Brandon Wu didn’t waste much time adjusting to theSandhills of North Carolina.
Wu, 22, of Scarsdale, N.Y., completed play in the PanAmerican Games on Sunday in Lima, Peru, finishing in fourth place individuallyand helping the mixed USA Team to a gold medal in the four-day event. He flewfrom Lima through Miami, Fla., to Pinehurst, N.C., arriving in mid-morning onMonday, and shot 5-under-par 65 on Course No. 4 at Pinehurst Resort &Country Club for the Day 1 lead in stroke play of the 119th U.S. AmateurChampionship.
Pinehurst No. 4, Hole 11
Wu, who received his Stanford University diploma behind the 18th green at Pebble Beach after finishing in a tie for 35th place in the 2019 U.S. Open, set the competitive course record on Course No. 4, which reopened in 2018 after a renovation by Gil Hanse. Wu holds a one-stroke lead over Trevor Werbylo, 21, of Tucson, Ariz., a junior at the University of Arizona, and Palmer Jackson, 18, of Murrysville, Pa., an incoming freshman at the University of Notre Dame, who both shot 4-under 66.
“I tried to manage my sleep as well as I could,” said Wu, who is No. 8 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. “I slept great on the two flights up here and then took a quick nap before I teed off for about two hours. I actually felt pretty good.”
Wu closed with a flourish, making three consecutive birdies and an eagle on holes 14-17 to go from even par to 5 under. Wu, who helped the Cardinal to the NCAA team title in May, made a routine par 4 on No. 18 for the solo lead.
David Perkins hits a shot on the eighth hole during the first round of stroke play at the 2019 U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club (Course No. 2) in Village of Pinehurst, N.C. on Monday, Aug. 12, 2019. (Copyright USGA/Michael Reaves)
Wu was one of 27 players to better par in Monday’s opening round, but only four of those under-par scores were recorded on Pinehurst No. 2, site of three U.S. Opens and the 2024 U.S. Open. At par 70, Course No. 2 played to a 77.06 stroke average, while Course No. 4 played to a 73.14 stroke average.
“No. 2 is more narrow and has more diabolical greens,” said Travis Vick, 19, of Houston and an incoming freshman at the University of Texas who is competing in his third U.S. Amateur. “[On Tuesday] I play in the afternoon and I heard there’s going to be a lot of wind, so it will be quite the test.”
Werbylo is the nephew of former LPGA Tour player Cindy Rarick, and he also has Arizona assistant coach Chris Nallen as his caddie. Nallen was a semifinalist in the 2004 U.S. Amateur and a member of the 2003 USA Walker Cup Team.
“On the first nine holes, I wasn’t hitting the ball very well, especially off the tee,” said Werbylo, who is competing in his first U.S. Amateur. “But I figured something out to get the ball in the fairway on my second nine. I know if you’re not hitting fairways out here eventually it’s going to catch up to you.”
Jackson, who won the Pennsylvania Class 3A state golf championship and helped his Franklin Regional High baseball team advance to the state quarterfinals, reached the Round of 16 in last month’s U.S. Junior Amateur at Inverness, defeating defending champion Michael Thorbjornsen in the Round of 32.
Brad Dalke, of Norman, Okla., the runner-up in the 2016 U.S. Amateur at Oakland Hills, was among four players at 3-under 67. The best scores on Course No. 2 were 2-under 68s by William Walker III, of Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Van Holmgren, of Plymouth, Minn.; and Julien Sale, of France. That 2-under total was matched by eight players on Course No. 4, including 2018 semifinalist Isaiah Salinda, of South San Francisco, Calif., who like Wu graduated from Stanford this spring.
A scenic view of the 18th hole during the first round of stroke play at the 2019 U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club (Course No. 2) in Village of Pinehurst, N.C. on Monday, Aug. 12, 2019. (Copyright USGA/Michael Reaves)
Three players from host state North Carolina hit the first tee shots off the starting holes on Monday, with John Eades of Charlotte doing the honors on the first hole of Course No. 2 at 7:15 a.m. Scott Harvey, the 2014 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion, of Greensboro, was the first to play on the first hole of Course No. 4, and Henry Shimp, also of Charlotte, was the first to play from the ninth hole of Course No. 4. Shimp finished with an even-par 70. Jason Enloe, of Dallas, Texas, the head coach at Southern Methodist University, hit the first shot off No. 11 on Course No. 2. (For logistical purposes, players started on holes 9 and 11 rather than the traditional holes 1 and 10 starts.)
Michael Thorbjornsen, the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur champion from Wellesley, Mass., made an eagle on the second hole of Course No. 4, holing out a 7-iron from 181 yards on the 523-yard par 4. But you wouldn’t have guessed the outcome from his initial reaction. “I hit driver, and it went really far for some reason, and I had 181, kind of in between clubs,” said Thorbjornsen, who shot 1-under 69. “The funny thing is I caught it a little thin. I dropped my club, didn’t even look at where the ball went. I started walking a little bit and then everyone started yelling, saying it went in. It was a big surprise.”
At a 77.06 stroke average through the Day 1 of stroke play, Pinehurst No. 2 is playing more than 7 strokes over its par of 70. The courses with the highest stroke-play average to par for 36 holes in recent U.S. Amateurs are: Chambers Bay, 2010, 8.25 over par (79.25); Southern Hills, 2009, 7.62 over par (77.62); The Olympic Club, 2007, 7.36 over par (77.36). Pinehurst No. 2 would rank as the fourth-toughest in recent U.S. Amateurs.