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BROOKLINE, Mass. In early 2000 in South Africa, 11-year-old MJ Daffue and his father played a round of golf with Retief Goosen and his brother Goosens, leaving Daffue awestruck and prepared for future utterances such as My Life Changed This Day- the. . At age 12, Daffue sat until around 4 a.m. to watch Goosen win the 2001 US Open at Southern Hills in Tulsa. At 15, Daffue sat until around 4 a.m. to watch Goosen win the 2004 US Open at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island.
He would sleep well at school those Mondays, part of school.
Draw a line from there until Friday, and there was a potion of holy mercy and good sorrow. At 33, Daffue (pronounced Duffy) became the first player in this 122nd US Open to reach 6 under par. He led the first major he had ever tried by three. He had a community of golfers and a community of golf visitors around the Country Club waking up, noticing the first 32 he had created and saying, What is this?
The US Open began on Friday lit by unknowns. At dusk, the stars had appeared.
At the head of the class was a guy who spent more than a decade playing in the golf wilderness, who served as a volunteer assistant coach at the University of Houston, who hopes to one day become a college golf coach, who was planning to play the Korn Ferry Tour stops in Wichita this week to get points for their PGA Tour card, but who captured that PGA Tour card in late May to make it possible. When a reporter asked Dustin Johnson if there were any suitors whose names he didn’t know, the 2016 US Open champion and versatile la-dee-da guy said, I mean, the only guy who had been leading for a little while, obviously playing well.
Of course, golf wouldn’t have this craziness for long, so it would resume its age-old badness. He would insist on a back-nine 40 which left Daffue at 1 under. She would send him to number 14 towards a concrete path between a fence and a hospitality area, and she would ask him to try to master it. (He did, in fact, with a breakout wow.) That would get him to No. 18 at the 3-under he was holding at his 6:56 a.m. start time, and that would get him on a tour of #18 horror that any duffer would understand. This included stops in the tall grass in front of a bunker, then the deep throat of a hungry bunker, then in an awkward space that few people go to, backing off the green next to a fence in grass too healthy to be useful .
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I would say I think I’ve started to lose sight of my clarity on my targets and how I envision my shots, Daffue said. I was a little hasty in my process. This is obviously part of the nerves.
At No. 11, he had made a mistake on the number (yardage) he wanted to hit.
It’s just your thought process, too, he says. You think of your front number and the pin. When you stand above a shot, you have already forgotten your front number. There are so many things going through your mind.
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Goosen himself could nod from afar, given that golf had given him two US Open titles, then, with a three-stroke lead to a third after three rounds in 2005 at Pinehurst in North Carolina, he decided it might be time for an 81. Daffue, ranked 296, had led the US Open early on, as had his friend Andrew Landry, ranked 624, in 2016 in Oakmont, Pennsylvania. Goosen sent texts of encouragement and Daffue reminded himself not to forget to marvel.
Few people manage to lead the US Open by three shots, he said, proving he doesn’t shy away from the appearance of the rankings. I just said to myself: Enjoy it. You have done a lot of work. It finally pays off. He just did the simple things really badly, he said. It happens, but: You know, if you had told me the day before yesterday that I would be 1 under par in the top 15 after finishing my run today, I would have said yes.
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