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Wu enjoys buildup to U.S. Open start

Dylan Wu. Getty Images

Dylan Wu has spent the week hobnobbing with the best golfers in the world at the U.S. Open practice area and on the Torrey Pines Golf Course on which he begins play Thursday.

For the most part, the Medford native has avoided being starstruck.

For the most part.

“I mean, the only player … I kind of told my fiance, Margaret, ‘Hey, that’s Rory McIroy right there,’” he admitted. “That’s the only one I really was maybe a little bit awestruck about. I’ve been a big fan of Rory’s.”

Wu advanced to the U.S. Open through sectional qualifying June 7.

He tees off at 2:31 p.m. Thursday on the 10th hole with playing partners Spencer Ralston and Justin Suh.

The 2014 graduate of St. Mary’s High and Korn Ferry Tour member arrived in San Diego midday Monday following a co-13th placing Sunday in the BMW Charity Pro-Am in Greer, South Carolina.

Despite the long travel, he made it to Torrey Pines for nine holes that afternoon, then played an 18-hole practice round on Tuesday and a nine-hole set on Wednesday.

All the while, he was in the company of golf royalty.

Wu conversed with eight-time PGA Tour winner Brad Faxon as three-time major winner Jordan Spieth putted nearby. On the driving range, there was Martin Kaymer, formerly No. 1 in the world and twice a major winner, as well as other stars.

Wu played Tuesday’s practice round with Collin Morikawa, a decade-long friend from their junior days who is the best iron player in the world and who, at 24, has four PGA wins, including a major.

On Wednesday, Wu practiced with Viktor Hovland, a two-time winner and, like Morikawa, one of the top dozen players expected to win this week, according to betting odds. Wu and Hovland were joined by brothers Edoardo and Francesco Molinari.

“You can play a practice round with anybody, if you want to,” said Wu, who shares the same instructor as Hovland, which prompted their pairing.

Clearly, this is not the time to engage in a name-dropping match with Wu.

“I was talking to Collin about it,” he said, “and once you start playing with these guys, they’re just normal guys. It’s just the audience and the fans are in awe, but they’re basically doing the same thing I’m doing. They’re just doing a little better job and are farther in their careers than me.”

This week is a monumental step in that direction, however, and Wu is taking advantage when possible.

“Most of the pros are pretty friendly if you ask them anything,” he said. “It’s more just having the courage to ask them questions and pick their brains. They’ve played in several U.S. Opens, and they know what it takes. It’s good to learn from them, for sure.”

Wu unwittingly got some TV exposure on Wednesday.

His group the first two days — they tee off at 8:46 a.m. on No. 1 on Friday — is one of newcomers, and Suh was interviewed on the Golf Channel as Wu was shown on the driving range working on his swing with his instructor.

Suh, a four-time All-American at USC who is on the Latinoamerica Tour, was asked about the threesome.

“I played with Dylan Wu a few times in college, so we know each other pretty well,” said Suh. “It’s going to be fun playing with a familiar face. There’s a lot of young guys out here. I saw a lot of college bags, I saw a lot of guys fresh out of college who qualified out here. It’s going to be fun to see me and all the other young guys try to make a name for ourselves.”

Wu rated the practice round with Morikawa and Jimmy Stanger, an alternate in the field who is also on the Korn Ferry, a success. He marveled at Morikawa’s iron play and engaged in a nine-hole match on the back nine with Stanger. They were even par, each making a bogey and a birdie.

Wu found out quickly just how thick the rough is, pulling his tee shot on the first hole about 15 yards left.

“It’s just very grabby,” he said. “It takes you an extra 10 or 15 seconds to find your ball because you don’t see it.”

His game is in “decent” shape, he said, and the object is to hit fairways and greens.

This, of course, is easier said than done in the U.S. Open.

There are three par 4s that measure more than 500 yards, including the sixth hole. Normally a 515-yard par 5, it was converted to a par 4, lowering the course par to 71.

“It’s the biggest test in golf,” said Wu, who played Torrey Pines during his junior career, “and it’s very, very hard. They made the course even longer. It’s definitely a beast. There’s some holes you can take advantage of, but you still have to hit it in the fairway. Sometimes hitting it in the fairway bunkers is better than hitting it in the rough because the rough is so thick.”

If he were offered 18 pars every day, he said, he’d take it “in a heartbeat because that’s probably going to win the tournament.”

The U.S. Open is also notorious for excessively fast greens. Hitting them in regulation will be crucial, said Wu, and there will be a premium on lag putting to 2 or 3 feet.

“There are no holes where you can just take a break for a second,” he said.

Wu doesn’t mind the late starting time on Day 1. Most players prefer early times because the greens are fresher. But it’s going to be a difficult track, regardless, he said, and in the afternoon, the ball travels a bit farther and the body warms up more quickly.

As for the 449-yard par-4 10th hole, where he’ll begin, he made par in Tuesday’s round with a 3-wood off the tee and a 7-iron to about 40 feet.

He expects good-sized crowds when he tees off both days, and nerves will likely kick in.

“I’ve hit enough first tee shots,” said Wu, “and I’m definitely more confident and used to the nerves. I remember when I played in my first PGA event a year and a half ago, I was pretty nervous on the first tee. I birdied my first hole and was 6 under through nine.”

That was in the 2019 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas. He followed a first-round 66 with a 74 and missed the cut by three strokes.

“I’m going to be excited,” said Wu. “This is what I’ve dreamt of ever since I was a kid, just to play at the highest level, and qualifying for the U.S. Open has always been a big thing for me.”

“Hopefully,” he added, “it’s just one of many and I play my best. I’ll try to keep mentally strong and stay calm. Just because it’s the U.S. Open, you’re gonna make bogeys. I mean, there’s nobody who’s not going to make a bogey in the tournament. It’s a super-tough golf course, just have fun with it.”

That part of the mission appears to have been accomplished.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@rosebudmedia.com