BETHESDA, Md. – Emiliano Grillo glanced at his watch Wednesday as he stood next to the putting green, the stately clubhouse behind him and a U.S. Open golf course in front of him.
“I could be playing the 15th hole,” he said.
Only he wasn’t talking about Congressional. The 18-year-old from Argentina is the first alternate in the U.S. Open, and he isn’t even allowed to play the course unless someone withdraws.
Grillo was in Rochester, N.Y., for the Monroe Invitational Championship when he faced what would seem to be an easy decision: Stick around and compete against college-age amateurs or sit around Congressional with an outside chance of playing in the U.S. Open.
He went for the trip to Maryland.
“I’m happy to be here,” he said. “I’m not really happy, but I’m here. And that’s all that matters.”
Grillo grew up in Resistencia, located about 600 miles north of Buenos Aires, the same town that produced two-time PGA Tour winner Jose Coceres, one of his golfing mentors. He moved to Florida three years ago to attend the IMG Leadbetter Golf Academy and plans to turn pro in September after the U.S. Amateur.
Getting to the first tee on Thursday could be a long shot. Grillo wasn’t aware of anyone who might not be able to play. The worst part of it is being restricted to the practice areas.
Unlike the British Open, alternates are not allowed to practice on the course until they are in the field. Grillo faces eight hours of waiting around Thursday, and even if he gets in, will play in his first major without ever having seen the course.
“It’s hard to play the U.S. Open without seeing the golf course,” he said.
Among his amateur feats are winning the Copas de las Americas in Argentina, and the Ping Invitational. Because he is among the top 50 in the world amateur ranking, he was exempt into the final stage of U.S. Open qualifying.
And he almost made it.
Grillo wound up in a seven-man playoff for four spots in the Memphis, Tenn., qualifier that featured mostly PGA Tour players. He hung around until there were three players left for one spot. On the third extra hole, Tag Ridings hit into the water on a par 5. Grillo and Briny Baird reached the green in two and faced long eagle putts.
“It was almost darkness, and it can be hard to putt in the dark,” he said. “I three-putted, but I still made par. I was so mad.”
It took him a while to get over the disappointment of being one putt away from playing in the U.S. Open. He packed his clubs and headed to upstate New York to start a busy season of amateur golf. After being informed Monday that he was the first alternate, Grillo took two days to decide whether to come to Washington.
“At least I’m around here,” he said, pointing to a practice green that was filled with players like Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson. “It is something. But now I have to wait. If somebody withdraws, that’s fine. If not, that’s fine. I should have made one more putt.”