The tall, Cypress trees cast long shadows along the narrow fairways as golf’s most demanding event of the year, the U.S. Open, ended in the early evening on Sunday at San Francisco’s Olympic Club.
Webb Simpson battled the challenging course and won his first major championship by shooting a final-round 68 to finish 1-over for the tournament — a rare winning score for an event on the PGA Tour.
Nick Watney fired an even-par round of 70 on Sunday to finish at 7-over and in a tie for 21st, playing in a major that was just a short 90-minute drive from Davis High, where he played prep golf.
Although the former Blue Devil faltered after a solid first round, he still had positives to take out of the event, including the proximity to his hometown of Dixon, which allowed a large contingent of friends and family to watch him play.
And, of course, there was the double eagle on the 17th hole on Thursday.
“It was a great week,” Watney said on Sunday. “You never expect that kind of stuff to happen (the double eagle). Its something I’ll always remember. It was my first one in competition, let alone being at the U.S. Open (that was) as close as I get to home.”
Watney remembers hitting two other double eagles during practice over the years. One was during his college days in at Kings River Country Club, and the other was during a pro-am in Houston, Texas. He graduated from Fresno State in 2003.
Facing the difficult course at Olympic the whole week, Watney felt it was a great test.
“They did a great job with the setup,” Watney said of the United States Golf Association. “It was fair. Good shots were rewarded. But if you got out of position, it was very difficult.”
While playing a major in San Francisco was a highlight of his career, Watney has more big events coming up soon. Next, he will head to Bethesda, Maryland to defend his title at Tiger Woods’ AT&T National event in two weeks. In that victory, his fourth on the PGA Tour, Watney shot a blistering 62 in the third round at Aronimink in Newton Square, Pa.
After the AT&T, his focus will be on preparing for golf’s next major, the British Open Championship, set to begin July 19 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club.
“We’re going to go a week early and play the Scottish Open,” Watney said. “That should be good just to get acclimated. It’s on a links-style golf course, so I think that’s the best (preparation) I can do.”
Watney has played the British Open four previous times with his best finish a tie for seventh in 2010. He knows the weight of golf’s oldest and most storied championship and that he must play well there if he wants to qualify for the U.S. Ryder Cup team in the Fall. Making the Cup squad is on the main goals Watney set for himself this year.
“I got a lot of work to do for that,” Watney said. “I would really love to be on the (Ryder Cup) team, but right now I feel like I gotta keep my head down and play one event at a time.”
It all starts with the defense of his AT&T title, in a tournament that will be contested at Congressional Country Club, the site of last year’s U.S. Open.
— Garrett Johnston is a sports writer and video producer based in Sacramento. He has been covering the PGA Tour for the past seven years, and has followed Watney closely for the past two.