By Bill Fields
ARDMORE, Pa. -- OK, so the greens weren't as hard as a granite counter top. They weren't as unreceptive as a wary father of his daughter's first date. You weren't hallucinating if you saw a ball or two backing up after it came to earth.
That said, they were still the 18 putting surfaces at Merion GC's East Course, and this was the second round of the U.S. Open. To hit every green in regulation -- even if they were a tad more friendly than USGA custom would normally dictate -- was quite a feat.
Billy Horschel ought to be very proud of himself, because he hit every one them in the second round, a ball-striking clinic that paved the way for a three-under 67 and the clubhouse lead at one-under 139 Friday afternoon.
Patience hasn't always been the 26-year-old Floridian's strong suit, but on a day in which he played 11 holes to complete his rain-delayed opening round and then his full 18 of precision play, he possessed plenty. Many of the hole locations were extra tough, and Horschel was prudent.
"I think some of the pins you can take on, and there are some pins if you do take on and you miss, you miss badly. You pay the price for it," Horschel said. "I was pretty happy if I hit [it] 20, 25 feet. If I made the putt, I was happy with it. And there's some other pins you can go more aggressive and get it a little closer."
Although he had four birdies offset by only one three-putt bogey in the second round, Horschel wasn't free-wheeling it into a golf nirvana. "No, I was not in the zone, trust me," he said. "This golf course, even though it's soft, is still a tough golf course. I know what 'in the zone' is for me: I don't get nervous, I just see the shot and go. And I saw the shot and I went with it, but I was still nervous with a lot of them. Your misses here can be bad if you miss in the wrong spots. I was just focused on what I tried to do."
Horschel didn't know he had hit every green until he completed the round. He noted that he had achieved the feat "plenty of times in my career," but 15 greens is his best performance in 2013, a season in which he won his first PGA Tour event -- the Zurich Classic in New Orleans in late April.
He has improved his mindset by working with sport psychologist Fran Pirozzolo for a year. "We just talked about committing to every shot, execution," Horschel said. "And I think patience has come from the older I get, the more I can understand that I don't have to get off to a hot start. If I [don't], if I'm a couple over after a few holes, then that's fine. I was two over after seven holes yesterday, after I finished, and I walked off the golf course and I wasn't upset at all. I played well, I executed a lot of golf shots, just nothing went in the hole. I don't have the most patience of a lot of guys out here, but I've grown week in and week out."
He figures to need it over the weekend. Horschel is going to work to keep the occasion in perspective, as hard as that might be, particularly on a course that figures to get firmer and more formidable.
"I know it's a big event, I know it's a historical event," Horschel said. "But one thing that me and Fran have worked on is limiting the distractions. I get distracted too easily out there on the course and off the course. It's more or less, 'Focus on what I do, don't worry about anybody else. Don't worry about the crowd noise. Don't worry about what your playing partners are doing, just focus on what I'm trying to do.' I'm just going to to think about trying to execute every golf shot from here on in for the next 36 holes. If I can do that, we'll see what happens on Sunday."
David Graham became a legend by hitting 17 greens and a fringe on a Sunday when he shot 67 at Merion 32 years ago. Horschel's accuracy produced the same number and put him in great position. Walking away quietly with worry-free pars, as the late Ken Venturi said so often, is never a bad thing. And at a U.S. Open, it can be downright magical.