ERIN, Wis. – One of the biggest early storylines from the 117th U.S. Open didn’t come from the turf at Erin Hills, but from the air above it.
Several players paused during the opening round when an overhead blimp caught fire, crashed and eventually exploded a half mile away from the course. According to a statement from the USGA, the blimp was not affiliated with the USGA or the U.S. Open and the pilot, who parachuted out before the crash, was being treated for “unknown injuries.”
“I was teeing off and I looked up and saw it on fire, and I felt sick to my stomach. I had the shakes,” said Jamie Lovemark, who opened with 3-under 69. “It was a horrific scene. I’ve never seen a plane crash, blimp crash, anything like that. So it was pretty awful. I thought they might stop play, I don’t know. It was scary.”
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“I saw it happen,” Charley Hoffman said after an opening 70. “I was sitting on 7 tee and my caddie goes, ‘Look, that thing just blew up.’ And it was going down through the air.”
The blimp was overhead Erin Hills to advertise for PenFed Credit Union. The company later sent a tweet acknowledging the crash and their sponsorship of the blimp.
“First responders were quick to arrive at the scene,” the statement read in part. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the pilot at this time.”
“My caddie made a comment on the ninth hole. He said, ‘The blimp is not looking good,’” added Brandt Snedeker. “I guess it was nose down. I saw a puff of black smoke. I didn’t know it was the blimp. It’s not good. Glad everybody is OK.”
According to the statement released, no other individuals were involved in the incident beyond the injured pilot and “local law enforcement is currently investigating.”