ERIN, Wis. — Tacoma’s Derek Barron was numb standing on the first tee at Erin Hills.
He’d spent the morning — and several years before that — nervously anticipating his first round at a U.S. Open. His group was the last to tee off Thursday.
Barron said he felt the adrenaline as he struck his first shot 344 yards down the center of the fairway.
“It was the most nerve-racking tee shot I’ve ever hit,” he said.
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Maybe Barron couldn’t feel his feet walking to the first green, but he found his bearings quickly and kept them, shooting a 2-under-par 70 in the opening round of the 117th U.S. Open.
“That’s a good feeling,” Barron said. “I would take three more of those (scores of 70) right now and go home happy as a clam.”
Barron’s unlikely feat as a first-time competitor has him tied for 18th alongside players like Masters champion Sergio Garcia and two-time U.S. Open winner Ernie Els.
He said he’d love to be in the position some of these household names are in one day, but is already making the case that he can play with them.
He did not wait long to make his first birdie at a U.S. Open, rolling in a 14-foot putt on the second hole, a short par 4.
From then on, it was a relatively stress-free round, except for a couple of nice escape jobs from the high fescue rough on the back nine.
The best one came at No. 17 where an errant drive left him hacking out of the right rough. He barely got it back to the fairway, but hit a wedge shot from 110 yards out close to the pin, and sank the 5-footer to save par.
“I got a couple of good breaks, but I also made a couple of really nice saves,” Barron said.
His consistency kept the small gallery following his group engaged, but it was two back-nine birdies that won cheers and pushed him to 2-under.
Spectators along the rope gave Barron fist bumps after he sunk a 14-foot putt at No. 11.
Later, Barron’s tee shot on No. 16 landed on the green, but the course was fairly quiet as much of the day’s crowd had dispersed.
“Tough crowd,” Barron joked as he walked to the green, earning some courtesy claps from the hole marshals and laughs from spectators.
His next shot, a 30-foot putt — his longest make of the day — drew cheers.
“I’m laughing with people out on the course and trying to keep myself loose by making jokes with the crowd,” Barron said. “I want to have fun.”
Barron said disengaging between shots helps him channel his energy in the right places. He waved at or chatted with his wife, Madi, and other family members and friends.
His light approach made for an enjoyable round.
“A couple of times I just turned around and looked, just like, ‘Dang, this is so fun and so awesome.’ I just feel lucky,” Barron said.