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Daffue goes from a big lead to a big meltdown in U.S. Open

The South African shot 2-over 72 and closed his day at 1 under after spending most of the morning alone in the lead.
Credit: AP
MJ Daffue, of South Africa, hits on the eighth hole during the second round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at The Country Club, Friday, June 17, 2022, in Brookline, Mass. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

BROOKLINE, Mass. — M.J. Daffue’s problems Friday at the U.S. Open began on a cheap piece of carpeting in a hospitality suite left of the 14th fairway.

If only that had been the worst of it.

There was nothing about Daffue’s shot off the deck of the hospitality suite that could’ve predicted his freefall from 6-under par and a three-shot lead to outside the top 10 by the end of his second round. He hit that shot over the railing, then sailed it some 250 yards to the rough left of the green, about even with the pin.

But he duffed the first pitch shot and made bogey. He followed with another bogey on No. 15, then clipped a ball clean from a greenside bunker on No. 18 to finish with a double-bogey there.

The South African shot 2-over 72 and closed his day at 1 under after spending most of the morning alone in the lead.

“A crazy battle,” Daffue said. “Obviously, I’m disappointed. But you expect at some stage during the week in the U.S. Open, the golf course is going to come and bite us.”

It’s hardly the worst Daffue has been through.

A story on pgatour.com details the depression and doubt that have been part of Daffue’s life over the last decade. It began when his future mother-in-law died in a freak accident. It continued when the financial pressure of making a living playing golf became almost too much.

More recently, he suffered with a bout of COVID-19. But golf, and life, have gotten better of late. A series of strong finishes on the Korn Ferry Tour has helped him secure his PGA Tour card for 2022-23. He wrapped that up in time to play in a U.S. Open qualifier that had not originally been on his schedule.

He came into the week ranked 296th. Some of the best advice he’s received over the years has come from someone in his country who knows a little about U.S. Opens. Two-time champion Retief Goosen has been a mentor to Daffue.

“He’s given me simple advice,” Daffue said. “It’s not try to do too much. Hit to the middle of greens. Stay within yourself and focus on the six feet directly surrounding you.”

DJ'S DECISION

Dustin Johnson had no concerns about how he would be received by fans or his peers after signing up for big Saudi money to play the LIV Golf series.

Then again, Johnson doesn’t get concerned by much.

“I haven’t really noticed any difference,” he said after a 3-over 73 that left him in the middle of the pack going into the weekend.

Johnson’s name was the biggest surprise on the list of players for the first LIV event outside London, mainly because he’s been the best player in golf over the last decade and had said in February that he would be staying put. The Daily Telegraphy reported he was given $150 million to sign.

Johnson was among those who resigned his PGA Tour membership, and he quickly lost his sponsorship with Royal Bank of Canada.

“It was a tough decision, but I feel very confident in the decision I made,” Johnson said. “I’m definitely happy and looking forward to obviously this weekend and the rest of the events this year.”

Johnson has gone 16 months without winning, dating to the Saudi International in early 2021, and his world ranking has dropped to No. 16.

HARDY'S PLAN

Except for a withdrawal on Thursday, Nick Hardy can be listed as the last player to get into the U.S. Open. The USGA was saving a spot in case Cameron Champ or J.J. Spaun won the Canadian Open, which would have been their second PGA Tour win in the last 12 months and thus made them exempt.

Both missed the cut and Hardy was in. And now he will be among the last players to tee off going into the weekend at The Country Club after rounds of 69-68 for a 3-under 137.

This is his fourth U.S. Open, and it's already different from the others because of how few holes Hardy has played all week. That wasn't entirely by design. He injured a tendon in his wrist from hitting a shot in deep rough in New Orleans. That kept him out five weeks, and he said he went 30 days without swinging a club.

While failing on one pledge to find a hobby, the time off at least taught him to slow down.

“I learned that I don’t need to be out there six, seven, eight hours a day grinding,” he said. “I don’t need to be touching a club every day to keep at it and keep my feels right.”

There were times in previous U.S. Opens he would play 36 or 45 holes going into the first round. This week, he played 18 holes on Tuesday and only did light work on Wednesday.

It seems to be working.

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