Torrey Pines is meant to be a course that is learned, but Russell Henley disproved the theory at the US Open today.
The 32-year-old American leads the tournament with Louis Oosthuizen after a four-under par 67 on an opening day despite a seven-year absence from the venue, which hosts the annual Farmers Insurance Open on the PGA Tour.
This is his first appearance at the San Diego municipal course since the Farmers in 2014, when he shot 79 and “feeling like I just got beat up”.
But a nice up-and-down for birdie at the 18th hole gave him the outright lead in the middle of the day, and with the wind whipping up and the greens firmed up, and he still held top billing by day’s end.
Henley has won three times on the PGA Tour but not since 2017, and he has zero top-10 finishes in 26 previous starts in majors. His world ranking is 63rd, although he said that he felt he was playing his best golf since moving under the tutelage of legendary instructor Jim McLean.
“Felt like I was reading the greens well and hitting my lines,” he said afterward. “Just hung in there. There’s just some tough holes out there, and you’ve just got to hit fairways. I’m just trying to hang in there.”
South African Oosthuizen was four under through 16 holes, with a birdie putt to come on the eighth green, when officials called play over because of darkness.
The tournament was delayed by 90 minutes in the morning because of fog rolling in off the Pacific, but it quickly developed a US Open authenticity with Torrey’s thick rough and fast greens – running at 13 in the morning and actually firming up over the day.
“I don’t know if it’s going to firm up and get baked out or stay receptive on the greens, but if it’s blowing like this the whole week, it’s just going to be a hard week,” said Henley. “That’s kind of what you want in a US Open, though, right?”
His nearest competitors include the likes of multiple-major winner Brooks Koepka, Masters winner Hideki Matsuyama and Spain’s Jon Rahm, who all carded 69s.
The best of the Australians was Adam Scott, who birdied the final two holes to shoot a 70.