By Thomas Bonk
Pebble Beach, Calif. - Dustin Johnson shook his head and shrugged. It was a 'What-can-you-do?' moment. In the case of the Pebble Beach greens for the first round of the 2010 U.S. Open, there isn't much, Johnson said.
"They're just really difficult," said Johnson, who has won the last two AT&T National Pro-Ams at Pebble Beach. "And they get even more difficult as the day goes on."
Course conditions are always a major factor at the U.S. Open, and Thursday's opening round was no different, not that Graeme McDowell was expecting anything else.
"Tough day," McDowell said after shooting 71. "U.S. Opens are always tough days."
Getting the ball on the fairway is one thing, but keeping the ball on the green and then getting it into the hole proved to be equally as challenging. Johnson said the players with afternoon starting times had it the toughest. The grass on the greens is poa annua and one of its characteristics is that it grows in the afternoon sun, and sometimes shows the wear of play.
Johnson, who shot an even-par 71, said the players know what poa annua is all about and that's just the way it is.
"Sometimes it gets bumpy in the afternoon, and you just roll with it," he said.
Tiger Woods said much the same thing after his 3-over 74, but he also threw in a couple of barbs about the conditions. He said his 12-foot putt for birdie at the 17th "jumped about three feet in the air," and also said the best plan on putting is to "hit a good putt and hope they kick in."
Woods said few players in the afternoon wave were scoring well, but that wasn't totally accurate. The three leaders at 2-under 69 - Paul Casey, Brandon de Jonge and Shaun Micheel - all played the same time as Woods: in the afternoon.
"Obviously, later in the day, they got a little bumpy," de Jonge said.
Thomas O'Toole Jr., the USGA's chairman of the Championship Committee, said the greens have required "corrective watering" to keep them nourished, but the nature of poa annua makes them a constant test.
"When you have 156 players playing over two days, you're going to get bumpy greens," he said.
Mike Davis, the USGA's senior director of rules and competitions, added that wind in the afternoon made the greens more difficult.
What's not disputable is the fact that Pebble Beach is difficult, from tee to green. The field was a combined 622 over par for the round and the scoring average was nearly five shots over par at 75.3. The most difficult hole was the 222-yard par-3 17th, which played more than a half a shot over par and produced just 68 scores (56 pars and 12 birdies) of par or better all day.
"Pebble had its teeth out today," said 1982 U.S. Open champion Tom Watson after a 78 in the afternoon. "The greens got a little bumpy, [but] people can make putts on those greens."
The course setup is difficult, but fair, de Jonge said.
"You have to try to stay patient," he said. "You could hit a good putt that didn't go in and hope some of your bad ones do. It evens out."
Thomas Bonk is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA Web sites.