SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – It wasn’t quite a roar.
The stifling heat thinned out the galleries at Baltusrol on Thursday before Rob Labritz enjoyed a grandstand moment as Round 1 of the 98th PGA Championship began to wind down and raindrops began to fall.
A delicate chip from the back edge of the 18th green nearly found the hole, inspiring a rumble from the dedicated spectators on hand.
“It would’ve been nice to see that go in,” Labritz said.
The director of golf at GlenArbor tapped in for his only birdie of the day, then ducked into the scoring tent and happily signed for a 1-over 71 that left him tied for 55th place with the likes of Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson, Sergio Garcia and Bubba Watson.
It’s good company.
“That’s a nice start,” said Labritz, who opened the round with 13 consecutive pars. “I’m not displeased. I was hitting good shots, hitting the ball solid and making some nice putts. I did miss a couple makeable pars, and I didn’t make enough birdies, but it was pretty solid overall.”
None of the other 19 club professionals in play here this week climbed that far up the leaderboard.
Jimmy Walker headed out early and shot a 5-under 65 on the Lower Course, which continued to be receptive following the heavy rains at the start of the week. There have already been three first-time major winners this season, and if the five-time winner on the PGA Tour can keep up this pace, the streak might very well be extended.
The 37-year-old has been struggling this season, but he sits high on the list of the best players never to win a major.
“I had not really thought of that,” Walker said of the first-time major winners. “I mean, all of the guys that have done it this year are great players. … I don’t think it’s a coincidence or anything. They’re all good players and it was just a matter of time, so let’s keep that rolling.”
Emiliano Grillo, Ross Fisher and Martin Kaymer are all one shot back.
This might be the year for the 31-year-old German, who captured a PGA Championship in 2010, clinched a comeback win for Europe at the Ryder Cup in 2012 and won the U.S. Open in 2014.
“I don’t think it has much to do with the years,” Kaymer said. “It’s more about the fact that my career has always been that way, even as an amateur. I always go through some really nice highs. And then for some people, there are some very bad lows. For me, they are fine because I know why they come and I’m not too worried about them.”
Harris English, James Hahn, Andy Sullivan and Henrik Stenson trail by three strokes after opening with 3-under 67s.
There was heavy rain in the immediate forecast, so the morning wave on Friday might be playing a saturated course.
Pins are expected to be gettable from the fairway.
That may be a help to Brian Gaffney, who struggled all the way around on Thursday and shot a 4-over 74. It could’ve been a lot worse for the Quaker Ridge head professional, who is three shots on the wrong side of the projected cut in a tie for 120th.
“I hit the ball surprisingly bad and kept putting myself in places that compromised any strategy,” Gaffney said. “It feels like I turned an 80 or 81 into a 74 by staying mentally strong and not giving up, and it would have been easy to do.”
Gaffney hit just nine greens in regulation.
“I think I may have overplayed the difficulty of this golf course in my head before the first round,” he added. “It wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be.”
Labritz also feels an urgency to make more birdie putts on Friday.
“I had a few looks at birdies, a few good looks at birdies,” he said. “I just over-read them a little bit. My speed was a little off. I was leaving everything short. I came out this morning and the practice green was lightning fast, so I adjusted myself and couldn’t get the speed down.”
The other three members of the Met PGA here this week have work to do, as well.
Ben Polland of Deepdale shot a 72, Matt Dobyns of Fresh Meadow shot a 73, and Mark Brown of Tam O’Shanter shot a 75.