Monday Musings U.S. Open Qualifying Edition
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly from this week's Final Qualifying for the U.S. Open
Welcome to my weekly column rounding up the action at qualifiers around the golf world.
- Sectional (now called final) qualifying is the best day of the year for a golf nerd like me. The chance for an everyday Joe to play in one of the biggest events in our sport is pretty damn cool. There is nothing like it in sports. I was in Springfield, Ohio, so it makes sense to start there. Carson Schaake is what the U.S. Open is all about: a very good college player (at Iowa) who has had some success on the mini-tours but hasn’t broken through on the big stage. That is until he shot a second-round 65, earning medalist honor by two strokes. Shaake said he wasn’t that surprised to get through, adding he has been playing the best golf of his life of late. Before the local qualifying this year, he had never taken a pushcart. He took one there, shot 64, and did the same at final qualifying. The pushcart mafia has a new member.
- Any qualifier, another clutch performance by Dylan Meyer. Coming to the 17th hole he needed birdie to get inside the number. A layup on the long par-5 left him 100 yards out and he knocked his approach to a foot and a half. After the shot he turned to his caddie and said,“Fuck, yeah!” He made that putt and parred the difficult 18th to get through. Watch for Meyer at Torrey Pines; he made his pro debut at the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock and finished 20th.
- What a performance by a very tired Sahith Theegala, who had received a sponsor’s exemption into the Memorial and made the cut. He spent the night in Columbus, got up at 4 a.m. and drove to the qualifier. He had never played the course. The host professional found Theegala a stray yardage book that had been left in a closet. He was 3 over through nine holes and could have easily checked out. Instead, he buckled down, played the last 27 in 7-under and got through in a three-for-two playoff. What a performance for a player who has slept in his own bed just three nights in the last three months.
- Jay Jurecic didn’t get through but his story is worth telling. At 50, he was the oldest player in the field and is a middle school teacher in Michigan. He spends his summers playing on the Dakotas Tour. This fall he will attempt to get a passing grade at Champions Q-school.
- Andy Pope continued his amazing record in qualifying. The Korn Ferry member made it through for the fifth time in his last six years.
- It was great to see Thomas Aiken get through in Florida. The three-time European Tour winner has been away from the game for basically two years. His wife, Kate, has been dealing with some serious health issues and Thomas has been helping care for their children. Kate’s health has improved and a very rusty Thomas surprised even himself by getting through.
- Steve Allan lost his PGA Tour card nine years ago but he has never stopped chasing it. I often see Allan at Monday qualifying, and we have the same conversation. He says he is not sure how much longer he is going to play Mondays. Then the next Monday comes, and Allan is there. He always has one of his kids on the bag. On Monday, his youngest son, Joey, was his caddie for the first time. I asked Steve who gets the bag for the Open and he said it would be his oldest son, Liam. “I’m not sure Joey could make it with the big bag,” he said. Allan is one of my favorite people in golf, always willing to answer questions. It was great to see him get through in a playoff, making a 12-footer to do it.
- Michael Johnson made it through at the toughest site there is. With the Memorial wrapping up the previous day, Columbus is always a stacked field, and this year was no different. Rickie Fowler, Keegan Bradley, Padraig Harrington and Jason Dufner were just a few of the many big names. The combined Tour earnings of the field was more than $550 million. After the round, I asked Johnson why he chose this site. “I have to beat them sometime,” he replied,”and this has the most spots.”
- Speaking of Fowler, good on him for grinding at a qualifier. He even played in the 12-for-1 playoff for second alternate. And when Ben Taylor advanced, he talked Taylor through about his chances to get in as the second alternate. Then Rickie signed a bunch of autographs.
- And what an ending it was to the playoff. Fowler, Harrington, Bradley and Dufner were among the dozen players fighting for the alternate spot. Playing in the second group, Taylor, a 28-year-old Englishman, dunked a wedge from 110 yards.
- The Rick Lamb interview illustrated how much this qualifying process means to some of these players. When Steve Burkowski of Golf Channel asked him what it meant to play in his first major, he couldn’t speak. He got choked up, and pretty much all he could say through the tears was,“Pretty cool.” If you missed it here is a link https://twitter.com/acaseofthegolf1/status/1402076690805841921?s=20
- I’m not sure many players in the world are playing better than Cameron Young. He won wire-to-wire in back-to-back weeks on the Korn Ferry Tour and captured the New York qualifier by three.
- Joe Highsmith has had a great couple of weeks. The Pepperdine senior helped lead the Waves to the national championship last week and now he has earned a spot in the U.S. Open.
- Davis Shore struggled with injuries in his career at Alabama but had a good start to his pro career, edging out Hayden Buckley for medalist at the Georgia site.
- The Dallas qualifier was played way back on May 24th, but Kyle Westmoreland made it through and will become the first Air Force veteran to tee it up in a major. After attending the Academy, Westmoreland worked five years as an accountant for the Air Force before turning pro.
- On Sunday, Akshay Bhatia was throwing up in the bushes at the qualifier for this week’s PGA Tour event at Congaree. He lost in a playoff, but he bounced back and earned a spot in his first major. He won a three-for-one playoff at Hilton Head, S.C., beating Zack Sucher and Ben Martin.
- Chan Kim’s vape pen had to be working overtime. The 83rd-ranked player in the world, who plays mostly on the Japan Tour, was medalist at Rolling Hills in California. I followed him at the Waste Management Monday qualifier and he was hitting the vape pen with vigor throughout the round
- Great to see Justin Suh get through. Suh got a sponsor’s exemption into the Farmers in January, finished T37 and donated half of his earnings to charity. The good karma paid off, and he got through a playoff in California. Now he’s headed back to Torrey Pines.
- The weather stunk in parts of the country. When you are playing 36 holes in one day, there isn’t much time for delays. Four sites had delays, and two didn’t finish until Tuesday. The Atlanta playoff finished in the dark.
- John Augenstein, the 2019 U.S. Amateur runner-up, is still trying to find his way early in his pro career.. On Sunday he played in the qualifier for the Palmetto Championship, shot 69 and missed the playoff by one. On Monday in South Carolina, he shot 73-68 to finish eighth and miss out on the playoff by three. Solid play isn’t enough—you need to go low in qualifiers, and he hasn’t been able to do that.
- With a decorated amateur record, Garrett Rank is by far the best golfer who doubles as an NHL referee. Unfortunately he withdrew after an opening 75. Rank played in the 2018 U.S. Open but missed the cut.
- Nick Hardy had a 10-footer on the last hole to get into the playoff for the last spot in Springfield. It was on a perfect line he left it short. Hardy marched straight to the putting green and, despite having just played 36 holes, worked with his coach on his posture.
- I feel like most people have forgotten about Jonas Blixt and how good he was. Blixt, 37, has three PGA Tour wins but has mostly disappeared due to injuries. He has started to play events again and had a chance to play in his first major since 2018. Unfortunately, he made a triple bogey during his second round and missed the playoff by two. He is the second alternate from that site.
- The pin placement at the par-4 fourth hole at the Springfield site was must-watch. It was perched on a small shelf on the ledge of a false front that if you missed the green, would run 30 yards down the fairway. In a three-group stretch I saw players make an 8, a 9 and a 10. All three were above the hole and putted off the green, leaving themselves an impossible chip back. Oklahoma standout Quade Cummins finished 6 over for the day. He made a 9 and a 7 at the fourth, but played the other 34 holes in two under. I watched Sahith Theegala, who was in the rough above the hole, hit the ball maybe 3 inches. He was so scared it was going to go off the green he tried to just touch it onto the green. The ball stayed in the rough. He escaped with bogey.
- David Gazzolo had 55 yards left on the first playoff hole in Springfield. He was in perfect position but chunked it, leaving himself well short of the green. He left the next chip 20 feet short. Tough way to lose out on a spot in the U.S. Open.
- In the same playoff, Ryan Brehm four-putted for a 7. He is the second alternate from that site.
- I got some grief for driving around in a golf cart but it was very helpful on a day when so much was happening. I was following Dylan Meyer when I saw Korn Ferry member Ross Miller. I thought he was out watching his friend play so I offered him a ride. I forgot he was playing in Meyer’s group. (Hey, it was a long day.) I’m glad Miller said no because a ride would have resulted in a DQ.
- RJ Markle had a four-footer on the last hole in Washington to get through but he missed it. In the playoff with Steve Allan, he had almost the same four-footer but missed it again. Brutal.
- The membership at Rolling Meadows in California should be ashamed of itself. Roy Cootes, one of the club’s members, was in the field so, in an apparent effort to helps Cootes’s chance, the club denied a bunch of players in the field access to the course for a practice round. I know a player who had a practice round scheduled with a member only to have it canceled at the last minute because of “country club politics.” Cootes got through in a four-for-two playoff.
I can’t believe the “Monday” (played Sunday) qualifier for the Palmetto Champioship is the parting shot this week. But with final U.S. Open qualifying going on, it was kind of an afterthought. The players who got through:
- Cody Blick – At final Stage of Q-school in 2018 he had his clubs stolen prior to the start of the week. He fired a final round 63 with a borrowed set to get guaranteed starts that year.
- Tain Lee- Leading up to this year had never played a PGA Tour event in his eight year pro career. This is his third Monday Q of this year and he’s made the cut in the previous two
- Broc Everett- The former NCAA Champ from Augusta State is looking for his first made cut on Tour.
- Brant Peaper- Eight years into his pro career this will be his first career Tour start.