NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. – Bio Kim set the pace early on Monday at the U.S. Open sectional qualifier and cruised to medalist honors, but as is often the case at these 36-hole marathons it was what happened long after Kim had made the 10-minute drive to his home in Irvine that provided the drama.
Three players finished at 5 under after 36 holes and dueled in near darkness in a three-for-two playoff that ended in a watery miscue by Jesse Schutte and a trip to Merion for next week’s championship for amateurs Max Homa and Cory McElvea.
McElvea (69-69), Homa (66-72) and Schutte (69-69) began the playoff at the par-4 ninth hole and all three found the green in regulation, but Homa – who just minutes earlier had converted an 8-footer from above the hole at the ninth for par to finish at 5 under – raced his birdie putt 10 feet by.
“I wasn’t trying to run that in,” said Homa, who took medalist honors at last week’s NCAA Championship in his final college event for California. “My knees are shaking. This taught me that I can make a big putt when I need to.”
All three players made par to advance to the second extra hole where Schutte blinked first, hitting his approach into a water hazard. Although he got up and down for bogey, both McElvea and Homa made par to earn the final spots at Merion.
They will be joined by New Zealander Steven Alker (69-68), a regular on the Web.com Tour who has never played the U.S. Open, and Roger Tambellini (69-68), who will be making his second trip to the Open.
“I had tried (to qualify for the U.S. Open) and to finally do it is very special,” Alker said.
For Kim – who has struggled this year on the Web.com Tour, missing four consecutive cuts before Monday’s qualifier – his day was not entirely expected. In fact, he hadn’t even told his parents that he was trying to qualify for the year’s second major because, “I didn’t want them to worry.”
“I had been dreaming about playing the Open for so long,” said Kim, who closed with a 71 on the more difficult Big Canyon course.
Of course, he may have a hard time finding next week’s championship. When asked if he planned to visit Merion early to see the quirky golf course he asked, “Is that where the Open is?”