With darkness closing in during the last minutes of daylight at the U.S. Open sectional qualifier in Columbus, PGA Tour rookie Luke Guthrie stood over a five-footer for birdie on the third playoff hole — more important, a putt to clinch his place in his first major next week at Merion. And, in it went.
In a playoff that started with eleven other Tour pros who shot eight-under gunning for the seven remaining spots, Guthrie secured the 15th and final one on the third extra hole, the par-4 10th at The Lakes Golf & Country Club.
“It’s going to be special,” said Guthrie, the 23-year-old who played his college golf at Illinois. “I don’t even know what to say — I’m really excited for my first major. I just love the electricity of a big event.”
Guthrie admitted to feeling nerves on the first extra hole, no. 10 (it went 10-18-10 and then the final three played for the two alternate spots on 18), but he settled in after making par.
“I just didn’t want to be the guy to make a bogey,” he said, smiling sheepishly. “Because I knew everyone would make at least par. I guess that wasn’t a good way to think, but it worked out.”
Guthrie added that the final putt was one of the most high-pressured putts he’d ever made, knowing that if he made it, he would lock up a spot in his first major. He hit a poor second shot on the second playoff hole with a little wedge and had a tough chip from the right rough with very little green to work with, but no big deal — he hit a beautiful, soft shot to tap-in range and saved par, which kept him in the mix.
Guthrie has been on a roll in these 36-hole qualifiers. Two weeks ago, he was in a four-for-three (four players for three spots) playoff at Gleneagles in Plano, Texas, for the Open Championship.
“I got good vibes,” he said, grinning, right after he signed for a three-under 69 in his second 18 at the Lakes.
Guthrie was one of four playing for the final spot on the third playoff hole. He eliminated 2003 Masters Champion Mike Weir, Steve Flesch and Jason Kokrak, who played no. 18 again to determine the first two alternate spots.
It was so dark by the last playoff hole that Weir’s caddie had to tend the pin from 20 feet. He made the putt to secure the first alternate, while Kokrak will be second alternate, which at last year’s U.S. Open got into the field.
“I played great,” said Weir afterward in the parking lot. “I didn’t make a whole lot of putts, so it was good to finally see one go in on the last.”
Weir was the last player to get into the playoff, finishing around 7:20pm at Brookside and having to drive 25 minutes back to The Lakes.
He hit the longest drive of the day on the fourth extra hole and had a little wedge into the green.
Asked if he was fired up after just missing a 20-footer for birdie on the third playoff hole, he said, “I was, I hit a great putt on that hole. I saw that all day, though.”
Weir, who isn’t playing Memphis because of his daughter’s quinceañera on Saturday, will probably go to Merion in case he gets in the field, but he’ll call the USGA this week to check on his status before making a final decision.
As I mentioned, the playoff began with 11 PGA Tour pros all gunning for the seven remaining spots at the Columbus sectional qualifier. They teed off just before 8pm on the par-4 no. 10 in a threesome, followed by two foursomes.
Doug LaBelle was the first to punch his ticket to Merion when he made a six-footer for birdie. Next, Justin Hicks (10 feet), Aaron Baddeley (5 feet) and Ted Potter Jr. (3 feet) rolled in their birdie putts on no. 10 to also clinch spots.
Then, Sang-Moon Bae (10 feet) Rory Sabbatini (20 feet) made birdies on the second extra hole, the par-4 18th, to lock up the next two places.
Baddeley caught fire on his last five holes just to get in the playoff. He made a 20-footer for birdie on his 32nd hole, a 35-footer for eagle on his 34th, and then hit it to six inches on the 36th to tap-in for birdie and post an eight-under 36-hole total. Pretty clutch.
“Long day, happy ending,” said the Australian from behind the 10th green. “I knuckled down when I needed to at the end.”
Baddeley, who has missed four straight cuts since the RBC Heritage at the end of April, credited the work he did on the driving range at Muirfield Village over the weekend. (I saw him grinding there both days for hours.) He found something on Sunday that “gelled everything together,” which was just a mental bit.
“How I focused on the shot when I was over the ball and the process,” he explained. “It sounds simple, but it made a big difference.”
He was relieved after clinching a place at Merion, but he was also happy for the opportunity to test his game under pressure.
“I was keen for the playoff after what I worked on this weekend,” said Baddeley. “And put it to a test under the heat.”
Looks like it paid off.
From behind the 18th green as Bae and Sabbatini waited for the last four to finish up and ensure they didn’t have to play the third playoff hole, Sabbatini, a six-time winner on the PGA Tour, looked over at a group of reporters and said to us, “I need a bed.”
Sabbatini’s clubs didn’t make his flight and they finally arrived at his hotel at 12:15am. He had a 4:45am wake-up call, so he was looking forward to getting some sleep. Also, his caddie’s wife had a baby, so the pro at The Lakes hooked him up with a local on the Ohio State golf team.
Scott Gardiner, who shot five-under and failed to qualify, never got his clubs or luggage after flying in yesterday. He picked out clubs in the pro shop and also bought some clothes. No big deal — just another day in the life of the quirky Australian.
Meanwhile, Charley Hoffman, who shot 81 in the final round at the Memorial on Sunday, buckled down and shot 11-under to earn Medalist honors. He almost didn’t play in the qualifier because he’s been struggling lately, but that 81 fired him up and he decided he didn’t want to sit on that bad round at Muirfield Village. Well, it was certainly a good decision.
Despite an eight-hole stretch where he had three-putted three times, Nicholas Thompson posted ten-under to tie for second. He rebounded nicely to go eight-under in his last 13 holes. It could have been even lower, too, but he missed a lot of makable putts.
What did he find?
“I’m feeling like I heard Josh Teater made eight birdies in a row out here, so I knew it was out there,” said Thompson, who was heading straight to the airport to catch a flight to Memphis for this week’s Tour event, the St. Jude Classic.
“I started hitting it easier. I didn’t leave one putt short today. I kept on hitting it long, so I kept having downhillers, but all in all, I hit a lot of quality golf shots. I played the par-3s nicely. I’m very happy with the way I played.”
Speaking of Teater, the 34-year-old Kentucky native fired a nine-under 63 in the first round at The Lakes, which included eight birdies in a row.
“I made a bogey on my 6th hole (no. 15) with a wedge in my hand and I don’t know if that woke me up or what it did,” said Teater.
Then, he started his birdie tear with a six-footer for birdie on the par-5. The highlight was probably rolling in a 25-footer for his seventh straight birdie on a long par-3 no. 4. His streak ended when he missed a 40-footer on no. 6.
“I threw down my hat in disgust,” he said. “I was trying to make a joke. I think the guys I was playing with thought I was a little serious at first.”
Like Guthrie, Teater also made it through the British Open 36-hole qualifier two weeks ago. What’s been the secret?
“Simple golf,” he said. “Just hitting greens and making putts. It’s definitely not as easy as I’ve made it. Just kind of got on a roll in the first rounds — both in Texas and here. Didn’t make many bogeys either day.”
And also like Guthrie, the U.S. Open at Merion will be Teater’s first major championship after trying to get through the sectional qualifier for years.
“It’s going to be a pretty big deal,” said Teater when asked about playing in his first major. “I played a lot of these (qualifiers). I know there are 15-20 spots at this qualifier. You’d think you’d make it through at some point.
“This was kind of like Q-school for me. It took seven times there. I’ve played this thing at least seven times.”
Seventh time is the charm?
Brendan Steele, who has missed four straight cuts heading into Monday’s qualifier, found his game in time after working with his swing coach Rick Smith over the weekend. Steele will be playing in his first U.S. Open.
“I’m definitely very excited,” he said. “You dream of it growing up and you never know if you’re going to get there kind of thing. I expect it to be really tough, fast and firm, and the greens to be really fast. I’m looking forward to going and taking it all in.”
Steele, a member of the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council who uses a belly putter, has been distracted by the anchoring controversy.
“I’ve been one of the few guys who have been willing to talk about it a lot and I’m going to stop now, but it’s been a big distraction,” said Steele, who started using the anchoring method in 2006. “Actually, now, it might not be as bad since it’s done from the USGA’s standpoint and hopefully from the Tour’s standpoint — whichever way it goes.”
The highlight of Steele’s day was when he chipped in for birdie on his first hole of the day.
“Things haven’t really been going my way,” said Steele, who shot scores of 67-68. “I pulled a shot left on no. 10 at Brookside. Then I pitched it in right across the green. That was kind of a, maybe-things-have-turned-around type of moment.”
The 15 Qualifiers in the Columbus Sectional:
1. Charley Hoffman, -11
T2. David Hearn, -10
T2. Nicholas Thompson, -10
T2. Robert Karlsson, -10
T2. Josh Teater, -10
T6. David Lingmerth, -9
T6. Brandt Jobe, -9
T6. Brendan Steele, -9
T9. Ted Potter Jr. -8
T9. Doug Labelle, -8
T9. Justin Hicks, -8
T9. Aaron Baddeley, -8
T9. Rory Sabbatini, -8
T9. Sang-Moon Bae, -8
T9. Luke Guthrie, -8
1st alternate: Mike Weir, -8
2nd alternate: Jason Kokrak, -8