The renovated Memorial Park Golf Course proved a stiff test during the first round of the Houston Open on Thursday, but quality shots were met with a welcome sound.
The Houston Open is the first domestic event in the United States to allow fans since the coronavirus pandemic shut the sport down for three months in March. A maximum of 2,000 fans are being allowed on the grounds each day, and there was a noticeable difference from the barren, quiet scenery from events over the past four-plus months.
“It certainly felt more normal as we were playing today and especially as we were finishing up, just the look of it is way more normal than when it was just so bare,” said Jordan Spieth, who is a member of the Player Policy Board helping to advise on how the Tour reintroduces fans to events. “So obviously if we’re able to do it safely, that’s a huge win for the tournaments and the Tour, so hopefully it continues to go well like it did this morning.”
Spieth played in one of the morning wave’s marquee groups along with Brooks Koepka. While they both finished over par for the day, a good portion of the fans in attendance watched their every shot.
Tony Finau was another who enjoyed hearing the buzz from the gallery – albeit a small one – as he carded a 1-under 69.
“Right out of the gate when they said my name on the first tee, it was cool to have some people kind of cheer,” he said. “It’s been a while since I’ve heard that.”
For other players, the feel was similar to fan-less events since the Tour’s re-start in mid-June.
“To be honest, I didn’t really see them,” said Australia’s Cameron Smith, who was among the early leaders with a 3-under 67. “When there’s not many fans around, they might tend to follow the more marquee groups and first off it’s pretty quiet out there. Tomorrow I’ll be playing a little later obviously being the second round, so it will be nice to see a few more people out there.
“The ones that I saw following some groups, looked like they’re appreciating good quality shots. When you do hit a good shot in front of people, it feels a little better than when you hear crickets after you hit it close.”
The other hot topic of the first round was the course itself. The Houston Open moved this year to Memorial Park following a complete redesign by Tom Doak, with input from Koepka.
The par-71 track plays at more than 7,000 yards with hard, firm greens.
Spieth was tied for the lead at 3 under through 10 holes before going 6 over through the next seven. Koepka found the water on the par-3 seventh hole en route to a double bogey, but that wasn’t close to the struggles endured by Grayson Murray, who carded a triple on No. 13 and an eight on the par-3 15th en route to a 15-over 85.
Koepka said it was fun to play on a course he had a hand in designing. He chalked his 73 up to hitting it “terrible” while playing alongside Spieth.
“I think every time Jordan hit it in the water, he told me that was my fault,” Koepka quipped. “So I’m pretty sure a couple people, every bad shot will be my fault, so I’ll take that.”
–Field Level Media (@FieldLevelMedia)