Quarter-Century Later Brehaut in Open

By Associated PressJune 12, 2007, 4:00 pm
2007 U.S. OpenOAKMONT, Pa. -- Jeff Brehaut first tried to qualify for the U.S. Open at 18, and he figured it was only a matter of time.
 
Just not this much time.
 
He has lost track of the trips to local and sectional qualifying during a career that stretches over two decades and has taken him to 385 tournaments on the PGA TOUR and Nationwide Tour, probably a hundred more on the mini-tours. His last victory was five years ago when he was the medalist at Q-school.
 
So as he sat on the steps of a bridge leading from the 18th green to the clubhouse at Oakmont, that warm smile on his face was from more than a midday sun on a clear day along the banks of the Allegheny River.
 
He made it. Finally.
 
This is his first U.S. Open. His first major, for that matter.
 
Players who competed against him in college, in the bush leagues and minor leagues, and over the last nine years on the PGA TOUR were stunned to learn that in 21 years as a pro, the closest Brehaut ever got to a major was in front of the TV or the other side of the ropes.
 
'I remember I tried to qualify when I was 18, and my buddy Jeff Wilson made it,' Brehaut said. 'I went and watched him. It was at Pebble. That was my first taste of the U.S. Open.'
 
The year Tom Kite won in a wind-blown final round in 1992?
 
'No, the year (Tom) Watson won in 1982,' Brehaut said with a laugh. 'That's how old I am.'
 
He turns 44 on Wednesday. The USGA does not keep track of oldest professionals to play the U.S. Open for the first time, but its historian figured any such list would be a short one.
 
Brehaut is the quintessential journeyman, either that or a very late bloomer. There have been times he felt like quitting a game that has been fulfilling and frustrating, and the fact it remains both speaks to an amazingly upbeat attitude.
 
'Not everybody is an All-American in college and gets their TOUR card and has a 25-year career,' Brehaut said. 'A lot more of them are like me. They did it the hard way. They learned as they went, got their heads beat against the wall and kept coming.'
 
He finally broke through -- not winning, just getting here -- last week in a sectional qualifier outside Chicago, where Brehaut had just missed the cut on the Nationwide Tour. He shot a 70 in the first round, had no idea what score he needed in the afternoon, and came to the final hole figuring a birdie would at least get him into a playoff.
 
Brehaut made the putt, and turns out he qualified by three shots.
 
He soon was on the phone with USGA officials, who were holding a hotel room for him in the Pittsburgh area, as they do with most qualifiers. Brehaut needed more than one room.
 
He spent two decades trying to get to a major, and he wasn't about to go alone.
 
His parents flew to Oakmont on Monday, his brother arrived on Tuesday. His wife and two children, and her father, are coming Thursday. Brehaut quickly called Bob Friend, a former tour player and Oakmont member, who found him a house near the course.
 
His father's birthday was Tuesday.
 
'This was a huge gift for him,' Brehaut said. 'He's been my biggest supporter.'
 
The best thing Gene Brehaut ever did was join Los Altos Country Club in the Bay Area.
 
Brehaut always wanted to be quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers as a kid, and that indeed was a big dream for a high school freshman who was 4-foot-11 and weighed 95 pounds. Then he got flattened in a scrimmage against the sophomores and was taken off the field on a stretcher.
 
'That's when I said, 'You know, my dad is a member at that club ... ,' Brehaut said.
 
He hooked up with eight other kids his age and spent the next four years getting good by accident. They played golf every day after school and all summer, charged milkshakes to their fathers' account and hit balls until dark.
 
Brehaut was 17 when Los Altos hired a new head pro, Brian Inkster, and he became best friends with the pro's 20-year-old bride. Juli Inkster went on to win the first of three straight U.S. Women's Amateur that summer, and now is in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
 
They remain as close as siblings.
 
'He's very resilient,' Inkster said. 'He never gets too high or too low. Ask him how it's going, he always says, 'Great. I'm working hard.' Every year, he'll grind and go back to qualifying school. Brian and I always ask how much longer he can keep going, but he gets through it. He always tells me, 'This is what I do. This is who I am.'
 
'So this is great for him. It's going to be fun.'
 
Brehaut has been watching the U.S. Open for 30 years, and finally gets to play in one.
 
His father usually gets together with Los Altos members on the Wednesday night at the club before a major to draft players for their fantasy team. Gene Brehaut won't be there this year, but he already has placed his bet.
 
'When I qualified, he said, 'I'm taking you No. 1, and I already told everybody else,'' Brehaut said. 'I told him, 'Dad, you could probably put me at No. 2 or 3 at least. I'm not sure I would even taken myself at No. 1.'
 
Then he paused and smiled before heading into the clubhouse for lunch.
 
'He's pretty jacked up about all this,' he said.
 
And after 25 years of trying, so is Brehaut.
 
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