Wind and rain whipped sideways as Matthew Fitzpatrick stood over a one-footer on No. 9, his final hole of the day. He was little more than a soggy blur on Golf Channel’s cameras, which were hardly immune to the wild conditions. But Fitzpatrick’s tap-in found the bottom of the cup and he unleashed a massive fist-pump, celebrating his round of even-par 71 and the fact that he was done for the day.
Morning conditions were brutal at the first round of the Butterfield Bermuda Championship, turning Port Royal Golf Club — among the most scenic courses on the PGA Tour, as well as the shortest course by yardage — into a struggle for the game’s very best.
Fitzpatrick said the fear he felt over his final putt of the day, a downhiller from just over a foot, was indicative of the bizarre conditions.
“Five foot for birdie and a foot and a half for par and, yeah, I was scared to death of it. I honestly didn’t know what to do, I’ve never had a putt like it,” he said.
In the morning wave, just six players broke par. Winds approached 40 miles per hour throughout the morning, with bouts of rain interrupting play several times throughout. The PGA Tour set up the course to play relatively easy. The greens were soft. They were slow, running just a 9-9.5 on the Stimpmeter, according to Golf Channel. They were in friendly positions on the green. And they were plenty difficult anyway.
“You see winds like this, but normally you don’t play in them,” Fitzpatrick said. “This was the hardest wind I’ve ever played in.”
Fitzpatrick said he was “delighted” after posting 71. He described chipping most of his iron shots, taking three or four clubs extra and pounding one drive 245 yards.
He was hardly alone. Nick Watney, who was delighted with a round of one-under 70, said the first exposed hole he played was the par-3 13th, which measured 168 yards to the front edge. Watney pulled 4-iron. His ball came up well short of the green.
“It was like, ‘Okay, this is serious, this wind is serious,’” Watney said. He described taking his hat off several times just to avoid the distraction that came with wind and rain. “And then it flew off once, if that counts,” he added.
The wind was tough to judge on full shots, Watney said, but it was just as difficult around the green.
“It’s like you’re hitting into a wall, you know? You almost feel like you can’t hit it too hard,” he said of a bunker shot into the wind. “You just don’t want to hit it too soft because the wind affects a chip shot or a sand shot, too.”
Russell Knox had a particularly vivid description of the day’s challenges.
“No. 9, we were on the front edge of the green there and I’ve never experienced wind that strong, I think, on a golf course,” he said. “I mean, we were down on the ground holding an umbrella. My fingers were like cramping I’m holding on so tight and it was pouring rain as hard as it’s ever rained. It was an interesting day. It rained like three or four times and when it did, it was unplayable when it was raining because the winds picked up. It was definitely an interesting day, one which I’ll never forget.
“I mean, we stopped on 9 because like you couldn’t physically walk. It wasn’t a question of they needed to blow the horn, there was no like physical way that you could play. That’s what made it kind of obviously a bizarre day.”
Knox, though, said he enjoyed the challenge.
“It just activates like, your creativeness, kind of forces you to hit shots. Sometimes I get too stuck just hitting the same boring shots, so I love it when it’s windy. Maybe not this windy.”
On No. 12, Knox had 120 yards to the pin. He pulled 7-iron — and left it some 30 feet short, just catching the front edge of the green.
“I chipped a little 7-iron and it went probably 111,” he said.
The scoring average ballooned well over 74 on the par-71 layout. Multiple players failed to break 80. Just five of Port Royal’s 11 par-4s are over 400 yards — but all 11 averaged over par.
It was a particularly unlucky morning to be on the course. As the afternoon wave teed off, the rains subsided. Gusts dropped into the 20s. Scores dropped, too.
“I’m just so happy to be done and just sort of have the rest of the afternoon to see what happens,” Fitzpatrick said. “And hopefully tomorrow the weather’s better.”