It really was the “longest day in golf” — it was so long that the U.S. Open sectional qualifying spilled over into Tuesday in Memphis. Play was postponed to the following day due to storms. Dennis Miller and Casey Martin’s stories held up as the best Cinderella stories.
The U.S. Open sectional qualifying is a taxing grind — “the longest day in golf” — even though Tour pros are allowed to wear shorts (which really makes it tough to recognize some of them at first). It’s one of the few events where a such a large group of players look sick to their stomachs, especially if they’re on the bubble. Nerves and emotions run high.
Guys who are safely within the number seem more relieved than anything else, but they’re also excited…even though until they get that white envelope from the USGA official, it’s not a done deal.
The atmosphere is truly fascinating, particularly the playoffs that have 5 or 7 guys playing for the last few qualifying spots.
Lots of grumpy and tired players walking off the 36th hole. The first two I saw smiling were Steve Marino and Ryuji Imada, who didn’t qualify but isn’t often frowning. Marino, who returned at the Memorial after recovering from a left-knee injury, shot four-under. He missed the cut at his first event back since the Farmers Insurance Open at the end of January.
Marino said his left knee felt surprisingly good. He was worried after Friday’s round at Muirfield Village because it was sore. His right knee was actually feeling tender after the qualifying.
Kevin Streelman, one of the earlier finishers, fired a six-under 30 on the front nine at the OSU Scarlet Course. He birdied No. 2 and then Nos. 4-7 and 9.
“I wasn’t thinking about it too much, and then all of a sudden, I realize, oh that’s six-under 30,” said Streelman on Monday as he waited for the groups to come in.
After pars on Nos. 10 and 11, he played the following seven holes conservatively and “Joe-parred” it home.
“I wasn’t too aggressive, just went for the middle of the green and two-putted and knew that would be good enough,” he said.
Streelman ended up finishing T3.
The two qualifying courses were a comparable test to your average U.S. Open venue.
“I said you could have had the U.S. Open at either one of these today,” said Davis Love III after posting two-under for the 36-hole qualifying, “if you had a little tighter fairways and more rough.
“You couldn’t hit the green at 8 or 9 (Scioto CC), i’s almost impossible to hit the green at that downhill par-3 No. 4. We were just hitting moon balls trying to land it on the front just to keep it on the green. Then on 18 you can’t get it close to the pin. I finally started hitting driver off the tee, like I did on no. 1. I said, I’m not going to hit the green with an eight-iron, so I might as well try it with a sand wedge — didn’t get it close.”
Added Streelman: “They’re both good tests — they’re different. That one is more just a demanding beast, this is more of a country club in a little better shape and it’s a little shorter here at Scioto, but you have to keep it in the fairways because you can’t control the ball out of the rough obviously with the greens this firm and fast and the undulations. Hard to save pars if you weren’t in the fairway. This was a pretty steady 15-20mph.
“I think it’s better at these two (Scioto and Scarlet) than the other two courses, the Lakes and Brookside, which are pretty easy golf courses, and when you get to the U.S. Open, it doesn’t match it at all.”
The no-frills atmosphere is a nice change for fans who come out and watch. People are expected to police themselves. There are no ropes separating the players from the galleries, which isn’t a problem, unless you’ve got someone like Davis Love III who draws crowds. The 2012 U.S. Ryder Cup team captain had the largest crowd following his threesome on Monday.
“We didn’t like it very much, it slowed our group down,” said Love. “We had some issues (without ropes). It’s nice they get to come out and watch us play — for them — in a more relaxed atmosphere. It’s hard on us. It was unfair to the group behind us because people were in and out of the fairways.
“There was a little girl rolling around in the fairway when I made that birdie putt. I look at the marshal and I go, ‘There’s a little girl rolling down the fairway and the other group is getting ready to come up on the tee.'”
On the upside, Love was happy with his ability to focus coming down the stretch.
“I did a really nice job concentrating the last four or five holes concentrating and that gets you ready for the U.S. Open,” he said, pausing and smiling. “Hopefully.”
Players, friends and family and fans gathered around the leaderboard watching as the officials write in the latest scores creates a collegial feeling.
Love, one of the earlier groups, looked over our heads to try and catch a glimpse.
“Kevin Streelman, four-under,” mused Love. “Wow.”
Speaking of Streels, he tries not to stand by the scoreboard and panic.
“I take one good look and then I think I’ve done enough that I know what it’ll be or I have a gist of it at least,” he said. “It’s not a good feeling to be on the bubble and it’s worse at Q-school and I’ve been there many times, too.
“It’s funny because it’s one of the only times we as PGA Tour professionals do this. At any other Tour event, you kind of look at the scoreboard later and then get your text of what you finished. That’s it. But this and the British Open qualifier, and Q-school are the only few times you see PGA Tour pros staring at the guys grabbing the sharpies and what numbers they’re posting.”
Yep, call me sadistic, but I like taking in the highs — and the lows.
After posting 15-over in the first two rounds to miss the cut at the Memorial, Brian Harman, who earned medalist honors at the 2004 U.S. Junior Championship at Olympic, tweeted, “Anyone have any golfing advice?”
The fiery former college star from the University of Georgia figured out his game over the weekend and shot a four-under to qualify for the U.S. Open.
Who helped him out?
“Mr. Crown,” quipped Harman, smiling mischievously, like you can’t tell if he’s joking or not.
“I’ve been scoring awful lately, but I feel like I’ve been hitting the ball pretty well. “I finally just didn’t play like an idiot today — I hit it well, I putt it well, I was in control for most of the day. The wind was swirling around over here and the greens were brick-hard at Scioto.
“I changed my putter. I put in a short putter instead of a belly putter. I putted pretty well all day, kept it in play, didn’t make any doubles.”
Harman started to say he was excited for his first major, but he stopped himself, grinning, and said he actually considered The Players as a major, but he’s looking forward to his first official one at Olympic. (Suck up!)
As Charlie Wi packed his clubs into his courtesy car on Sunday afternoon, he discussed the game plan for the qualifying courses with his caddie Mark Urbanek. Wi said he was going to play a few holes and drive around in a cart.
“I did the British Open qualifier and I didn’t play very well and it was a big letdown after playing 36 holes, so I told my caddie Mark — I don’t even know if he walked the golf course twice, I told him, let’s not overkill it,” said Wi after firing an impressive nine-under to earn medalist honors.
Wi shot 65 at the Scarlet Course in the morning and then 67 at Scioto CC.
“After shooting six-under this morning, I was kind of nervous starting on the front nine here because if I played bad, it was only my fault if I didn’t make it,” said Wi. “I ran off a couple of bogeys on Nos. 13 and 14 and then I was able to make a 20-footer on 15, then after that, I felt a little more at ease. The course is playing very difficult, the greens are so firm, you can’t really get it close to the hole.”
Some players prefer to sit away from the hustle and bustle of the crowded scoreboard.
Scott Piercy was seething quietly, particularly because he four-putted and bogeyed two par-5s, while sitting in a golf cart. He kept himself together considering he was on the bubble of qualifying.
His regular caddie Darren, who sprained his ankle on Friday at Memorial, joked that they needed some barfing to get them inside the number.
Turned out Piercy was in the four-for-three playoff (four players for the remaining three qualifying spots), along with Justin Hicks, Morgan Hoffman and Dennis Miller.
Ever since *that* incident in San Antonio on the 72nd hole — when he made a 9 and broke his putter over his knee while walking on the green — Piercy has been on his best behavior. I was told he was “running hot,” but I thought for him, he looked rather calm under the circumstances.
Hoffman flew the green on the first extra hole, the par-3 9th, leaving him with a difficult and nearly impossible up-and-down from about 10 yards over the green in the rough. I thought he was a goner because I didn’t think he was going to be able to keep his chip on the green — just from everything I’d heard and seen from players. Sometimes you forget how good these guys are (even though I see them play almost every week) and Hoffman hit a beautiful flop that not only stayed on the putting surface, but 10-feet short of the cup. He drained the putt with confidence to stay alive.
Even Piercy was impressed, turning to Darren, who is on the DL after spraining his ankle, and mouthing, “Wow!
Miller, who looked the most nervous initially, was the only player to hit the green. Hicks’ ball trickled into the rough. Piercy’s shot rolled to the back fringe and he blew his first putt past the hole by about 5 feet. In Piercy-style, he opted to mark and finish — he’s not a big fan of waiting. Four pars and onto the par-4, 440-yard 10th hole.
Hoffman hit it to pin-high 15-feet and on No. 10 and drained his birdie putt to take the first of the three remaining playoff holes.
On the third playoff hole, the par-3 17th, Piercy pushed his tee shot so far right it was right of the greenside bunker. He had a pitch over the bunker, with not a lot of room to work with, and manage to stop the ball from rolling into the pond on the other side of the green. Piercy’s shot stopped on the fringe and he rolled in an 18-footer to save par. Clutch. That gave him an extra strut in his step.
Hicks was just off the green, but he also got up-and-down. Like I said earlier this week, the playoff was like a short-game clinic.
Piercy pushed his approach on 18 right of the green and made another clutch putt after chipping on. Hicks missed his par putt after Miller’s miraculous birdie putt.
Here are some more pictures from the day…
Oh, don’t remember what a Tad Moore for Maxfli putter circa ’92 looks like? Here ya go: