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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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm