Graham DeLaet was out on the practice range working on his game on Monday morning, preparing for his first U.S. Open. It's almost hard to believe that the player ranked 32nd in the world, who has earned more than $2 million this year, dazzled at last year's Presidents Cup and has 16 top-10 finishes in the last three years, is just now completing the career slam - in terms of playing them, that is.
Sometimes we forget that as good as he is, he's still relatively young in terms of being at the elite level. His talent exceeds his experience at this point of his career, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Still, he does know a good course when he sees one. Having toured around the back nine at the famed No. 2 course here at Pinehurst, DeLaet quickly pronounced it to be a favourite.
"It automatically went into my top 10 of all time," said the lone Canadian entrant in the American championship this year. "It's a great test, it's an awesome old-style golf course and it's going to be a lot of fun."
Fun? The U.S. Open? Yep, this is definitely his maiden voyage in this tournament.
While he hasn't been playing it, DeLaet, of course, has been an avid viewer of the American championship, and he knows that unlike most of the past, oh, 50 or 60, U.S. Opens, this year there is no long, punishing rough lining the fairways. Instead, Pinehurst has been returned to its original design, thanks to Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, with scruffy waste areas full of wiregrass bushes on the borders of the short grass.
It's something that DeLaet says could prove to be a bit of a lottery for those who stray from the fairway.
"This is my first U.S. Open but I've watched in on TV for years," he said, "and it's always been the deep rough and this year there is no rough at all. But the waste area or whatever you call it, sometimes you can get in there and have a pretty clear shot and get a lot of club on it and you can get in there and have a lot of bad breaks as well."
DeLaet believes that hitting it into the scruffy section - officially, native areas - will give you about a 50 per cent chance of having a good lie. You might be able to play the shot like a fairway bunker or you might end up behind a tuft of grass that will mean chipping out sideways. The frustration levels could rise significantly if a player gets enough of the bad lies.
DeLaet knows that too will be a big part of surviving the week, keeping his patience at an even level and trying to survive the mental test that is a big part of this event. Along with the predicted high temperatures, it will be a tough task for any player to keep their minds focused at all times.
While DeLaet is working on his mental side, his physical appears to be in order. He was forced to miss the Memorial two weeks ago with a sore leg, something he now feels is on the mend.
"I just kind of had a strained tendon on the outside of my right foot," he stated. "It wasn't extremely painful or anything like that but I just knew if I kept playing - and walking on uneven slopes is the worst for it.
And Memorial unfortunately is up and down. I mean that's one of my favourite golf courses and I love that tournament and I have good vibes going in there. It killed me to miss that tournament but I knew for the rest of the year I had to be smart and I just didn't make it worse and over the last couple of weeks with some rest, it has gotten a lot better."
While this has been a good year for the Saskatchewan native, he has been in search of more consistency on the greens. In the second round of the Players, he switched to a left-hand-low putting grip that he was practicing with on Monday, under the watchful eye of short game coach Gabriel Hjertstedt. It's just one more little thing he hopes will unlock the mystery that is putting.
DeLaet is also hoping that he can bring his game around in a big event. While he's posted six top-10s this year, including consecutive runner-up finishes at Torrey Pines and Phoenix, he missed the cut in both the Masters and the Players. It's understandable as he adjusts to tougher set-ups and deeper fields, but this is where he wants to perform, this is where he wants to be contending.
He'll get that opportunity starting at 1:36 on Thursday afternoon.