CHASKA, Minn. -- When play was halted yesterday afternoon at Hazeltine National Golf Club in the opening round of the 91st United States Open, Tom Byrum did not feel particularly enthusiastic about his game.
He had finished the first four holes and was 1-over par. On top of that, Byrum thought he had let down a number of friends who had come from South Dakota to watch him play. But when he returned, more than two hours later, Byrum's perspective had changed dramatically.
So did the way this Open would be remembered. The death of a spectator, who was hit by lightning shortly after play was suspended, had altered Byrum's thinking. Byrum heard about the incident as he was about to go back on the course. Strangely, it might have helped his round.
"It was just like, I can't believe we're playing the U.S. Open when someone died," Byrum said later. "You feel fortunate to be doing what you're doing. How can you get uptight about a bad shot or a bad score? I think it relaxed me."
It showed. Byrum birdied five of the remaining 14 holes to finished at 4-under par 68, one shot behind first-round co-leaders Nolan Henke and Payne Stewart. Scott Hoch was two shots back at 3-under 69. Six players, including four-time Open champion Jack Nicklaus and 1987 Open champion Scott Simpson, are three shots behind. Defending champion Hale Irwin is in a group of five players at 1-under 71.
"It was kind of a tough day," said Henke, 26, who won earlier this year at Phoenix and came into the Open ranked 14th on the PGA Tour money list. "I played one hole and had to stop for the rain delay. It was kind of like starting a new round. But I made an eagle at No. 1, so I was starting the round at 2-under."
Henke was 5-under by the time he reached the eighth hole, then bogeyed. But it was his only slip, as he birdied No. 10 and parred the rest of the course. But the feeling of leading the Open in only his second attempt -- he finished 21st two years ago -- was tempered when he learned of the spectator's death.
"I didn't know that," said Henke, who appeared shaken when told the news in the press tent. "We [the players] have everything taken care of for us. But as a spectator, you don't really know where to go."
For some notable players, it was a long and difficult day that was prolonged considerably by the rain delay. Billy Andrade, coming off two straight wins, was 4-under through 10 holes but struggled in at 4-over 76. Play, which started a little after 7 a.m., was called at 10:16 p.m.
It was also a difficult day for the USGA, which came under fire from Irwin for the method it used to get spectators off the course when the storm hit. The USGA used a number of air horns around the course to alert players and fans, rather than a siren.
"This is not a [PGA] tour event," said Irwin. "The tour would have probably had those sirens going loudly and audibly. I don't think everything was in the same coordination. Maybe a siren might have prevented that, but I don't think so."
The death of the spectator, later identified as William Fadell, 27, of Spring Park, Minn., was on the minds of many when play resumed. But the 7,149-yard course and the Open itself also occupied the thoughts of the players.
"It's part of the preparation," said Australian Craig Parry, who finished at 2-under 70. "That [the course] is what you've got to prepare for. You've got to be very patient."
With three days remaining, golf will likely come back to the forefront today at Hazeltine. People will talk about birdies and bogeys rather than rain delays and fatalities.
But for one day, what the U.S. Open has been about for 91 years was nearly forgotten.
"It's a shame what happened out there, but what can you do?," said Scott Simpson.