1. One of my favorite things about the U.S. Open is watching who, after a bad round, is ready to embrace the grind and lock in, and who melts down or hits the eject button after things start going sideways.

Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas each seem lost in the wilderness for different reasons, but Friday was a great example of watching a player wave the white flag.

Whether it’s because he got paid a lot of guaranteed money by LIV, or because he’s simply getting older, no one thinks Johnson is giving his everything to golf these days. After a 1st round 74, he went through the motions on Friday and shot a meaningless 75. Once one of the great drivers and putters in the game, Johnson is now mediocre in both.

Thomas did his own version of an ejection. After an opening round 77, his best effort on Friday amounted to a 74. Once one of the best iron players in golf, he lost strokes to the field in approach on both days. The good vibes from a T-8 finish at Valhalla didn’t last long.

On the flip side, how about a round of applause for England’s Sam Bairstow?

Playing in his first-ever U.S. Open, Bairstow — a lefthander from Sheffield, England who plays primarily on the DP World Tour — shot an 84 in the first round. It was a nightmare for him around the greens. He lost a mystifying -7.24 strokes with his short game, almost twice as many as the next worst player (Takumi Kunaya, who was -3.67). The fans watching all this unfold were, in Bairstow’s words, enjoying the carnage.

“I’ve played in two [British] Opens before, and the American fans are a bit different,” Bairstow said. “It’s not like they were abusive, but they were quite loud. I actually hit it alright. But short game was just terrible. You start to lose your confidence and then you keep missing greens and it’s like ‘What am I even doing here?’ ”

Instead of drinking a dozen pints, punching a wall or simply wallowing in his misery, Bairstow decided to hit up Chick-Fil-A on the way home from the course and go to bed early.

“It was obviously a bit demoralizing after all the work I’d put in this week,” Bairstow said. “Chick-Fil-As tend to cheer me up.”

Bairstow had zero chance to make the cut — it would have required shooting 60 or lower — but that didn’t stop him from playing one of the best rounds of the day. He made five birdies and shot 67, a score beaten by just one player, Hideki Matsuyama (66).

“That was a huge boost,” Bairstow said. “I’d much rather do that than shoot 5-over one day, 6-over the next and end up with the same score.”

According to Justin Ray of the Twenty First Group, that 17-shot improvement represented the biggest turnaround between the 1st and 2nd round in 40 years at the U.S. Open.

“I was still pretty nervous on the first tee, just trying to not do that again,” Bairstow said. “But it was just the complete opposite of yesterday. On the 4th hole, I pulled it into the trap off the tee, had about 220 in, and I hit it to about eight feet.”

On the next hole, the difficult 5th, he hit 3 wood in the middle of the green and made another birdie. When I informed him that Scottie Scheffler made double bogeys on that same hole, he chuckled. “Did they?” Bairstow said. “Well, I guess that doesn’t surprise me. If you miss that [green] left, you could be there all day.”

When Bairstow just narrowly missed a birdie putt on the 9th green, he got a big roar from a section of the gallery that had been following him on the back nine. In the span of 24 hours, he’d gone from being jeered to getting an ovation. He sheepishly took his hat off and waved to the group behind the green.

2. In 2014, ESPN let me come to the U.S. Open at Pinehurst on a hail mary of an assignment.

I was going to shadow Phil Mickelson and try to talk him into sitting for a magazine piece that was essentially going to be called “In The Twilight of Phil Mickelson.” He’d let the U.S. Open slip through his fingers the previous year at Merion, and I wondered if Pinehurst might be his last gasp at a U.S. Open, the elusive white whale on his resume.

Mickelson had no interest in participating in a magazine story of any kind. The New York Times had just published a story detailing his involvement in an FBI investigation involving insider trading. He was not doing any interviews outside of press conferences for the foreseeable future. "I'll continue to say, I haven't done anything wrong," Mickelson told reporters, when asked about the Times story. "I'm willing to help out, love to help out any way on the investigation. So like I said before, with an investigation going on, I'm not going to comment any further on it. But I'll continue to say that I've done absolutely nothing wrong. I really don't want to say much about it. I do have a lot to say and I will say it at the right time. I've got a lot to say, I just can't say it right now."

I spent four days following him around anyway, gathering scenes in the event ESPN still wanted a story. Mickelson was my favorite player growing up, and watching him up close, from inside the ropes, was surreal. I’d never covered a golf major before, and watching him get up and down from impossible places seemed like sorcery. After his final round, he let me follow him into the tunnel underneath the Pinehurst clubhouse, where he met up with his wife and kids. All three of them were there to celebrate his birthday and Father’s Day, and I remember what a tender and loving father he seemed like.

I thought about all that today as I followed Mickelson for a few holes, about all that’s transpired in the past decade. He is thinner than he was a decade ago. He wears sunglasses all the time, and his hair is gray, much like my own. Without him, I’m not sure I would be writing this column, or even writing about golf for a living.

I caught up with his group in time to watch him hit a shot into 17, just like the one he hit on Sunday in 1999 when he and Payne Stewart were trading lightning bolts with a trophy on the line. (Similar to 1999, he missed the birdie putt.) For all the complicated feelings I have about him, I still love watching him play golf, even at age 53. He’ll turn 54 on Sunday, June 16.

His U.S. Open record has been dreadful over the last decade. His last appearance at Pinehurst, in 2014, he finished T-28, and he hasn’t finished better than T-48 since. That he won another major, the 2021 PGA Championship, still feels like a fever dream, but his exemption into U.S. Opens will run out next year after Oakmont. Next year might represent the last time he’ll tee it up in that tournament, barring special exemptions from the USGA. I can’t imagine he’ll be back when the U.S. Open returns to Pinehurst in 2029. His relationship with this tournament is either a tragedy or a comedy, depending on how you want to view it.

On 18, Mickelson bombed his drive into the trees on the left, meaning he’d have to shape a shot through a small opening if he wanted to reach the green. I watched him rehearse what he’d need to do to hit a hard hook off of pine straw, a motion I think I’ve seen thousands of times. The fans surrounding him egged him on. Sitting at 11-over-par, the result hardly mattered, only the theater.

He took a vicious lash at the ball and for a brief second, I imagined it carving through the air and running up onto the green. Instead, it nailed a tree branch and dropped straight down, in a mix of sand and wire brush.

Standing a few feet away, I snapped this picture of him, and in some ways, it represents how I’ll remember this era of his career: An artist living with the consequences of his bold brush strokes.

He had another nine holes to play, but I decided it was a good time for me to move on.

3. I decided, in the midst of a day where the heat index was flirting with 100 degrees, to pop in to the merchandise tent and try to find the most ridiculous hat I could.

It didn’t take me long to pick out an immediate winner, this fluorescent pink number that says POPS and looks like it was either meant to be given as a Father’s Day gag gift, or worn by a dad 30 years younger than I am. The price tag, if you’re interested, is $49.99.

4. Speaking of Wholesome Dad Content, bear with me for a second as I tell you a story.

The indignity of finishing on the 9th hole here at Pinehurst No. 2 is one of my favorite things about this U.S. Open because it requires a player to climb into a courtesy car and be driven down a bumpy dirt round that weaves its way through the No. 4 course at Pinehurst Resort. The drive isn’t short, taking close to 10 minutes, and when it’s over you’re still only halfway to the main clubhouse. You get dropped off at the far end of the driving range — normally the short course at Pinehurst, The Cradle — and then have to walk another 10 mins, up some stairs and over a walkway with a sea of fans below, before you get to the locker room.

I decided to take that walk with Scottie Scheffler after his second-round 74. He signed a few autographs along the way, including one for a woman who asked him to sign a shoe, but mostly kept to himself. Occasionally he and his caddie, Ted Scott, talked about some of their frustrations with the round. Being a professional golfer often means going into a protective bubble and ignoring people who are pleading for your attention so you don’t have to respond to every fan screaming your name. Watching Scheffler navigate a crowd these days can be weirdly fascinating.

But when Scheffler climbed the stairs and started across the walkway, someone kept yelling his name from down below. At first he did what he always does — kept his head down — but eventually, he must have felt like he had to look up. The person shouting was insistent.

It was his father, Scott Scheffler.

“I’m proud of you, Scott,” he said. “Good job.”

The No. 1 golfer in the world nodded sheepishly, then he continued walking.

5. If you want to see a professional golfer who is squeezing every last drop out of his talent this week, take a peek at friend of the program Zac Blair this weekend.

Blair is T-15 after two rounds, which you wouldn’t know if you were watching on television because it seems like they didn’t show a single one of his shots until he reached the 17th green. Earlier in the day, I made it a point to walk a few holes with Blair, and watched him birdie the 2nd hole on Friday after a wonderful iron shot to 18 feet. I’ve seen bigger galleries at high school matches, which I suppose isn’t surprising. But if you really want to understand what Michael Block would look like with a world-class short game, Blair is a good place to start. He’s hitting hybrids and fairway woods into some of these greens and somehow beating Scheffler and Brooks Koepka by four shots. It’s art.

Blair, who didn’t tee off until late in the day, finished too late to grab a comment from, but my associate Tron Carter would like me to use this quote from our internal Slack in praise of his friend: “​​Zac might be playing the best golf in the history of golf from fairway to green. Playing with a hand behind his back and right in the hunt. It’s f—ing sick.”

Kevin Van Valkenburg is the Editorial Director of No Laying Up

Email him at kvv@nolayingup.com