SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — You’d like to believe that somewhere James Foulis is raising a wee dram to smiling lips.

The 21st-century players arrived in force Thursday at Shinnecock Hills, bringing all their high-tech weapons to the U.S. Open.

The drivers with their refined geocoustic soles. The golf balls labeled as if they were ballistic missiles – we can only hope the North Koreans never get Pro V1x technology. The bodies – with a few Jason Dufner-esque exceptions – put together along the specs of actual athletes. The swings subject to more computer analysis than any NASCAR powertrain.

And none of it mattered against the simple, essential elements of Shinnecock: Just wind. And sand. And grass of wildly varying length.

It was Thursday just as it ever was. This place left the most accomplished players as exposed and overdrawn at the Bank of Par as when Foulis won his U.S. Open here 122 years ago using the relative equivalent of some crooked sticks and a rock. The 78-74 Foulis posted to win that 36-hole tournament would fit right into Thursday’s milieu. Man, did Foulis earn every bit of his $150 winner’s share that week.

Shinnecock administered a good, old-fashioned 19th century beat-down to the modern golfer.

“I think everybody is going to struggle here,” was Phil Mickelson’s brief but blunt assessment soon after completing his opening-round score of 77.

This place seemed so big and the players so small.

At day’s end, only four players in the 156-man field ventured into the absolute shallowest part of under par. Four of them – Dustin Johnson, Russell Henley, Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy – shared the first-round lead, having shot 1-under 69s.

It required special play to produce even a humble number, Henley hitting 13 of 14 fairways and 12 of 18 greens.

“I felt really in control of my game,” he said. “Off the tee I felt like I was going to hit it right where I was lined up. I gave myself a chance to have a good round.”

Perhaps the most appropriate reaction to the day belonged to 2010 U.S. Open champ Graeme McDowell (79), who upon watching his shot from the bunker on the par-3 second splash onto the slick green and then tumble back to his feet, could think of only one thing to do. He doubled over in laughter.

Or could it have come from Jon Rahm, the next great Spanish player, whose 78 ended thusly: A 2-foot putt for bogey spinning free of the hole’s gravitational pull. Rahm stood for what seemed like forever, spitting unseen epithets into the hand cupping his mouth.

The fact that Tiger Woods emerged from his 78 with his repaired discs intact was something of a victory, as he thrashed from knee-high fescue to sticky beach sand. He endured a triple bogey and two doubles, and one four-putt from 35 feet. “It’s frustrating because I’m hitting it well,” Woods said. “If I can putt like I did at the beginning of the year, we’ve got something. I just haven’t done that.”

In such a setting, the list of victims is far longer than that of the satisfied.

How about Jordan Spieth, who was out of this Open practically before he rubbed the sleep from his eyes? His path to a 78 began bogey-triple bogey.

“There were certainly some dicey pins, but at the same time there were guys that shot under par. So I could have played better,” Spieth said. “All in all it was just very difficult to control the ball off the tee, get it where you want it to in this wind. I thought that if I shot even on the back nine, stayed at 4-over, I was very much in the golf tournament … Hopefully better tomorrow.”

At least he wasn’t the high man in his group. Rory McIlroy’s 80 tied the highest score he ever posted in a major.

The third member of their featured morning group shot 77, although Phil Mickelson was in no mood to celebrate beating his partners. Both he and McIlroy declined to speak afterward.

Matt Kuchar strung together the most bogey-free holes of anyone, avoiding disaster his first 10 holes. But he couldn’t outrun the carnage. Over his final eight holes he went 6 over, including consecutive double bogeys. But his 74 hardly disqualified him.

Henley emerged sounding as confident as anyone could be. “I know I’ve got a lot of golf to play but I do feel good about my game. I’ve beaten all these guys before. I’ve won out here on Tour. Haven’t won a major yet but I believe in my game.”

But it’s Johnson, the world’s No. 1 player, who holds the title of overwhelming favorite now. He, in fact, was the lone member of the world’s top 10-ranked players who shot below par. The other nine were a combined 52 over.

Johnson had the fortune of an on-course TV reporter finding his ball in the deep fescue on one hole. And holing out from a bunker on another when physics suggested the ball should have spun out.

“Tomorrow is going to be another difficult day,” Johnson said.

Comments are not available on this story.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.