Behind the Scenes at a US Open Sectional Qualifier
By Stephanie Wei under Behind the Scenes

Webb Simpson...in shorts!

As I mentioned on Monday, I love covering qualifiers — all two of them (the other was PGA Tour Q-school in December). What really struck me was the atmosphere reminded me of the USGA qualifiers I played in ten-plus years ago. I’m stunned that it’s been over a decade (yikes! — I feel old!) since I played in the 2001 US Women’s Am qualifier*, and the 2011 US Open qualifier didn’t seem like much had changed. It felt like a throwback to those good ol’ days when it was purely golf.

Even though Monday’s event was basically a PGA Tour field, it didn’t have the vibe of a regular event. I know, that’s because it was a qualifier run by the USGA. Duh, right?

No one was inside or outside the ropes. Because there was no such thing. You’re supposed to stay a certain distance away (but I can’t remember exactly…and it wasn’t enforced). It was old school. We were trusted to employ common sense (or they were just understaffed). I know — go figure!

We walked along the fairways during rounds in regulation, or even behind the players during the playoff. There wasn’t a division between who got access to this super-special room or who could stand on that patch of grass. Players, caddies, families, friends, reporters, members and volunteers intermingled on the patio and the area around the leaderboard.

While the guys are out there grinding like any other tournament, it felt more laid back. I’m not saying they don’t care because obviously everyone wants to qualify for the US Open. In a way, the stakes aren’t as high. For most of the competitors, there’s nothing to lose. (Well, Vijay Singh apparently had his pride on the line, so he didn’t show up.) There’s no purse. There are just spots to play in a major championship, which is worth more than the big money. Of course, if you score low enough to earn your ticket to the US Open, you have a chance at making a check.

I’m not sure how it worked at the other sections, but at the Columbus qualifier, there was no live-scoring. Even after nine holes, scores weren’t collected and posted — like they were over a decade ago if I recall correctly. It was electronic-free environment in that regard, which was initially frustrating and disorienting because we’ve become used to the luxury of receiving live updates from our phone/computer/TV/camera/toy.

Old School (the lone leaderboard at Brookside)

Speaking of modern-day tech, Ben Everill, the Australian AP writer, inconspicuously shot this video of Marc Leishman making a birdie putt and posted it on Twitter right away. The aforementioned video isn’t a great example (sorry, Ben — stick to your day job!), but I wish we could do stuff like that every week.

It wouldn’t fly during tournament play, but why not practice rounds? It’s all about the fans, right? I know, I know, only the sponsors really matter, but aren’t they fans, too? The TV cameras can’t be everywhere (or can they?!), especially when there aren’t any at a qualifier, which made fans rely more on the few reporters on-site for info.

After bitching whining about not having access to the scores for about a half-hour, I finally accepted and appreciated it. Again, I felt like I had been transported back to 1999 at Pumpkin Ridge. And it was awesome.

Being left in the dark added to the intrigue, especially since half the field was at the other course, the Lakes.

Souvenir cups showing past US Open champs who qualified at Brookside

Some of the earlier finishers hadn’t seen the morning scores yet and asked for updates while they played the torturous waiting game (or threw themselves a mini-pity party). Those who played well enough for a spot tried to appear cool and calm and asked, “What’s the number right now? What do you think it’s going to be? 8 (-under) 9?” But as more time passed, their curiosity heightened. Understandably, they were antsy.

Remember when you landed an interview for your dream job and you just wanted an answer one way or the other? Or that time when you had a perfect first date with a girl (or guy) that you really like, so you ask her out again only to get her voicemail and you’re waiting for her (or him) to call back? Yeah, that’s sort of what waiting around for the rest of the field to finish feels like. It sucks because you’ve already done your part and the rest is out of your control.

Besides a few heartbreaks and some nervous anticipation, I felt like I was at a fun, low-key party filled with friendly people after the club championship or the US Pub Links qualifier.  Wait, it pretty much was. Except it was the US Open Sectional qualifier. It wasn’t the worst way to spend my supposed day off.

*I shot 73 (I think, it’s been a while) and qualified, with the help of a great friend who caddied for me that day — Andres Gonzales.