Jun
15
2011
Old Head, Young Shoulders
By Conor Nagle under US Open

One of the year’s most tiresome media contrivances has been the so-called ‘Youth Movement’ narrative. Tiger may be gone, we’re told, but a flood of younger golfers are rushing to fill the vacuum left by his sudden retreat, almost as if the next generation of talent made some collective decision a few months ago to, like, totally shake up golf, dude.

It might be a reductive approach to reading the evolution of the sport, but it is one, nonetheless, that carries a little truth about it. We might just be talking about a handful of talented outliers, after all, but aren’t they just a little younger than they used to be? I mean, how else can you explain the presence of sixteen-year-old Beau Hossler in this week’s field?

Already one of the country’s top amateurs, the Orange County native arrives at Congressional as one of the youngest US Open qualifiers of all-time. It was at Oakmont’s, confronted with an emphatically big layout and giving up on average over twenty yards to his playing partners off the tee, that Hossler carded rounds of 67 and 71, four-under-par, to secure a berth in his first major championship.

Looking every inch the seasoned professional (Beau’s coach, Jim Hyler, works for Taylor Made and has kitted his charge out with everything from shoes and t-shirts to a mammoth tour bag), he brings a nearly academic focus to bear on the business of navigating Congressional’s 7,500 yards. Calm and methodical, he’s eerily content to let his short game and course management do the heavy lifting his ball-striking is, as yet, incapable of doing.

Beau may still wear braces and have his driver’s licence all of a fortnight, but his demeanour is that of a player at least twice his age. It’s something, Bill Schellenberg,  his godfather and caddie, has just learned to accept.

“You can just see: he’s got it. He’s that kind of player and that kind of kid.

“He’s an old soul. He’s wise beyond his years. He handled it well. He’s comfortable. I met him over on the range. I flew over in the middle of the night last night to get here this morning—I’m exhausted—but he’s taking it all in…”

Playing Congrssional’s eighteenth, a long, sinuous par-4 that descends to the layout’s iconic lake, Beau casts a high, drawing approach with a hybrid to within a few feet of the pin, utterly unfazed by his playing partners’ wandering about in the fairway some distance ahead, seven-irons in their hands. It’s as if he’s going out of his way to underscore his caddie’s comments.

The source of this calm– good coaching, the accessibility of PGA Tour coverage, sports psychology– is open to some debate, but its impressiveness certainly isn’t.

Shouldn’t he feel out of place practicing alongside the likes of two-time major champion Angel Cabrera?

It’s sweet. You just get used to seeing him. He doesn’t come across like a guy who’s won two majors; he’s just some random dude, you know? It’s cool. It’s good to learn to see how people approach other tournaments and stuff.”

The prospect of a sixteen-year-old competitor being able to look down the range at the US Open and see nothing but a line of ‘random dudes’ is nothing if not improbable. But the root of Hossler’s poise may lie in the modesty of his goals for the week. Listening to him explain it, Congressional ’11 is little more than a fun reconnaissance mission.

“I just to see what a US Open golf course looks like, how difficult it really is. ‘Cos you can’t really tell on TV, like, the contours on the greens or anything like that.”

Whether he ends up playing just two rounds or four, it’s likely Beau Hossler is going to leave Congressional having learnt more than his fair share about elevation changes and contours.

Conor Nagle