At U.S. Open qualifying in Glendale, emotional swings are par for the course
Venerable Oakmont Country Club in Glendale was a field of dreams Monday. Also, a place of nightmares.
It was a final qualifying day for next week’s U.S. Open golf tournament. There were 11 similar events around the country, with varying numbers of spots available. Oakmont was given five.
In essence, this was a conflicting pursuit, one of those be-careful-what-you-wish-for things. Win one of the five spots and you get to play at Congressional Country Club near Washington, D.C., where the United States Golf Assn. will set up the course with everything from land mines to quicksand. Players scrambling through a qualifier just to get there more often than not shoot 82-83 and rationalize it as something that will sound better years later when they tell their grandkids.
This was a tournament with a different kind of feel.
Many players carried their own bags. Several others brought pull-carts or rented them. At first look, it could have been a normal Monday afternoon at Rancho Park, except these guys could play.
The gallery consisted mostly of mom and dad and Uncle Joe, who could walk right down the fairways with their favorite player, and often did. They played 36 holes and, by the time the playoff for the final spot had ended, at 8:30 p.m., it had taken almost 14 hours. By then, it was hard to tell who got the final word, the fifth qualifier or darkness.
That fifth qualifier was Brian Locke of Los Angeles.
“Born and raised here, and just moved back,” he said.
He is one of thousands of sub-scratch golfers who are pros and trying to make it somehow. He had spent time on the Gateway Tour, and had made it into this qualifier by getting through a playoff in his previous qualifier, a local event in Las Vegas. When he made a 10-foot putt on the par-three 16th hole, he had made good on an opportunity thousands wish they could have, the USGA nightmare ahead notwithstanding. “My time has finally come,” he said.
It was so dark that it was crazy to play on, so Locke made sure he didn’t have to. It was the third time he’d played the hole in the playoff. The drama involved was crazy.
Four of the five spots had been settled when the 36 holes ended. Three of those went to amateurs — 16-year-old Beau Hossler, a sophomore at Santa Margarita high school; Steve Irwin, son of three-time U.S. Open champion Hale Irwin, and Scott Pickney, a recent graduate of Arizona State and a member of its golf team. The fourth was Matt Edwards, a pro from Las Cruces, N.M., who was an alternate in the local qualifying and didn’t get a call until Wednesday informing him that he could play at Oakmont.
That left a playoff for the fifth spot, and as day became dusk, Todd Fischer, Grant Rappleye, Jeffrey Roth and Locke were driven to the 16th hole, where they would keep playing until a survivor emerged. Rappleye made the playoff with a course-record 65 in his final 18 holes. Roth missed a par putt on his final hole that would have eliminated the need for a playoff.
Fischer bogeyed the 16th the first time they played it and was out. Locke and Roth ousted Rappleye with birdie putts the next time around, and for Locke, the third time was the charm. His 10-footer hit the bottom of the cup and he said, “Now that was huge.”
In the end, the biggest stories, besides Locke, were Hossler, who made it, and the only name player in the field, Charlie Wi, who didn’t.
Hossler said it was all a fantasy, “and I was trying to keep that out of my head.”
He said his goals have been more along the lines of the U.S. Amateur, not the U.S. Open.
“When I stepped on the first tee,” the teenager said, “I was thinking about playing the best I could, not qualifying for the U.S. Open.”
His caddie Bill Schellenberg, a family friend, said he knew how good Hossler could be when he qualified for the U.S. Amateur two years ago, at age 14, despite hitting drives barely 240 yards.
“You could see, he could be something special,” said Schellenberg, who not only is Hossler’s godfather but was in the delivery room when he was born.
“His dad’s a great friend of mine, and he was having a son, so I had to be there,” Schellenberg said.
Wi, ranked 107th in the world and runner-up in this year’s Colonial at Fort Worth, shot a 70 in his first 18 and was in the hunt until he four-putted a hole and came home in 73. This would have been his second U.S. Open. He missed the cut last year.
Hope sprang eternal for the 88 who started, on an overcast day that turned gorgeous, then to drama in the dusk.
Even among the nonqualifiers, there were amazing moments. On the par-three 11th hole, Visalia pro A.J. Shiffert got three mulligans. On his first three tee shots, he hit power lines overhead and local rules allowed him to tee it up again. His fourth shot cleared, but landed in the rough.
His parents, Bob and Sherri Shiffert of Visalia, who walked all 36 holes, said they are proud of how their son keeps trying. It’s hard to make a living, Bob said, “but grandma keeps the financing going.”
Shiffert shot 76-76, missed by 15 shots, but likely will keep trying, God and grandma willing. So will, likely, the 82 others who failed at picturesque old Oakmont, on a day when it became a fantasy island of fairways.