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2012 Open prodigy Hossler now nation's top collegian

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Do you remember Beau?

It’s been nearly four years since he lumbered down the 18th fairway at the Olympic Club, since his future college coach got chills looking at the U.S. Open leaderboard, since the crowd on the hillside rose to its feet and serenaded him with cheers of “HOSS-LER! HOSS-LER!”

But Beau Hossler is not just an answer to a trivia question, some one-week sensation who faded from relevance. Having filled out his 6-foot-2 frame to 205 pounds, he is now a 21-year-old junior at Texas, the country’s No. 1-ranked college player and a can’t-miss kid who has weathered enormous expectations to become the most polished amateur since, well, another Longhorns legend.  

“He has that Jordan Spieth mind,” said Hossler’s swing coach, Adam Porzak, “in addition to incredible physical ability.”

And so now, with his résumé overflowing with major appearances, international team competitions and elite amateur titles, Hossler has done the unthinkable in four short years: He has turned that historic Open performance into a mere footnote.

HOSSLER’S JOURNEY TO THE TOP of the college ranks didn’t begin in San Francisco. It actually started about seven hours south, in Carlsbad – that’s where legendary swing coach Jim Flick moved in 2006, to work for TaylorMade.

As a kid in Mission Viejo, Calif., Hossler was a standout baseball player. But at age 10 he began to focus on golf, quitting every other sport. His father, Beau Sr., researched the best instructors in Southern California. Flick’s name popped up, and the Hosslers set up a lesson and headed 45 minutes south on Interstate 5. It marked the beginning of a six-year relationship, until Flick passed away in 2012 at age 82.

Flick improved Hossler’s fundamentals, but that was only part of the equation. In an atmosphere where he was surrounded by Flick’s professional clients, Hossler learned how to score, how to play under pressure and how to act like a pro. Flick helped turn Hossler into an independent self-fixer. Hossler would travel to an AJGA event, return to Carlsbad a few days later and tell Flick what he thought they needed to work on. The only event where Flick ever watched his pupil in person was the U.S. Open at Olympic.  

“I was never a guy who was trying to have the picture-perfect swing,” Hossler said. “I was trying to understand what my swing does, the things I do well, and how I can try to make those better.”

Hossler was 13 when he took his first unofficial visit to Texas. A year later, he caught the eye of former Longhorns assistant Ryan Murphy at the 2009 U.S. Amateur. Murphy told head coach John Fields that they should take this 5-foot-nothin’ kid more seriously – Hossler had just shot a pair of 77s in qualifying while hitting driver-4-iron-wedge into par 4s at Southern Hills.

Three days after getting his driver’s license, Hossler advanced through a sectional qualifier for the 2011 U.S. Open. Then the third-youngest to play in an Open, he missed the cut that week at waterlogged Congressional, but a month later he won the prestigious Junior World Championship. By the time he committed to Texas, in March 2012, he was the second-ranked player in a stacked class, with other offers from UCLA, Arizona State and Southern Cal, his father’s alma mater.

It seems the only person fully prepared for what happened next was Hossler. That June, he earned one of the six spots in a 130-man sectional qualifier, becoming the first high schooler since Mason Rudolph in 1951 to earn a spot in consecutive Opens.

The Olympic Open was memorable for a few reasons – Tiger Woods shared the halfway lead and tanked, Jim Furyk snap-hooked a drive off the 70th tee and Jungle Bird crashed the trophy presentation. But for the better part of two days, Hossler was the main attraction, operating with a resolve and poise that belied his braces, zits and chubby physique.

After opening with an even-par 70, Hossler went out in 1 under on Friday before rolling in a 12-footer for birdie on the first hole, his 10th of the day.

“I can still remember the moment that I saw Beau Hossler’s name pop up on the leaderboard in first place,” Fields said. “I got chills. I got goosebumps on my arms and body. That was a surreal moment in golf, a 17-year-old leading the U.S. Open. It was an amazing moment in time.”

Hossler celebrated with caddie Bill Schellenberg in Round 4 of the 2012 U.S. Open. (Getty)

Amazing to those outside the ropes, perhaps, because Hossler’s godfather, Bill Schellenberg, who was on the bag that week, recalled that he and Hossler were “laughing and joking around,” oblivious to the moment or the pressure. “But as we walked to the next tee,” he said, “we were bombarded by cameras and microphones. All of a sudden, Dottie Pepper was in my back pocket.”

Hossler was only four shots back heading into the weekend. He maintained that position through 54 holes, and on the eve of the final round, he was asked by reporters whether he thought he could win. “Absolutely,” he said.  

Like nearly all of the contenders, Hossler retreated on the final day, but as he trudged up to the eighth green, the crowd swelled and chanted his name: “HOSS-LER! HOSS-LER!” Kevin Chappell, playing in the group behind, said it was one of the few times in his life that the hair on his arms stood up.  

“It sounded like a concert,” Schellenberg said, “getting louder and louder.”

Hossler signed for a closing 76 and dropped into a tie for 29th, allowing Spieth, then a rising sophomore at Texas, to steal low-amateur honors. But the publicity and the experience proved more valuable than the gold medal.

“You can’t emulate that kind of pressure and moment anywhere else,” Hossler said, “and the fact that I could handle it at 17, I knew I could do this for a living.”

Hossler got a hug from his mother, Amy Balsz, after Round 3 of the 2012 U.S. Open. (AP)

AGAINST THAT BACKDROP, Hossler enrolled early at Texas in January 2013, less than six months after his star-making performance at Olympic.

Those were high times in Austin. The Longhorns had captured their first NCAA title in 40 years the previous season behind the sterling play of Spieth, who then turned professional. Their lineup featured a new phenom, South African Brandon Stone, who would earn Freshman of the Year honors before bolting for the pros. Coveted recruits from California to New York were lining up to sign. Add in a rising star like Hossler, and Fields’ main job was de-stressing the environment.

“I always thought we were a victim of our own success,” Fields said. “When you win a national championship and have a player come through like Jordan Spieth, the amount of pressure these kids assumed when they first came in, it was ridiculously significant.”

Hossler sat out that spring season to get acclimated to college life, but he still had a rough first semester with the team the following fall. Carrying the load with leader Kramer Hickok out because of a wrist injury, Hossler carded only two rounds in the 60s and failed to record a top-10 in his first semester.

Recently, Spieth, Justin Thomas (Alabama) and Patrick Cantlay (UCLA) have shifted expectations for what was possible in Year 1, but for most college freshmen, there remains a noticeable adjustment to living alone, practicing alone and being surrounded by other elite players with similar ambitions. Given his high profile, Hossler was a target for some of the outside criticism.

“Most people don’t know who the top junior players are until they have a great week on Tour,” he said. “I have that one week and the expectations externally are off the charts.

“The people who know golf don’t have that mindset. But the people who are fans and are not in tune with how golf works at the high level think that just because you have a really good week it means you’re going to win every tournament going forward. You’re going to struggle at times. That’s just how it works.

“We see it all the time with top-ranked freshmen who come in and struggle, and you hear, ‘These guys are washed up!’ No, you have no idea what you’re talking about. College is a whole new deal. There are very few guys who come in and dominate right away.”

Hossler found his groove late in the spring and eventually earned the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year award, even if his freshman season failed to live up to his own lofty standards. “Beau’s adversity,” Schellenberg said with a laugh, “was not all that bad.”

And besides, Hossler had braced himself for the challenge. One of the main reasons he chose Texas was because he knew that to play on Tour someday, he needed to learn how to control his ball flight in the wind, putt well on Bermudagrass and regularly test himself against the best competition. Not only do the Longhorns annually play one of the nation’s most difficult schedules, but the current lineup features three players who were on the 2012 U.S. Junior Ryder Cup team. It’s a battle just to crack the starting five for an event.

“I needed to test myself,” Hossler said. “I needed to see my game evolve to a level that I could play anywhere.”

Fitting, then, that Hossler’s first college title came last February, at the John Hayt Collegiate in Florida, when it was 40 degrees, raining sideways and blowing 25 mph. He shot 66 in the second round on Bermuda greens.

Hossler’s victory at the Hayt was part of a remarkable run in which he won the Western Amateur, represented the U.S. at the Pan-Am Games, World Amateur Team Championship and Walker Cup (where he posted a team-best 3-1 record), became the fourth player in history to qualify for three U.S. Opens as an amateur and, most recently, routed the field at the Jones Cup.

Hossler, Hunter Stewart and captain 'Spider' Miller at a Walker Cup news conference. (Getty)

“My expectations,” he said, “have gone from looking to contend to expecting myself to win. That’s a big change mentally.”

This season at Texas, he has won an NCAA-best four events to rise to No. 1 in Golfstat’s rankings, even though, he says, “to be completely honest, I haven’t really played my best. Which is a great thing.”

Hossler prides himself on his consistency, and his average finish over the past 4 ½ semesters is 9.5; only Alabama’s Robby Shelton (7.9) has been better over that span.

“Beau doesn’t have an opportunity to hang up his sticks and mosey into a top-10,” said Porzak, his swing coach. “He has to play good golf every week. That’s where Beau separates himself from everybody else – his poor golf still gets top-10s.”

IT ALSO HELPS to have a mentor – and a motivator – like Spieth.

In this era of rocket launchers, the world No. 1 doesn’t hit it the farthest or the straightest, but he has changed the game by placing an added importance on short game, wedge play and strategy. Hossler is cut from the same mold, favoring precision and process over power and pizzazz. They were grouped together last month at the Northern Trust Collegiate Showcase, and afterward Spieth gushed about his friend’s growth, preparation and attitude.

“Beau has very, very little fear and I think that’s going to propel him,” Spieth said. “I think that he’s got a great sense of confidence in his golf game and his ability to be out here without expressing it in a cocky kind of manner. He just goes about his business.”

When told later about Spieth’s comments, about how much he admired his fearlessness, Hossler chuckled.

“That’s a big compliment,” he said, “because when you look at really great players, guys who aren’t afraid to succeed, you think of Jordan Spieth. That’s what makes him so impressive. He plays without fear, when it matters most, with all of his lifelong goals in front of his face.”

Like Spieth, Hossler unlocks his potential mostly through positive self-talk, but he also has been emboldened by his occasional chats with Dr. Jay Brunza, a former Navy clinical psychologist who once worked with Woods and taught him how to emotionally detach himself from pressure situations while still being emotionally invested in the moment.

“That’s why tension just leaves Beau all the time,” Porzak said, “because he always believes that the best possible outcome is going to happen.”

That’s the only reasonable explanation for what happened in two of the biggest events of Hossler’s young career.

During the first round of his 2014 Western Amateur victory, Hossler built a 3-up lead with four holes to play against Cheng-Tsung Pan, then one of the top-ranked players in the world. On the 15th hole, Pan faced about a 20-footer after Hossler hit his approach to 5 feet. Pan raced his birdie try about 12 feet past and appeared to be on the verge of losing the match, but Hossler picked up Pan’s ball. “I’m speechless,” said Porzak, who was on the bag that week. “About to throw up.” With a chance to close out the match, Hossler’s 5-footer horseshoed out. Onward.

“I wanted to grab him and say, ‘Dude, what the heck are you thinking?!’” Porzak said. “’This guy is good and we need to put an end to this match.’”

But Porzak kept quiet, and on the next hole, Hossler smoked a drive and stuck his gap wedge to a foot. He won the match, 3 and 2.

Afterward, Porzak asked Hossler about the concession. “I’m not just going to let him lose on a three-putt,” Hossler replied. “If I’m going to win this match, I’m going to make the putt to win.”

Hossler hits a shot alongside Texas coach John Fields.

Said Gavin Hall, Hossler’s teammate at Texas: “After that title, I sensed a different Beau. He was really motivated and saying that all he wanted to do was win. I started hearing that word a lot more.”

A similar situation played out at last year’s Walker Cup. The Americans were trailing on Day 1 of the biennial matches, but Hossler had achance to earn a valuable point late in his singles match at Royal Lytham. He was 1 up with two to play against Jack Hume, with a 10-foot birdie putt upcoming and his opponent facing a 50-foot chip. Hume pitched to about 6 feet, but his par putt broke sharply from left to right. Hossler’s birdie try hung on the lip, then he inexplicably conceded Hume’s putt to push the match to 18. His team already down two points, U.S. captain Spider Miller went ballistic.

But just like at the Western, Hossler split the 18th fairway, hit his approach to 15 feet and won the match, 1 up, in front of the big crowd and his relieved skipper.

“He wanted to go out with a bang, in Beau style,” said Georgia senior Lee McCoy, one of Hossler’s Walker Cup teammates. “Losing never even crossed his mind. He’s one of those guys you don’t want to go head to head against down the stretch because he’s so good under pressure. Some guys are scared of that and don’t want to be the one who hits the winning putt. Beau loves being in that spotlight.”

ANYONE WHO KNOWS BEAU HOSSLER isn’t surprised by what has transpired over the last two years, the ascendance of a player who is mature, tenacious and brimming with confidence.

Schellenberg knew Hossler was destined for greatness at the 2009 U.S. Amateur, when the kid bunted his way around an Open venue and made par from everywhere; the mother of one of their fellow playing competitors even told him as much.

Fields knew at the 2012 U.S. Open. Burned out, a few weeks removed from the school’s long-awaited national title and having just witnessed the emergence of a once-in-a-generation talent like Spieth, Fields stood next to his wife, Pearl, and stared at the leaderboard.

“I’m scratching my head thinking, ‘Oh my God, it’s happening again,’” Fields said. “I was pinching myself more than being perplexed. I had waited my entire career for these types of players, these types of blessings, and now they’re coming in abundance.”

And Porzak knew at last year’s U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. It was his first major as an instructor, and the 29-year-old was a nervous wreck, overthinking everything from where to stand to how to secure his credentials.  

“Then I look at Beau,” Porzak said, “and he is more at ease and having more fun than I’ve ever seen him in my entire life. That’s when I said that we might not be witnessing just another great player. I think we have the potential to witness one of the best players who has ever played the game.

“And it’s not just the talent. Look at the perfect storm of attributes: The head on his shoulders. The calmness about him. The self-belief and confidence. He looks like he’s meant to be out there.”

And Hossler will be soon enough. Though he declined to discuss his future, he is likely to turn pro after the NCAAs in June. Perhaps it’ll be Hossler – not amateur sensation Bryson DeChambeau, not top-ranked Jon Rahm – who enjoys the most success as a professional this summer.

If nothing else, don’t expect Hossler to get rattled by the pressure to perform. After all, it’s nothing new – he hasn’t competed anonymously since the beginning of high school. He is the rare amateur golfer who already has some semblance of celebrity.

“I love it,” he said. “I don’t have anything to shy away from. I prefer to have all eyes on me.”