BROOKLINE, Mass. -- You'll excuse Neil Raymond if he doesn't view The Country Club in quite the same way as many of the Americans teeing it up in the U.S. Amateur this week.
For the 27-year-old Englishman, the course isn't the place where Justin Leonard sank a 45-foot putt to clinch the 1999 Ryder Cup, it's the one where "the U.S. guys (were) running on the green on 17 across Ollie's line" to celebrate. And Raymond didn't know much at all about Francis Ouimet's victory in the 1913 U.S. Open -- against two British golf pros -- until he arrived in Brookline this week.
"Hearing stories about it, it sounds pretty cool," Raymond said on Monday after shooting 67 in the first round of the Amateur at the 7,310-yard, par-70 course. "It's about as good as my golf memories can have."
Raymond's 3-under-par makes him one of the early favorites for the 113th U.S. Amateur, which consists of two days of stroke play followed by six rounds of match play. Half of the 312 golfers played the first round at The Country Club on Monday; they will switch places on Tuesday with the half that opened up at the Charles River Country Club a few miles away.
Nick Hardy, of Northbrook, Ill., shot a 65 at Charles River to take an early lead, with three others coming in at 3-under at the 6,547-yard, par-70 companion course.
Ogden's Zac Blair had three birdies and two bogeys en route to a 1-under 69, good enough for 12th place.
It's the 16th USGA championship and the sixth U.S. Amateur at The Country Club, which also hosted the '99 Ryder Cup when Leonard's putt on No. 17 essentially clinched the victory against Jose Maria Olazabal and the Europeans. But no event has had such a hold on golf history as the 1913 U.S. Open, when local caddie Francis Ouimet beat British superstars Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in a playoff.
The victory by the American amateur is credited with encouraging millions to take up the sport, including Gene Sarazen and Bobby Jones. And The Country Club became the sport's American birthplace -- the Plymouth Rock of putting.