Sergio Garcia struggles to 73 at U.S. Open


Special to the Miami Herald

Sergio Garcia was 7-over-par after his first eight holes Thursday in the first round of the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club. To his credit, he battled back from a double bogey and a quadruple bogey on a front-nine 40 to finish the round at 3-over 73, only seven shots off the lead.

Garcia, who set off a firestorm of criticism last month with some racially insensitive remarks directed toward Tiger Woods, said the Philadelphia crowds were properly polite for the most part as he made his way around the course.

Asked if he had been heckled, he said: “I think there were a couple here and there. But I felt the people were very nice for the whole day. I think that almost all of them were behind me, and that was nice to see.”

Garcia started on the back nine and made a double bogey at the 14th hole when he slipped on the tee box and duck-hooked his drive out of bounds. At the 15th, he was out of bounds again with a 3-wood off the tee. A poor greenside-bunker shot followed by a chip and two putts from eight feet led to an eight on the card.

“It was tough; for me it was very tough,” Garcia said. “I guess I was making my week a little bit tougher. But I tried to battle as much as I could coming in, and I was able to shoot a decent score. … Unfortunately, two really bad holes. The U.S. Open doesn’t give you much room.”

Pick up the pace

The U.S. Golf Association this week has unveiled a new campaign designed to help combat one of the sorest points among most recreational golfers — the pace of stultifying slow play that has caused many to actually give up the game.

The theme of a series of new commercials and public service announcements is based on the popular 1980 film Caddyshack, filmed in Fort Lauderdale and featuring a number of iconic funny lines now part of the golf vernacular. That would include a scene when a loud-mouthed real estate tycoon played by the late Rodney Dangerfield gets upset that a stuffy old judge played by the late Ted Knight is taking too long to hit his shot off the first tee.

“Let’s go,” Dangerfield bellows. “While we’re young.”

The “While We’re Young” message will begin airing this week during Open telecasts and features a high-profile cast of characters, including golfers Woods, Arnold Palmer, Annika Sorenstam and Paula Creamer, actor Clint Eastwood and instructor Butch Harmon.

In one spot, Woods is standing forever over a four-foot putt when a youngster says, “Hey, while we’re young.” Woods then misses the putt … on a miniature golf course. Then another kid deadpans, “He thinks he’s in a major.”

“The idea sprang from need,” said Glen Nager, president of the USGA. “Pace of play has been an issue for decades, but now it’s become one of the most significant threats to the game. Five-hour-plus rounds are common, and they’re incompatible with modern life.”

In a statement released by the USGA, Woods said: “Rounds of golf take too long, and no one enjoys it. The issue is serious, and in reality we all want to say, ‘Hey, while we’re young.’ ”

Special open stories

The field includes 43 players competing in their first U.S. Open, many of them with intriguing personal stories.

Jesse Smith, 33, of Barrington, N.H., shot a 59 at Dubsdread Golf Club in Orlando six weeks prior to becoming a medalist at his U.S. Open local qualifier. His father, Guy, is a full-blooded Mohawk from Six Nations in Ontario and played for the World Hockey Association’s New England Whalers in the 1970s. His great uncle was Jay Silverheels, best known for playing Tonto in the old Lone Ranger TV series.

John Nieporte is the 46-year-old head professional at Trump International in West Palm Beach. He sank an eight-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole in sectional qualifying and also had a hole-in-one on the back nine of the same tournament, allowing him to get into the playoff. His father, Tom, was once the head professional at Winged Foot and tied for 17th at the 1958 Open in Tulsa, Okla.

Mackenzie Hughes, 22, of Dundas, Ontario, was a first alternate after a local qualifier in Spartanburg, S.C., but advanced to the sectional final when veteran Jay Haas decided not to compete. Hughes made the most of the opportunity, finishing tied for second in sectional play in St. Louis, where he advanced to the Open field with a birdie on the first playoff hole to win one of two spots available.

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