June 17, 2009

On Top, For Now

An incomplete first round at Bethpage Black has an unlikely overnight leader in Jeff Brehaut

At 1-under through 11 holes, Jeff Brehaut is part of an unheralded four-man group currently sitting atop a soggy U.S. Open leaderboard.

At 1-under through 11 holes, Jeff Brehaut is part of an unheralded four-man group currently sitting atop a soggy U.S. Open leaderboard.

FARMINGDALE, N.Y.-- Chicago has its Billy Goat. Boston had the Bambino. The way things are going at the U.S. Open, you'd think they just cracked the tomb of Tutankhamun, and out came the Curse of Round Swamp Road. That's the name of the street bisecting Bethpage Black, and so far, it has been the road to ruin.

First, the Open got savaged by a suffering economy, selling barely more than half the number of corporate tents that dotted the property seven years ago. Now, a festering weather system has parked itself over New York like the cloud of doom, dumping massive amounts of rain on the golf course before, and now during, the tournament, forcing the suspension of the first round of play.

What's even worse is the forecast. "Our meteorologists are telling us that it is very likely that we can get another inch-plus of rain on Saturday," said the USGA's Mike Davis. "An ideal goal would be to get round 2 finished by Saturday, but based on that weather forecast, that's not looking terribly promising." And there's more rain predicted for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. If Oliver Stone was making the movie, he'd call it "Pontoon."

U.S. Opens are justly infamous for first-round leaders no one has ever heard of, but at the very least, most Opens have a first round. The overnight overlords of Bethpage Under Water are Jeff Brehaut, Johan Edfors, Andrew Parr and Ryan Spears, all at one under par. Only Brehaut got in more than nine holes before the deluge, thus laying claim as the undisputed leader in casual water. It seemed a good fit because, of the four, Brehaut is also the only one ever to make a cut in a U.S. Open, tying for 17th two years ago at Oakmont, which is the only other time he has ever played in a major golf championship.

Not that the career of Brehaut, 46, has been underwhelming, but he aspires to being a journeyman. It took him 13 tries to make it through the PGA Tour's qualifying school, finally getting his card in '98. If he hadn't made it then, he probably would have found another line of work. "I had to go one way or the other," he said. "I wasn't starving, but I wasn't making any money. I was loading all of us in the car and traveling the Nike Tour. Four on the road in an SUV for the seventh year in a row. I told people I wish I would have gotten better or worse faster so I could have made up my mind. But, I kept getting a little better." He hung around on the big tour through the '07 season before heading back down to the Nationwide for the last year and a half.

"I kind of tell people not everybody is a college All-American," Brehaut says with a smile, "and I'm probably living proof of that. A lot of us have to be the guys somebody else beats up on."

Brehaut picked odd utensils to use at Bethpage, to the extent to which that was possible Thursday. He hit 5-wood into the 435-yard 11th, 5-wood into the 499-yard 12th, 5-wood into the 605-yard 13th (for his third) and 3-wood into the 490-yard 16th. And the course is going to do nothing but get longer.

"My coach is Phil Rodgers, and he has been for 19 years," Brehaut says of the famous short-game guru. "He's taught me a lot of his tricks. Yeah, my short game's pretty good. Maybe that's an advantage. We'll see."

In the meantime, Brehaut is soaking it in better than Bethpage's fairways. "It's totally cool," he says of leading the Open. "I'm only through 11. Half the field hasn't even started. My dad [Gene] is here, and he's jumping out of his skin right now, I promise you. We rented a house. We're doing a whole family gig. My parents are here. My father-in-law is here. My nephew's here. My wife and kids are here. Even if this is as good as it gets, it's pretty good."

In his practice round on Wednesday, Brehaut finished on the ninth hole by holing back-to-back bunker shots. "To do the first one was funny, and I enjoyed it," he said. "I threw another down just to practice. I knew it was going in when it was five feet away. And the place just went crazy. They're all yelling, 'Hit another. Hit another.' I said, 'No mas.' I want to quit on top. But to have my son [Riley] be able to watch that happen and hear the crowd, feels good to me. I feel like he's going to have a memory of me when I'm gone that's going to be, Yeah, I remember when Dad holed those two bunker shots and the crowd went wild."