Xander Schauffele reads the lie on the 18th green during the first round of the U.S. Open Golf Championship, Thursday, June 17, 2021, at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
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SAN DIEGO (AP) — Edoardo and Francesco Molinari spent the week before Christmas together in Italy in 2019, not realizing then it would be 18 months before the brothers would see each other again because of travel restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even more surprising was what would bring them together.

“Wasn't expecting the U.S. Open to be the occasion,” Francesco said Thursday.

The brothers played the U.S. Open together in 2010 at Pebble Beach and in 2011 at Congressional. That was when 40-year-old Edoardo was having some of his best years, and they were Ryder Cup teammates in Wales in 2010.

Since, then Edoardo has struggled and it wasn't too long ago that he was outside the top 600 in the world. But without a U.S. Open qualifier in England this year because of travel issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the USGA offered 10 spots through a three-tournament points list on the European Tour.

Edoardo tied for the eighth in the British Masters and was a runner-up at the European Open in Germany, earning his spot at Torrey Pines.

Francesco, 38, has a five-year exemption from his 2018 British Open victory.

During the pandemic, Edoardo was in Italy. Francesco flew home to London and couldn't get to Italy, and then last summer moved his family to Los Angeles.

“The last year-and-a-half has been very difficult,” Edoardo said. “So that's why I came a day early and I went to visit him Sunday in LA where he is now living with the family, and we just had a good time.”

They played practice rounds at Torrey on Tuesday and Wednesday and had dinner plans Thursday night. Francesco said they stay in touch constantly, mostly through text and calls.

“Buut obviously it’s not the same, especially after such a long time,” Francesco said. “It’s definitely the first time that we’ve been apart for so long, so nice to see him.”

Their golf was fairly similar. Francesco opened with a 68, matching his best start to a U.S. Open. Edoardo, a former U.S. Amateur champion, shot 70.

FLAT-OUT XANDER

Xander Schauffele doesn't think the arm-lock putting should be allowed, but as long as it is, he figured he would give it a try.

That's not the only addition to his routine. He went horizontal on the greens to get a better read on how the putt might break. It's similar to what Patrick Reed's brother does, not quite to the level of Camilo Villegas back in the day that earned him the nickname “Spiderman.”

“I think I’m a good green reader and sometimes when I get even lower I may pick up something that I missed just kind of hunched over or crouched over,” he said. “Just like the arm lock, I’m trying to find any way to get myself an advantage.

“I just try to make sure I don’t really damage the green in any way, shape or form or I’m in anyone’s line."

Plus, look at the bright side. Schauffele figures he's getting additional exercise.

“I think I just started doing it on a few putts and then I kind of liked it and now I’m stuck doing 50 push-ups every day,” he said. “So it’s great.”

OLYMPIC HOPES

Odds are the three Olympic medalists from Rio de Janeiro won't be part of the Tokyo games next month.

This is the final week before the Official World Golf Ranking is used to determine the 60-man field. Henrik Stenson, the silver medalist, is at No. 149 in the world and needed a good week to move past Henrik Norlander (No. 134) for the second spot for Sweden.

Stenson opened with a 76 and will be hard-pressed to make the cut at the U.S. Open.

Justin Rose, the gold medalist, likely needs to win this week to play for Britain. Bronze medalist Matt Kuchar could not get in even if he were to win the U.S. Open this week.

The American team is still up in the air. Justin Thomas is a lock at No. 2 in the world. The Americans can have a maximum of four players if they are within the top 15 in the world ranking. That won't be a problem.

The final three spots are up for grabs among Collin Morikawa, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay and Patrick Reed, all ranked (in order) between No. 4 and No. 8.

POSITIVE VIEWING

Matthew Wolff stepped away from the PGA Tour for two months when the frustrations were seeping too much into his well being off the course. He started playing about a month ago, mostly to restore the joy of golf.

He didn’t watch much golf, if any. Wolff isn’t the only PGA Tour player who doesn’t bother watching if they’re not playing. But if he does, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him tune into the LPGA Tour, courtesy of advice from Bubba Watson.

“He told me he stopped watching golf, he only watches LPGA because they’re so positive,” Wolff said. “The commentators, like everyone is just so positive, like every shot they hit is the best shot ever. I think it’s awesome, because these shots are hard out here.”