3 Things to Know: 44th U.S. Senior Open, Rounds 3 and 4

By David Shefter, USGA

| Jun 29, 2024 | Newport, R.I.

3 Things to Know: 44th U.S. Senior Open, Rounds 3 and 4

The 44th U.S. Senior Open at historic Newport Country Club has reached its midway point, and there is certainly a surprise leader at the top of the board. Few would have pegged 55-year-old Hiroyuki Fujita, of Japan, as the 36-hole leader at 11 under par. Even Australian lefty Richard Green isn’t a household name for many golf fans.

But they have played remarkable golf over the first two days at this founding USGA member club that is hosting its fifth USGA competition.

Hopefully, the weather will remain as it has been for the first two days. Following a half-inch of rain prior to Thursday’s opening round that left the course soft and ripe for scoring, Mother Nature has brought sunshine and the expected windy conditions, which hopefully will bring about the desired firm and fast conditions. There is potential for weather on Sunday, so subconsciously keep that thought.

With fog expected late Saturday afternoon, tee times were moved up and the 71 professionals (none of the 19 amateurs survived the cut) will go off in threesomes from the first and 10th tees, something that isn’t customary in USGA Open championships.

First ball on Saturday is 8 a.m. EDT.

So as the third round commences, here are 3 Things to digest going into the weekend:

Rising Son

USGA championships have been conducted since 1895 when the inaugural U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open were staged at Newport Country Club. Over the next 129 years, champions have been crowned from a number of foreign countries, but golf-crazy Japan has never enjoyed a male USGA champion.

Three females have claimed titles, including Yuka Saso earlier this year in the U.S. Women’s Open at Lancaster (Pa.) Country Club, where Japan went 1-2 for the first time in any major championship. Saki Baba and Michiko Hattori have hoisted the Robert Cox Trophy as U.S. Women’s Amateur champions.

But outside of Hideki Matsuyama in the 2021 Masters Tournament, Japan has been devoid of men’s major winners. Isao Aoki came very close in the 1980 U.S. Open at Baltusrol Golf Club, only to be edged by the legendary Jack Nicklaus.

Now Hiroyuki Fujita has a great opportunity to end that drought. Fujita carries a one-stroke lead into the weekend over Australian Richard Green, and by three over 2019 champion Steve Stricker and 2024 Senior PGA winner Richard Bland. Fujita is no stranger to winning. He claimed 18 titles on the Japan Golf Tour, and since turning 50, three more on the Japan Senior Golf Tour, including last year’s Japan Senior Open.

He's played remarkably well at Newport with just one bogey over the first 36 holes. And considering he had never broken 70 in three previous senior majors, including last year’s U.S. Senior Open, it seemingly has come from nowhere. Fujita has never won on American soil nor contended in any major.

Could it be his time on Sunday in the 1,001st USGA championship?

Jay Walking

Jay Haas has done a lot of things over his amateur and professional career that includes playing on a USA Walker Cup Team (1975), winning an NCAA individual title (1975) as well as helping Wake Forest University to a pair of national championships (1974-75), registering 33 worldwide professional wins (nine on the PGA Tour), and 18 PGA Tour Champions victories that includes three majors.

And the 70-year-old will likely add one more remarkable accomplishment to the portfolio this week at Newport Country Club,surpassing World Golf Hall of Famer Tom Watson by playing 72 holes in 18 U.S. Senior Opens. In fact, Haas has never missed a cut in this championship.

On Friday, Haas backed up his opening-round 68 with an even-par 70 to make it a perfect 18-for-18 in cuts made at the U.S. Senior Open.

This week, he also reunited with longtime friend and former Newport C.C. head professional Bill Harmon. The 76-year-old first met Haas when the golfer was just 24 years old and just beginning his long PGA Tour career. Harmon also is the son of Claude Harmon Sr., the only club pro to win the Masters Tournament. His three other brothers, including Butch, all followed their father into the profession. Bill also has been open about recovering from alcohol and drug addiction and contemplating suicide in the early 1990s.

Haas, himself, comes from a golf family. His brother, Jerry, also played on a USA Walker Cup Team (1985) and is the current Wake Forest head coach. Jay’s son, Bill, has won six PGA Tour titles and was a member of the 2003 USA Walker Cup Team, and another son, Jay Jr. also played on the PGA Tour. Jay’s uncle, Bob Goalby, won the 1968 Masters and was runner-up in the 1961 U.S. Open.

“I just really enjoy playing in USGA events, and this one's no different,” said Haas. “I kind of get worked up for it, I guess, and get really focused. I've managed to play well when I've played.”

Two for Two

Saturday’s last pairing off No. 1 at 10 a.m. EDT will feature Green, Fujita and 2019 champion Steve Stricker.

But a few 100 yards away on No. 10, two multiple U.S. Senior Open champions, Bernhard Langer and Kenny Perry, will go off as a twosome.

It’s not unusual for these two legends to go off in the day’s last pairing. Most just don’t expect it to be from the 10th tee and both 13 strokes off the lead. A year ago at SentryWorld, Langer, then 65, defied the odds by becoming the oldest champion in U.S. Senior Open history. Thirteen years earlier, he had claimed his first title at Sahalee Country Club near Seattle.

In 2013, Perry posted weekend rounds of 63-64 at Omaha (Neb.) Country Club to post a five-stroke victory over 2009 champion Fred Funk. Four years later at Salem (Mass.) Country Club, Perry claimed a two-shot win over Kirk Triplett, shooting 16 under par.

Both are among five past champions who made the cut on the number (2-over 142), joining Jim Furyk (2021), Olin Browne (2011) and Jeff Maggert (2015).

It’s amazing the 66-year-old German is even competing this week just 4½ months removed from tearing his Achilles heel playing pickle ball.

Champions will always play like champions.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.