FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Contrary to popular opinion, The Open Doctor doesn't mind seeing low scores. You might've heard differently in the past, thanks to quotes from players like Phil Mickelson, who have disagreed publicly with some of Rees Jones' tweaks to major courses.
As Jones watched Brooks Koepka shoot a tournament-low 63 at Bethpage Black on Thursday, Rees Jones, who has been the consulting architect at Bethpage Black ever since the USGA committed to bringing the U.S. Open here in 2002, was encouraged by how the course is playing.
"I love it when there's a couple low scores," Jones told Golf Digest Friday. "That means the golf course isn't playing too tough, but just tough enough. It's gettable if you're playing well."
Though Bethpage Black is the venue for this week's PGA Championship, not the U.S. Open, we're seeing scoring similar to a U.S. Open at the mighty A.W. Tillinghast/Joe Burbeck design. Compared to the past 10 PGA Championships, Thursday's scoring average at Bethpage (73.064) was lower than six of those PGAs. So relative to those scores, and both U.S. Opens at Bethpage (74.878 first-round average in 2002, 74.250 in 2009), Bethpage's scoring really wasn't all that difficult.
Jones, whose restoration work at Bethpage started in 1998 ahead of the U.S. Open, was asked if the lower scoring bothered him on a radio interview Thursday. Definitely not the case, he says.
"A couple of low rounds is good for a championship. The players really feel that there is a good score out there," Jones said. "That usually happens in the first round because they're more free-wheeling a little bit, then the muscles start to tighten toward the end."
As the morning wave completes their second rounds, the scoring has remained similar to Thursday. A couple low rounds: Jordan Spieth and Daniel Berger carded four-under 66s and Dustin Johnson and Ross Fisher shot 67s in the morning wave. The scoring average (72.284) was slightly lower early on Friday.
Just don't expect Rees Jones to mind. Bethpage Black is rewarding good shots and penalizing poor ones, the hope of any course architect—even the Open Doctor.