With darkness quickly settling in, the vigor had gone straight out of Erik Compton by the time the USGA officials announced the five-for-three (five players–Ryan Blaum, Ken Duke, Compton, Michael Putnam and Cameron Tringale) for three remaining spots) playoff at the U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying in Columbus Monday evening.
“Really?” Compton said as he walked off the putting green at Brookside G&CC. “Right now? It’ll be dark by the time we get to the fairway.”
He wasn’t being facetious — we were all thinking the same thing after a long day, but none of us could relate to Compton and his fatigue.
For Compton, a two-time heart transplant recipient, it’s a constant battle for him with his health, and the 36-hole marathon suddenly turned into a 38-hole day, which had clearly taken its toll on him physically and mentally.
On the first extra hole, he knocked it to six feet, but missed the putt. He looked defeated. There was no way he could outlast the two remaining players after Ken Duke and Ryan Blaum made birdies on no. 1, right?
Never underestimate Compton. On the next extra hole, no. 9, he hit his drive in the bunker, then left his approach short-left in front of the green in the rough, but he caught a break — his ball was teed up perfectly on a little tuft of grass.
Compton chipped it to six feet and drained the par putt to earn the 16th and final guaranteed spot into the U.S. Open from the Columbus Sectional.
“That one I had to make,” he said. “It was a tough little putt in the dark.”
Compton overcame a slow start — he was three-over after two holes — to shoot a very respectable one-under 69 at Scioto Country Club, the tougher of the two courses. He posted a 36-hole total of two-under. Interesting enough, he can thank the singer Pink for helping him rally and get through the long day.
“It was playing this morning and I kind of got fired up — it was the first time I got fired up this year,” he said. “It says, ‘You gotta get up again, keep trying, keep trying.’
“I just kept hanging in there.”
Compton just didn’t give up, despite his health issues, particularly this past month, where he’s had trouble getting out of bed because his immune system has been suppressed due to bad allergies — and during The Memorial he couldn’t hear out of one ear.
“Oh man, I’m tired,” he said, with a smile. “it’s not that I’m nervous — long days for me, you can feel it in my chest. You can see me all day having to deal with that (holding out his shaking hand). Once the adrenaline kicks in, I can’t do anything about it.”
He added that his goal this year was to play in more majors, especially with how well his form has been as of late. Previously, he’s only made one start at a major championship, the 2010 U.S. Open, where he missed the cut.
As he walked toward the parking lot, he looked back toward the small group of reporters, held up the envelope from the USGA that the successful qualifiers receive, and said, with a grin, “This is just like me — always getting the last spot!”
Ken Duke badly hoped to punch his ticket to Pinehurst No. 2. On the first playoff hole, he threw a dart to kick-in distance — one-and-a-half feet.
While darkness was looming, Duke took extra time examining the putt because his record on the greens this season has prevented him from notching a top-10 in 18 starts this season.
He also wanted redemption for missing his chance to play in the 1999 U.S. Open, which was also held at Pinehurst.
“I missed a 3-for-2 playoff in ’99,” said Duke as he strolled back up the 1st fairway. “That was when Payne (Stewart) won and it’s just one of those things that felt like I played good enough that week to make it. I feel like I played good enough here to make it, too.”
When I called his putt a “tap-in,” he corrected me.
“It wasn’t a tap-in,” said Duke. “I was sweating it. I was nervous.”
But turned out it was no big deal — he rolled in the birdie with ease and earned his fourth trip to the U.S. Open.
After Erik Compton secured the 16th qualifying spot in the playoff, Cameron Tringale and Michael Putnam were the odd men out, but they still had to play for the first alternate spot. Generally, the alternate from the Columbus Sectional gets into the field because the USGA reserves a certain number of extra spots for exempt players and guys who might surge up to top 60 in the world rankings in the week prior to the major championship.
Since it was essentially dark, Tringale and Putnam were given the option to return in the morning or to continue playing until the alternate order was determined.
They tied no. 1, the first extra hole for first alternate (their third in the entire playoff), with birdies.
Next, they played no. 9 again. At this point, it was nearly pitch black out.
“You could see the ball for about three feet when it took off and then it was gone (on the last playoff hole),” said Tringale. “You couldn’t see a thing on the greens. You were just kind of feeling it out with your feet on the last two holes — even on the second playoff hole you couldn’t see that well.
“But, the first hole of the alternate playoff, I got up there and couldn’t see anything, so I was just using my feet to read the green. It felt like the ball was above my feet, so I figured it was breaking left. It was the third time I played that hole. It was about 10-12 feet.”
On the fourth extra hole, Putnam got into tree trouble off the tee and was forced to punch out, finding a bunker 50 yards short of the green. Then, he chunked it out of the sand and pitched it up. Meanwhile, Tringale chipped it to a foot-and-a-half and rolled in his par save for the win.
Asked if he knew the gravity of what was on the line, Tringale replied, “I figured it was.”
He added: “Michael and I have played a lot together, so it was kind of like, ‘Who’s going to pack it in first?’ I mean, basically, I think we would have kept playing because neither one of us wanted to come back tomorrow since we both have early flights.”
Justin Leonard, Seung-yul Noh and Justin Thomas tied for medalist honors at five-under for 36 holes.
Leonard, who shot four-under 68 at Brookside in the afternoon, reluctantly accepted congratulations after signing his scorecard.
“I’m leading in the clubhouse— which Sean (my caddie) pointed out — because we’re the only ones finished, but I’ll take it,” said Leonard.
The 41-year-old veteran and 12-time Tour winner started slow Monday morning. He was three-over through 10 holes at Scioto before he turned it around. On his 11th hole, no. 2, he got up-and-down from 130 yards out, then he birdied the next hole. Just when he thought he was catching some momentum, he hit it into the lip of the bunker on the par-3 4th.
“I said kind of jokingly, ‘Well, there goes all my momentum,'” recalled Leonard. “And I somehow got it out and onto the green and rolled it out to about four feet and I made that. So, I was like, OK! Even Jason Bohn was like, ‘Looks like you still got the momentum going.’ Then, I made three birdies coming in.”
Leonard hasn’t played in a U.S. Open since 2010 and figures his game suits Pinehurst. After all, he finished T15 in 1999 and T23 in 2005.
“It’s been three or four years since I’ve played in a U.S. Open,” he said. “I get to punch my ticket for the Open Championship each year, but Pinehurst is one of my favorites, so a little extra incentive there.”
Playing well and making it through the qualifier also helped eradicate the bad vibes from Sunday’s final round at The Memorial, where Leonard shot six-over 78 and dropped to a tie for 57th.
“It’s just nice to get through, but I think getting the opportunity to play Pinehurst again makes it a little more special,” he said. “I had a horrendous day (Sunday). It was nice to get back out today and get that taste out of my mouth.”
21-year-old Justin Thomas got his redemption, not to mention earned co-medalist honors by firing a five-under for 36 holes Monday. Last year, Thomas, who was a member of the 2013 U.S. Walker Cup team and also led Alabama to the 2013 NCAA Championship, bogeyed the last two holes at Brookside — which included three-putting from the collar on 18 — to miss out on earning a spot to the U.S. Open by one stroke.
This time around, he parred the last two at the same course. On the 18th, he was even near the same spot he hit it last year, except he wasn’t against the collar.
“I was walking up and I couldn’t believe it — I was happy because I was like, this will be cool, I’ll be in the same spot and maybe this time I’ll actually conquer it.” said Thomas, who plays on the Web.com Tour.
He two-putted for par, but he remembered it broke more than he thought.
“Everything that happens I try to take the positives out of it and learn from it,” he said. “I think that’s why I’ve done so much better than last year. It was kind of cool to be in that same spot and come off the green with a little different result than last time.”
Thomas also tied for low round of the day at the more difficult Scioto CC, posting a three-under 67. It didn’t hurt that he birdied the two extremely demanding par-3s on the back nine, nos. 14 and 17.
“Those two holes are big,” he said. “They were playing into the wind today. Par, bogey, isn’t bad on one of them and to make 2s on both of those was good. I hit hybrid to about 15 feet on 14 and then I made a 30-footer on 17 (after hitting a 5-iron).”
Thomas is looking forward to playing in his first major championship of his career.
“It hasn’t hit me yet,” he said. “It’ll probably hit me on the drive home or wherever I’m staying tonight. But it’s a big deal. It’s a lot of hard work paid off. I’m looking forward to testing my game there and seeing what all the rave is about.”
Meanwhile, we were all rooting for the best story of the day, which turned into the biggest heartbreaker. Danny Lee, who won the 2008 U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst No. 2. Lee was atop the leaderboard when he got it to eight-under total for a fair amount of the afternoon.
Then, disaster struck and Lee doubled the par-5 12th, followed by back-to-back bogeys. He added another double-bogey on the par-4 16th and ended up posting a five-over 75 at Scioto CC. Lee carded one-over for 36 holes, three strokes out of the playoff. What a shame.
Morgan Hoffmann also had a close call. He knew he needed to birdie two of the last three holes to get into the playoff, according to his caddie. Hoffmann knocked it to five feet on 18 for birdie, but his putt didn’t even touch the hole, so he missed by one stroke. Ouch.
But really, I’m more concerned with his fashion faux pas — he should get a penalty shot for wearing black shin-high socks with khaki shorts.
Here’s the list of the 16 qualifiers from the Columbus Sectional…bear in mind that the first alternate is likely–while not guaranteed–to get in the field, too.
|T1||Leonard, Justin||Dallas, Texas||-4||F||-5||69SCC||68 B||137|
|T1||Noh, Seung Yul||Republic of Korea||-1||F||-5||68 B||69SCC||137|
|T1||Thomas, Justin||Goshen, Ky.||-2||F||-5||67SCC||70 B||137|
|T4||Pampling, Rod||Australia||-7||F||-4||73SCC||65 B||138|
|T4||Van Pelt, Bo||Jenks, Okla.||-3||F||-4||71 B||67SCC||138|
|T4||Wilson, Mark||Elmhurst, Ill.||-1||F||-4||69 B||69SCC||138|
|T4||Casey, Paul||England||Even||F||-4||68 B||70SCC||138|
|T4||Guthrie, Luke||Jacksonville, Fla.||-2||F||-4||68SCC||70 B||138|
|T9||Tway, Kevin||Edmond, Okla.||-3||F||-3||72 B||67SCC||139|
|T9||Allenby, Robert||Australia||-1||F||-3||70 B||69SCC||139|
|T9||Baddeley, Aaron||Australia||-1||F||-3||70 B||69SCC||139|
|T9||Kim, Hyung Sung||Republic of Korea||-2||F||-3||69SCC||70 B||139|
|T9||Stegmaier, Brett||Vero Beach, Fla.||+2||F||-3||67 B||72SCC||139|
|T14||Duke, Ken||Palm City, Fla.||+1||F||-2||69 B||71SCC||140|
|T14||Blaum, Ryan||Champions Gate, Fla.||-1||F||-2||69SCC||71 B||140|
|T14||Compton, Erik||Coral Gables, Fla.||-1||F||-2||69SCC||71 B||140|
|Alt. 1 – Tringale, Cameron||Laguna Niguel, Calif.||-1||F||-2||71 B||69SCC||140|
|Alt. 2 – Putnam, Michael||University Place, Wash.||+3||F||-2||67 B||73SCC||140|