There were tons of great storylines coming out of the U.S. Open Sectional Qualifier in Columbus on Monday. There were so many that I nearly drove myself crazy trying to write about them all. Well, I didn’t quite get to everyone since I spent about 2,000 words waxing lyrical about why the sectional qualifier is the greatest day in golf. (Thanks for bearing with me if you read that, but it really is!)
This year in Columbus there were 103 players competing for 13 spots at Kinsale and Wedgewood.
Here’s a breakdown of the main stories coming out of Columbus, and I don’t care if none of these guys make the cut or are never heard from again (but there are some “big” names, so doubt that will be the case).
*Bryson DeChambeau — the 22-year-old U.S. Amateur Champion was exempt to the U.S. Open, but only if he stayed an amateur. DeChambeau turned pro the week following the Masters, so he had to re-qualify for Oakmont. It wasn’t looking good after the first round when he shot two-under 70 in the morning. But he turned it up a gear in the afternoon round, firing a blistering seven-under 63 — which ties the course record at Wedgewood but was also the first time it had been played as a par-70.
“Kept the pedal to the metal,” said DeChambeau, who shot a 36-hole total of -9 to finish T2.
DeChambeau had a great ballstriking day, but he said he could work on his putting. However, he rolled in an eight-footer on the 9th (his 18th) to tie the course record.
DeChambeau hadn’t been in very good form before he finished T38 at The Memorial the week prior to break his streak of four missed cuts.
“It’s just about having things go my way,” DeChambeau said. “And that’s what’s been happening the last four weeks. I’ve been practicing my butt off and nothing’s been happening. It’s just a factor of time, and that’s really, honestly, all it is.”
The next day DeChambeau left for vacation with some friends…to an undisclosed location…until Saturday. It isn’t that hard to figure out where he went if you try and guess, though.
Aside: For whatever reason, I had never met, spoken to, gone to one of his pressers, seen any of his interviews, etc. until the qualifier. I was pleasantly surprised that he was cooler and friendlier and more down-to-earth than I would have guessed. I’m a fan. The bar is set pretty low, though!
*Wes Short — The 52-year-old Champions Tour player had never qualified for the U.S. Open. Hey, better late than never! Short has competed in two U.S. Senior Opens, but in all these years, he had never managed to get to the national championship.
“I went to the scoreboard and hung out for a while, and they finally said, ‘You’re in,'” Short said. “One guy came up to me afterward and he goes, ‘You don’t seem all that excited.’ I said: ‘I am. I’m just too danged tired to get excited.'”
The only other major Short has played in was the 2006 PGA Championship.
Short was almost done with the marathon of a day when the horn blew, signaling play was suspended due to inclement weather.
“To tell you the truth, I was already kind of gassing it,” he said. “It may have been real helpful. I just had three holes to finish, but my legs were starting to say, ‘Hey, enough of this.'”
*Carlos Ortiz — How many times do you hear about a Tour pro pulling out of the U.S. Open qualifier because his game isn’t in top form? It happens…more than we hear about it.
Well, Ortiz had missed his last eight of nine cuts, and after missing the weekend at the Memorial, he was able to scout out the qualifier venues, Wedgewood and Kinsale. The extra bit of rest and preparation got the job done, as Ortiz posted rounds of 66-66, -10 total, to secure medalist honors (and he was one of the first players to finish!).
“I didn’t play great at the beginning of the year and lost my confidence, and I’m getting it back,” Ortiz said. “I feel great with my game. It’s just I need to get around better on the golf course, make it easier for me, and I think I did that today pretty well.”
*Ethan Tracy — this local guy got a sponsor’s invite to The Memorial and was understandably crushed when he missed the cut. Well, I think his performance in the qualifier on Monday made up for it, as he 65-68, nine-under, to tie for second and punch his ticket to Oakmont with relative ease.
“On Friday I was pretty emotional,” said Tracy. “I put in a lot of hard work and probably the hardest work I’ve ever done, and I’m glad it’s paying off … I know I’m doing the right things and going in the right direction.”
Tracy beat some big names en route to winning the 2011 Western Amateur, like, Jordan Spieth. He currently plays on the Canadian Tour and was head to start in this week’s event before making the trip to Oakmont.
*Brendan Steele — a few years ago, Steele didn’t come into the qualifier in good form, but found his stride and went low to earn a spot in the U.S. Open. Last year he found himself in a similar position, but chose to withdraw.
“I played really bad on Sunday (at the Memorial) last year and just knew my attitude wasn’t going to be good enough to go battle for 36 holes,” said Steele. “I didn’t want to give it half an effort, and so I pulled out last year.”
Steele shot 66-68, eight-under total, to earn a trip back to the U.S. Open.
“That’s the beauty of the U.S. Open,” he said. “That’s why it’s everybody’s dream to be able to compete and even just play this round. You get to come out here and play with some great players.”
*Spencer Levin — Ah, Spence is one of my favorites. He’s fiery and doesn’t give a sh*t (in a good way). Spencer bogeyed the 10th hole of his second round to drop to three-under total. He thought the number to qualify was going to be much lower than it ended up being (no scoreboards!). He mused to his caddie Jon Turcott that maybe they should walk in. Turcott basically yelled at Levin and told him he wasn’t allowed to quit. Levin birdied four of the eight remaining holes to finish at seven-under and cruise to a spot to the U.S. Open. The last time he qualified for the national championship was in 2004 at Shinnecock.
*Scottie Scheffler — The University of Texas rising junior pushed his clubs on a cart, did his yardages and everything else he would have done on his own a few weeks ago at the NCAA Championship finals, where Texas fell to Oregon in the finals.
Scheffler was playing well, but the weather delay disrupted his groove and he looked at a scoreboard. He started playing defensively when play resumed and he bogeyed his first hole to drop to five-under — which he also knew was the number to qualify at the time. But he then parred nos. 7 and 8 before knocking his approach into a greenside bunker on the ninth.
A group of fans, players and media gathered around as they figure out that if Scheffler got up-and-down to finish at five-under, there would be a 6-for-5 playoff, but if he bogeyed, then there would be 13 players at five-under or better and there would be no playoff the following morning.
Scheffler had no clue that was the situation and calmly made a five-footer to save par.
“I felt like I had a good chance,” he said. “I was pretty confident going in, and it worked out well.”
The 19-year-old was playing in a tournament at Monroe in upstate New York (GREAT course!) earlier in the week. He also has no plans to turn pro before graduating from Texas. (Not only super nice but smart!) He was the only amateur at the Columbus site to qualify.
*Jason Allred — best story ever. This guy always wants to give himself a chance. I already went through the whole ordeal it took for him to get to the Columbus venue as an alternate. Now he probably had the longest journey!
6-for-5 playoff on Tuesday morning
This wasn’t that exhilarating because the first guy out is first alternate, who is practically a given to get into the U.S. Open field (except in 2014). Six players finished at five-under with only five spots left.
Luke Donald, Scottie Scheffler, Jason Allred, Richard Schembechler II, and Patrick Rodgers clinched berths to Oakmont. Daniel Summerhays is first alternate, but again, he has a good chance.
Playing in the first of two threesomes with Jason Allred and Patrick Rodgers, Donald would be the odd man out temporarily on the second playoff hole when both Allred and Rodgers made birdie, Allred from 4 feet and Rodgers from 10.
“I needed to make something happen and nice to make a birdie to get in there,” Rodgers said of his 100-yard wedge shot that set up his first trip to the U.S. Open. “I’ve been putting a lot of hard work into my wedges and it’s nice to see it pay off.”
Donald waited on the edge of the green as Scheffler and Schembechler missed reasonable birdie putts, but after a poor drive in the right rough, Daniel Summerhays had to get up and down from the right greenside rough. He left his chip five feet away, a putt which would slide by right. The miss punched the remaining three tickets to Donald, Scheffler and Schembechler.
(Copyright USGA/Fred Vuich)