By MATTHEW STEVENS
A golfer with ties to Mississippi State University is on the first page of the leaderboard after the first round of the 2011 United States Open Championship.
In his major debut, Alexandre Rocha posted a 2-under-par 69 after four birdies (No. 16, No. 4, No. 5 and 8th) as the 33-year old started on the back nine at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md.
Rocha hit 13 of 18 greens in regulations and 13 of 14 fairways and only made two bogeys (No. 2 and No. 12).
“I've never, ever, ever been so nervous in my life – ever," Rocha said about his opening tee shot on No. 10. "The only thing I could feel was my heartbeat go off my chest but nothing else, no other body parts. And something clicked after that. I was walking down the hole thinking you just got done with the worst part, the most difficult part was that first tee shot, and for whatever reason that really calmed me down.”
Rocha qualified for the U.S. Open through shooting 71-67 and grabbing the final spot at Sectional Qualifying at Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, N.J., on June 6.
Rocha was an All-American selection at Mississippi State with such successful players like current No. 1 player in the world Luke Donald and Paul Casey. Rocha could not even speak English when he arrived on the Starkville campus.
In his rookie year on the PGA Tour, Rocha has made five cuts in 10 starts and earned $57,593 with his best finish being back-to-back 50th place finishes in Cancun and Puerto Rico in March.
Rocha stands tied for 4th at the end of the first day, five shots under the cut line, ahead of players like Stewart Cink, Padraig Harrington, Matt Kuchar, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson.
“I was calm and one of the reasons that I was calm is when I saw the course, I thought it isn't the blood bath that I was expecting," Rocha said. "It's a great golf course. And it's a very, very hard golf course. But it's very, very, very fair. And I can deal with that. I feel safe out there. I feel like it's all on me. If I miss a shot, I'll pay for it. If I don't miss a shot, I won't have any trouble. Obviously that's not possible, you're going to play, you're going to miss shots. But the point being that it's all on you, which makes me feel that I have maybe a little bit more control over what's going on."
Rocha currently stands four shots behind first round leader Rory McElroy after the 54-hole leader at the Masters from Northern Ireland shot 6-under-par 65 and leads the field by three.
"I'm sitting in front of you having shot under par on my very first major championship, and the U.S. Open at that," Rocha said. "Nobody is ever going to take that away from me. No matter what happens for the rest of the week, this is something I'm going to take with me forever. It can't be changed. I can only enjoy, look back and draw from it. I don't – people don't write their life stories in a day. But all you can do is write a chapter at a time. And this is what I did today. I wrote one chapter. If I don't write anything the rest of the week, I forgive myself for that, because this round, nobody is going to take that away from me."
Rocha will tee off at 6 a.m. local time today from the first tee with Andres Gonzales (+8, 79) and Bubba Dickerson (-1, 70) with television coverage beginning on ESPN at 9 a.m.
“I expect to be nervous when I show up (this) morning. But, you know, not in a way that I can't really handle it or deal with it," Rocha said. "I'm 33-years-old and I've played golf all over the world and that has to count for something, you know, as far as experience is concerned. So maybe this is an opportunity for me to really learn something, here, which is how to handle a heavy pressure."