Oh, it’s that time again, which happens to be one of my favorite days in the golf season — the U.S. Open Sectional Qualifier in Columbus, Ohio, held at Scioto Country Club and Brookside Golf & Country Club, with the latter being the host course this year.
It always falls a week before the championship week beings, which is also the Monday after the Memorial Tournament, so it’s essentially a PGA Tour event, except players are allowed to wear shorts, showing off their *super* sexy white legs, otherwise known as “O.B. stakes” — a la Robert Garrigus in the above picture — and if you don’t have a smart phone, the only leaderboard available is the one written in calligraphy by the scoring area.
The USGA has started to have live scoring for the afternoon (second) rounds in all 10 sectional sites across the country only recently. Prior to that, it was old school, where many of the players, especially the ones near the cut-off number, gathered nervously around the leaderboard, watching the calligrapher slowly write in the scores.
Sectional Qualifying is the last bastion of professional golf in its purest form. It’s where Cinderella stories are possible and dreams are fulfilled. Anyone with a 1.4 USGA handicap index or lower can enter, and while it’s difficult to get through the initial local qualifier and even more tough to actually earn a spot in the U.S. Open field at sectional qualifying, there’s a still a shot, regardless of how long it is.
There are no ropes, so spectators can walk unimpeded near the players. There are no billboard-like electronic leaderboards plastered around the course. There are no
annoying volunteer marshals on a power-trip. There are no large grandstands or extravagant skyboxes and suites. There are no overpriced concession stands. There’s just golf.
That’s why I love this day.
Oh, and you also get to see Davis Love III in shorts!
Here’s a little first-round update. Well, here’s the handwritten leaderboard…
Michael Putnam, the 2013 Web.com money list winner and player of the year, and Brett Stegmaier, who plays on the Web.com Tour, both fired five-under 67s at Brookside G&CC, the easier of the two venues, to take a share of the halfway lead following Monday morning’s round.
Justin Thomas, who also plays on the Web.com Tour, shot an impressive three-under 67 at the difficult Scioto Country Club. (I played there on Saturday and the conditions were firm and fast and the rough was long and thick — and with the rain early this morning, that couldn’t have been fun to miss the fairway.) Thomas, who led Alabama to the 2013 NCAA Division I championship, was a member of the victorious 2013 Walker Cup team. He’s coming off a T37 finish at The Memorial and he has three top-five finishes on the Web.com Tour this season.
Meanwhile, Paul Casey, Seung-yul Noh and Danny Lee, who won the 2008 U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst No. 2, posted the next best scores at Brookside, with four-under 68s. Luke Guthrie, who earned a spot via playoff at this sectional last year, and local favorite Kyle Reifers carded respectable two-under 68s at Scioto.
The top 16 finishers punch their ticket to next week’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst. There will likely be a playoff for the last few spots — which is the most thrilling part of the day because it’s always, like, 7 players vying for 2 spots or something like that. The first alternate position is very important at the Columbus Sectional because the USGA reserves extra places in the field for players, like Kevin Na, who move up in the OWGR following this upcoming week. In other words, the first alternate usually gets into the championship field.
Oh, for what it’s worth, Na arrived to Brookside in person to formally withdraw from the qualifier, which wasn’t necessary — he couldn’t have called or just not shown up (as many players often do). Classy move. Na no longer needs to qualify because he’s now in the top 60 in the Official World Golf Rankings. He surged from no. 70 in the world to no. 40 after his runner-up finish yesterday at the Memorial.
Go HERE for the leaderboard in Columbus and HERE for the list of all the qualifying sites across the country. Stay tuned for more updates…