US Open Draws Various Entries

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Cortney Brisson called his trip to the 2003 U.S. Open a second honeymoon. For a little-known pro golfer who usually plays on obscure mini-tours, the description fit perfectly.
 
'Of all the golf tournaments you play, the USGA does it better than anybody,' he said. 'Son, they treat you like you've never seen in your life, they treat you like you wouldn't even believe.'
 
Two years after missing the cut at Olympia Fields, Brisson is on the cusp of making it back to the Open - he secured one of eight spots from the local qualifier earlier this week at River Landing, his home course about 30 miles north of Wilmington.
 
Brisson is one of more than 9,000 golfers who signed up for this year's tournament, which will be held at Pinehurst Country Club's famed No. 2 course.
 
The record number of entrants playing in local qualifiers at 107 sites around the country includes former baseball slugger Mark McGwire, former tennis great Ivan Lendl and NHL star Brett Hull, as well as teen sensation Michelle Wie and two other women. Wie was scheduled to play in a first-round qualifier Friday in Honolulu.
 
It's what makes the U.S. Open, well, open - just like the movie 'Tin Cup' and fictional driving range pro Roy McAvoy.
 
'It's neat that if you're good enough, if you can shoot the scores, you can get in the tournament,' said former PGA Tour player and current North Carolina golf coach John Inman, another hopeful at River Landing. 'Now, you've got to shoot low scores, because there's a lot of great players out there, but everybody has a chance.'
 
Not quite everybody. Eligibility is limited to amateurs with a handicap of less than 1.5 and professionals such as Brisson. Anyone meeting that criteria can pay an entry fee of $125 and sign up for local qualifying. Those who make it out of qualifying move on to 36-hole sectionals in late May and early June.
 
Of course, this doesn't apply to current tour players. Most are at least exempt from the local level, and several - including Tiger Woods and the rest of the 'Big Five' - don't have to qualify at all.
 
Still, once you get in, everybody essentially has the same chance. In 1996, Steve Jones came through both rounds of qualifying to win the Open at Oakland Hills, holding off Tom Lehman and Davis Love III by a single shot to follow in the footsteps of Jerry Pate, another qualifier who won the Open 20 years earlier.
 
Perhaps that's what draws so many wannabes.
 
Last week, struggling pro Ryan Gioffre told his wife that he was going to quit, disheartened after he missed the cut in 13 of 15 starts last year on the Nationwide Tour. So far this year, he has earned $4,050 in three tournaments on the Tarheel Tour, a mini-tour based near Charlotte, N.C.
 
Yet he rebounded with a 7-under 65 at River Landing to earn a spot in the next stage, encouraging him to stick with it for a little bit longer.
 
'I cannot stand to be on the Tarheel Tour anymore,' Gioffre said. 'I cannot stand to be minor league. I hate it. I'd rather go get a job and play golf to enjoy it, because my expectations are a lot higher. And sometimes that's good, and sometimes that's bad.'
 
Besides, the 30-year-old is ready to start a family.
 
'We just got a puppy three months ago, and we're having a hard enough time taking care of that thing,' he said with a smile.
 
Life hasn't been much easier for Australian Nick Flanagan, the surprising winner of the U.S. Amateur two years ago. The former soccer player didn't take up the game regularly until watching Tiger Woods' convincing victory in the 1997 Masters, then traveled to Oakmont Country Club in 2003 and beat Casey Wittenburg, the top amateur in the country at the time.
 
Flanagan turned pro last summer after missing the cut at the U.S. Open - one of many players who struggled at difficult Shinnecock Hills - and his poor play continued the rest of the year. So far, he's had more success in 2005, and he secured a spot in the British Open through qualifying back home.
 
The solid play continued at River Landing, where he took medalist honors with a 64.
 
'I think you just play more as a pro, and it wasn't the best of starts for me,' the 20-year-old said. 'But so far, this year has changed me around a little bit, I'm playing better. So, hopefully, it gets easier from here on in.'
 
It won't be easy for anyone to qualify, including Wie. Now in the 10th grade at Punahou School in Honolulu, she already has played 20 times on the LPGA Tour, twice on the PGA Tour and once each on the Nationwide and Canadian tours.
 
The 15-year-old has shown she can play just fine with the women. In three LPGA tournaments this year, including a major, Wie has tied for second, tied for 12th and tied for 14th two weeks ago at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. If she was a pro, she would have enough money to be 10th on the money list.
 
And Wie isn't the youngest woman among the hopefuls. That distinction goes to 14-year-old Carmen Bandea from suburban Atlanta.
 
Lendl wasn't good enough this year, shooting 78 in Palm Harbor, Fla., earlier this week to miss a playoff by six shots. Hull plays Monday near Dallas and McGwire tries Wednesday in Newport Beach, Calif.
 
They hope to join the rest of the fortunate hopefuls in the next stage, along with a host of tour players. If Brisson makes it all the way to the Open, maybe he can create a moment to top one from his trip to Olympia Fields.
 
'My wife pulled into the golf course and she about ran over Phil Mickelson,' Brisson said. 'And then she said, 'That's Phil Mickelson.' And I said, 'No kidding, you about took his legs out.''
 
His eyes sparkled at the memory, while a few feet away, his wife cringed a bit with embarrassment.
 
'It was amazing,' he said.
 
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