U.S. Open qualifying an emotional, eclectic experience

By Ryan Reiterman June 7, 2016, 2:45 pm

POWELL, Ohio – The 36-hole grind for 13 spots in the U.S. Open started just after sunrise on Monday.

For some players, like former world No. 1 Luke Donald, the grind didn’t end until just after sunrise on Tuesday, in a six-for-five playoff.

It was the end to another wild U.S. Open sectional qualifier in Columbus.

Players from all corners of the game teed off Monday at Kinsale and Wedgewood Golf and Country Club with the same goal – a tee time in 10 days at Oakmont.

The field of 103 included many top pros like Donald, Gary Woodland, Camilo Villegas, Brendan Steele, Adam Hadwin and Kevin Streelman, who just hours before were competing for one of the biggest PGA Tour titles of the year at Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament.

There were also plenty of amateurs, fledgling pros, college stars, guys who haven’t done enough to warrant a Wikipedia page, and one reigning U.S. Amateur champion (Bryson DeChambeau) who had already given up his spot at Oakmont to turn pro and then went out and qualified again.

Those who made it pretty much had the same reaction as Donald.

“Glad it’s all over,” he said after waking up at 5 a.m. Tuesday to make two pars and earn a return trip to Oakmont.


U.S. Open sectional qualifying results


One player who didn’t join them in the qualifier was William McGirt. He originally had a tee time on Monday, but McGirt went out the day before and won his first PGA Tour title to get into Oakmont.

Everyone who did show up gathered around the hand-written leaderboard to see where they stood while also checking their phones to get the latest scores. The U.S. Open trophy was on display nearby and offered a not-so-subtle reminder to the qualifiers that, Hey, four more good rounds and I could be yours.

But for those who got in – and for a few who didn’t – they took away more than just a spot in one of the four biggest tournaments in the sport.

For Donald, now No. 80 in the world, it was another positive sign as he tries to move back up the world rankings. He used to easily qualify for the majors, but in April he missed the Masters for the first time since 2004 and had to earn his place in the U.S. Open for the second year in a row.

“I want to play majors,” Donald said. “If you’re not playing you don’t have a chance to win. Sitting on the couch isn’t going to do me any good. I want to play for as long as I can.”

Carlos Ortiz learned he was on the right track with his game even after missing nine of his last 11 cuts. He simply went out on Monday and fired a pair of 66s to lead all of the qualifiers in Columbus.

Now the 25-year-old from Mexico is heading to his first major.

“I’ve been playing great the last two months,” he said. “It’s just a matter of putting everything together and now it’s coming together.”

Ethan Tracy (65-68) tied for second with DeChambeau and also qualified for his first major. It capped a roller-coaster week for the 26-year-old mini-tour player from nearby Galloway. He received an invite to the Memorial, a tournament he attended several times as a kid, but missed the cut.

“On Friday I was pretty emotional,” he said. “I put in a lot of hard work and probably the hardest work I’ve ever done, and I’m glad it’s paying off … I know I’m doing the right things and going in the right direction.”

After the qualifier, that direction will be north for a Canadian Tour event, and then Tracy will head to Oakmont where he may run into defending champion Jordan Spieth, a guy Tracy beat on his way to winning the 2011 Western Amateur.

Tracy knew Spieth was going to be a star, but he also knows his game is pretty stout, too.

“I know I can be out there with him,” Tracy said.

Oklahoma State sophomore Zachary Bauchou and two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton played in the same group and shot the same score, but they had different reactions after 36 holes on Monday.

“Honestly, probably the coolest thing I have ever done,” said a smiling Bauchou, who drained a 5-foot putt in a downpour to post 4 under par. “I was really excited about it. Coming down the last hole I was like, ‘Shoot! I might get in the U.S. Open! That’s really awesome.’”

Unfortunately for Bauchou and Compton, 4 under was not enough to get in. They were among six players who came back on Tuesday morning for a playoff for the second alternate spot and lost out to Adam Hadwin.

Compton was emotionally spent on Monday, especially since he almost quit in the middle of his second 18 holes. He nonchalantly tried to knock in a par putt and missed from 2-inches. Yes, 2 inches.

“It was so demoralizing,” he said.

But he pressed on because Compton knows what can happen if you make it through.

In 2014, he survived a two-hole playoff to punch his ticket to Pinehurst and then finished tied for second behind Martin Kaymer.

“I feel like my form is close to where it was [in 2014], but you need to have some things go your way,” he said. “And you have to be really tough. It’s hard to be tough when you’re not a top player in the world, and you’re somebody who is always kind of grinding to keep your card. You’ve got to be tough every day, on every shot. That can wear on you after a few years.”

Last year, Steele was one the many pros who withdrew before the qualifier even started.

“I played really bad on Sunday [at the Memorial] last year and just knew my attitude wasn’t going to be good enough to go battle for 36 holes,” he said after easily making it to Oakmont with rounds of 66-68. “I didn’t want to give it half an effort, and so I pulled out last year.”

Now his dream of winning the U.S. Open continues.

“That’s the beauty of the U.S. Open,” Steele said. “That’s why it’s everybody’s dream to be able to compete and even just play this round. You get to come out here and play with some great players.”

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard


On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry