The long road to the US Open

By Doug FergusonJune 9, 2009, 4:00 pm
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2009 U.S. OpenGERMANTOWN, Tenn. ' Paul Goydos milled around the front of the clubhouse, killing time with a few PGA Tour peers as he waited for more scores to be posted on the white poster board at Germantown Country Club.
 
He had spent eight hours trudging across the fairways of two golf courses outside Memphis in a 36-hole qualifier. One course wouldnt let his caddie walk the course to take down yardages, critical preparation for any golfer. If he wanted a bottle of water, it was going to cost him $4.
 
Goydos was no longer a PGA Tour player on this day. He was no different from the teenager in his group, Cameron Peck. Both only wanted a chance to play in the U.S. Open.
 
Its pretty cool, Goydos said. Everyone is starting out the same.
 
An hour earlier, Goydos hit 3-iron to the edge of the par-5 closing hole at Ridgeway, chipped to about 6 feet and missed his birdie putt. He didnt think much about it until he saw that his 4-under 136 total might have a chance to make it.
 
More names were added to the board, moving him into a tie for 10th. That would mean a five-way playoff for four spots.
 
Another name. Now five players for three spots.
 
I think Im going to regret not getting up-and-down on the last hole, Goydos said as he headed to the practice range to warm up.
 
When he returned for the playoff, there were six players for the last of 13 spots from the Tennessee qualifier. It went to Greg Kraft, who made birdie on the first hole and knocked out Marc Leishman on the next hole with a par.
 
For so many others, it turned out to be a long day, a wasted effort.
 
Goydos felt otherwise.
 
If you play good, you make it, he said. I love 36 holes of qualifying because theres plenty of spots. We just played a British Open qualifier over here, and eight of us got in. What is there today? Something like 50? More?
 
There were 63 spots available at 13 sectional qualifiers across the country.
 
Joe Durant looked around at two dozen other players waiting for the scores to be posted. Some of them were on the PGA Tour, some of them not quite good enough, most of them were wearing shorts, all of them were exhausted.
 
When you see this, Durant said, thats when you know how badly guys want to make it.
 
There are no leaderboards, no bright lights at sectional qualifying. Alex Cejka played in the final pairing at The Players Championship with Tiger Woods before thousands of fans, and a month later he was walking the fairways with someone he might never see again.
 
It will be different next week at Bethpage Black.
 
The 156 players who compete in the U.S. Open will drive luxury courtesy cars, walk past thousands of fans wanting their autograph. There were be television cameras, photographers, 50,000 fans framing every fairway.
 
Its worth remembering that it didnt start out this way.
 
The USGA said 9,086 golfers signed up for the U.S. Open this year. The process of elimination began in May with a month of 18-hole local qualifying at 112 courses across the country, even one in Alaska.
 
Woods, the defending champion, was among 75 players who didnt have to qualify because of their performance last year in various categories. That left 870 players to compete for 81 spots (including qualifiers in England and Japan).
 
Before the opening tee shot June 18, the starter will announce to the crowd how many players entered the U.S. Open.
 
It will sound like a formality. It means more than that.
 
The U.S. Open not only considers itself the toughest test in golf, but the major that offers more opportunity than the other three.
 
I challenge anyone to say there is a more democratic golf competition, USGA executive director David Fay said.
 
He speaks more as a film critic than a politician.
 
This time of the year is when Fay often thinks of the scene from the movie Tin Cup, when Roy McAvoy decides to qualify for the U.S. Open because its the one tournament they cant keep you out.
 
Ryan Blaum, who graduated from Duke a few years ago, will be playing his first U.S. Open. He is still chasing around on the mini-tours, but chose a qualifying site filled with PGA Tour players ' including major champions and Ryder Cup players ' because there were 13 spots available. Some sites offered only one spot.
 
The golf course doesnt know who you are, Blaum said.
 
Fay cannot remember a year since he has been at the USGA when the majority of the 156-man field was not set aside for qualifiers. It matters not that the last U.S. Open champion to make it through local and sectional qualifying was Orville Moody in 1969, or the last U.S. Open winner to go through sectional qualifying in the United States was Steve Jones in 1996.
 
Anyone who has the game, they can try, Fay said. And its not just the scene you saw in Memphis, but at the local qualifying where you really see players trying to catch magic in the jar.
 
David Duval earned his way back to the U.S. Open by getting one of the 17 spots in Columbus, Ohio. He has perspective to go along with the privilege of playing golf for a living since 1994.
 
Who knows how he will fare at Bethpage Black, but he found satisfaction in getting there through 36 holes of qualifying.
 
If theres ever a time in golf that youre working, thats it, he said.
 
Related Links:
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    Hammer in position (again) to co-medal at U.S. Am

    By Ryan LavnerAugust 14, 2018, 10:37 pm

    PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer is in position to go for a rare sweep in this summer’s biggest events.

    Two weeks ago, Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas, was the co-medalist at the Western Amateur and went on to take the match-play portion, as well.

    Here at the U.S. Amateur, Hammer shot rounds of 69-68 and was once again in position to earn co-medalist honors. At 6-under 137, he was tied with 19-year-old Daniel Hillier of New Zealand.

    “It would mean a lot, especially after being medalist at the Western Am,” Hammer said afterward. “It’s pretty special.”

    No stroke-play medalist has prevailed in the 64-man match-play bracket since Ryan Moore in 2004. Before that, Tiger Woods (1996) was the most recent medalist champion.  


    Match scoring from U.S. Amateur

    U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos


    On the strength of his Western Am title, Hammer, 18, has soared to No. 18 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He credited his work with swing coach Cameron McCormick and mental coach Bob Rotella.

    “Just really started controlling my iron shots really well,” said Hammer, who has worked with McCormick since 2015, when he qualified for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay as a 15-year-old.

    “Distance control with my wedges and all my iron shots, playing different shots, has become really a strength in my game. I’ve really turned the putter on this year, and I’m seeing the lines and matching the line with the speed really well. I think that’s been the key to my summer.”

    A two-time New Zealand Amateur champion, Hillier is ranked 27th in the world. He said that, entering the tournament, he would have been pleased just to make it to match play.

    “But to come out on top, it’s amazing,” Hillier said. “Cole is a really good golfer and has been playing well lately. So, yeah, I’m in good company.”

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    Tee times, TV schedule, stats for Wyndham Championship

    By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 14, 2018, 9:55 pm

    It's the last tournament of the PGA Tour's regular season as the top 125 in the FedExCup points list advance to next week's playoff event. Here's the key info for the Wyndham Championship. (Click here for tee times)

    How to watch:

    Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

    Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

    Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

    Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.


    Purse: $6 million

    Course: Sedgefield Country Club (par 70, 7,127 yards)

    Defending champion: Henrik Stenson. Last year he defeated Ollie Schniederjans by one stroke to earn his sixth career PGA Tour win.


    Notables in the field

    Henrik Stenson at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational.

    Henrik Stenson

    • Missed the cut last week at the PGA Championship

    • Six top-10 finishes this year, including T-5 at the Masters and T-6 at the U.S. Open


    Sergio Garcia

    • Eight missed cuts in last 10 PGA Tour starts

    • Currently 131 in FedExCup standings (33 points back of 125th)


    Webb Simpson

    • Five top-10 finishes in this event since 2010 (won in 2011)

    • 56 under par in last five years in this event (best of any player in that span)

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    Faldo: Woods told fellow Masters champ 'I'm done' in '17

    By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 7:42 pm

    Fresh off his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, it's easy to get caught up in the recent success and ebullient optimism surrounding Tiger Woods. But it was not that long ago that Woods even hitting another competitive shot was very much in doubt.

    Six-time major champ Sir Nick Faldo shed light on those darker times during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show when he relayed a story from the 2017 Masters champions' dinner. The annual meal is one of golf's most exclusive fraternities, as only the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club is allowed to dine with the men who have each donned a green jacket.

    Last spring Woods had not yet undergone spinal fusion surgery, and Faldo explained that Woods at one point turned to an unnamed Masters champ and grimly assessed his future playing chances.


    Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos


    "I know he whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago, 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,'" Faldo said. "He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the (2016) Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain."

    But Woods opted for fusion surgery a few weeks later, and after a lengthy rehab process he returned to competition in December. His 2018 campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, with a pair of runner-up finishes to go along with a T-6 result at The Open when he held the outright lead on the back nine on Sunday.

    After apparently even counting himself out, Woods is back up to 26th in the latest world rankings and appears in line to be added as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup next month.

    "What he's been able to do is unbelievable," Faldo said. "To turn this aruond, to get this spine fusion, it's completely taken away the pain. To have this mobility is absolutely amazing. Great on him, and great for golf."

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    McDowell needs Wyndham result to maintain status

    By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:56 pm

    For the first time in nearly three years, Graeme McDowell heads into an event with his PGA Tour status hanging in the balance.

    The Ulsterman joined the Tour in 2006, and he has had nearly uninterrupted status since winning the 2010 U.S. Open. But McDowell's two-season exemption for winning the 2015 OHL Classic at Mayakoba only extends through this week, where he will start the Wyndham Championship at No. 143 in the season-long points race.

    McDowell tied for fifth at Sedgefield Country Club in 2016, and he will likely need a similar result to crack the top 125 in the standings and retain his fully exempt status for the 2019 season. While he finished T-10 in Las Vegas in November, that remains his lone top-10 finish of the Tour season. The veteran's best results this year have come in Europe, where he tied for fifth at the Italian Open and finished T-12 at the BMW PGA Championship.


    Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos


    "I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself. I feel like it's not a do-or-die scenario for me," McDowell told reporters earlier this month at the Barracuda Championship. "I feel if I was 25 years old without a European Tour card to fall back on, it would be a do-or-die scenario. Certainly trying to put the pressure off, if I don't get myself into the top 125 it's not the end of the world for me. I still feel like I can play a great schedule next season."

    By finishing Nos. 126-150 in points after this week, McDowell would retain conditional status that would likely ensure him at least 12-15 starts next season. He would also still have privileges as a past tournament champion.

    But he's not the only winner from the 2015-16 season whose two-year exemption is on the verge of running out. Fabian Gomez (160th), Peter Malnati (164th) and Billy Hurley III (202nd) all need big results in Greensboro to keep their cards, while Shane Lowry, David Lingmerth and Matt Every all earned three-year exemptions for victories in 2015 but currently sit Nos. 139, 140 and 184 in points, respectively.

    Last year four players moved into the top 125 thanks to strong play at Wyndham, with the biggest jump coming from Rory Sabbatini, who went from No. 148 to No. 122 after tying for fourth place.