and seven-irons on the range of a nearby golf course for over an hour.

Apparently, all was to his satisfaction.

That's the sort of winner that is produced at Olympic - hardy characters with a resilience and fortitude that can only be admired. It's not just about the technical quality of the swing, it's about the toughness of the psyche too.

Thursday's first round of the 2012 US Open indicated that a similar winner may be the one left standing come Sunday (or Monday, if another play-off is required).

It could be the proverbial Charlie in the Chocolate Factory who lifts the famous trophy, with the USGA's Mike Davis playing the role of Willy Wonka to tell him "Charlie, my boy, you've won!" after the other candidates, one by one, masterminded their own demise.

The Olympic Club is a tough golf course, we know that now, but it is certainly not unfair; it simply lays out the tools for you to torture yourself in whichever way you displease.

Miss too many fairways - as Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald did to various extents in the afternoon's marquee group - and you will find it impossible to avoid numerous bogeys.

Get over-confident and start firing at well-protected pins - as fast starters Justin Rose, Rafael Cabrera-Bello and Alex Noren occasionally did - and you'll quickly find any shots you've picked up on the course will soon be given back.

Play a more swashbuckling style of golf - where big hits and brave escapes are more common than safe tee shots and conservative approaches - then, well, then you are probably going to be in trouble, as Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson both found out.

"I figured out what I did wrong today on the golf course," Bubba tweeted, recycling a familiar golfing joke for those more used to shooting much higher scores. "I missed the putt for 77. #golfishard."

Not everyone found life so tough, however. Michael Thompson - a journeyman almost guaranteed a round of 76 or higher on Friday - managed the low round of the day, and probably week, after a remarkable 66, while Tiger Woods found himself among the early leaders after a one-under par round of 69.

Woods hasn't always appeared suited to the US Open, particularly when the course is set up to be so punishing. But he is a more conservative player these days and course management has always been among his (numerous) strengths, twin factors that have got him off to his best start in a major for many a year.

"You gotta really grind," Woods said after the round. "I've always preferred the conditions to be difficult. It brings in the shot-making. It brings our mind into play. I like that."

"I've always preferred the conditions to be difficult. It brings in the shotmaking. It brings our mind into play. I like that"
- Tiger Woods

His play on Thursday was so metronomic, so precise, it led one prominent US golf journalist to declare he tournament already 'over'. Woods would hardly seem a character akin to 'Charlie', however - although with his work ethic it is not hard to imagine him emulating Fleck and heading down to the range when he is entering his tenth decade.

Other players showed the right attitude on Thursday, and received their rewards for it. Rickie Fowler and Ryo Ishikawa both played some wonderful golf, showing remarkable discipline for their age, while experienced hands like David Toms, Matt Kuchar and Jim Furyk all kept their cool, stayed patient and reaped the rewards.

World No. 1 Luke Donald, meanwhile, played the role of Augustus Gloop. Bubba Watson understudied, as did another pre-tournament favourite, Zach Johnson. More victims will doubtless fall in round two, as they forget to focus on the one shot that is in front of them and start letting doubts - or worse, ambitions - cloud their judgement.

It's hard not to be intimidated by the conditions this week. Unless you have been used to that sort of thing for over 50 years, that is.

"Hogan and I tied at (7-over) 287 [in 1955]. This year, the winner might shoot, what, 281, maybe 280?" Fleck said on Wednesday. "The course is different. The rough isn't near what it was."

It's still a tough test, though. But it's a test you don't try to pass, just simply survive. Friday will ask another question.

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Alex Dimond Close
Alex Dimond is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk