On a day that featured a father and son competing against each other, a college coach going up against one of his players, and hopefuls young and old - a 14-year-old who almost made history to 62-year-old Tom Kite - dozens of coveted spots into next week’s US Open were awarded Monday at sectional qualifiers around the country.
Nearly 800 players slogged through 36 holes, with the lucky few who advanced now making plans to be at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, site of the 112th US Open.
The US Golf Association prides itself on calling the US Open the toughest test in golf. But the qualifiers that are required by most to get there are no picnic, either.
The last person to claim his spot could very well be the best story. Casey Martin rolled in a 5-foot par putt on his last hole to clinch medalist honors by one shot (69-69) at the sectional in Creswell, Ore. Martin will play in a US Open at the Olympic Club for the second time - he tied for 23d in 1998, using a golf cart because of a congenital circulatory disorder in his right leg.
Following a court case against the PGA Tour for the right to use a cart (Martin won), he left competitive golf and eventually became the coach at the University of Oregon, where he’s led the Ducks for six seasons.
Playing in the Columbus, Ohio, sectional a few days after missing the cut at the Memorial, James Driscoll nearly worked his way into another major championship, but the standout from Charles River Country Club came up one shot short.
Driscoll recently qualified for next month’s British Open - it’ll be his second appearance there - and was trying to reach the US Open for the second time. But a 2-over-par 73 in the afternoon on Ohio State University’s Scarlet Course left Driscoll at 1-over 142; four players at even par had a playoff for the final three spots in a sectional that sent 16 players through, due to the strength of a field dominated by PGA Tour regulars.
Among those successfully qualifying in Columbus was Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, who qualified for the third time in six years. Not as fortunate were Ben Curtis, Johnson Wagner, Rory Sabbatini, Camilo Villegas, and Rocco Mediate.
The other sectional with a number of PGA Tour players was in Memphis, since this week’s tournament is nearby. But weather prevented all but a few groups from even starting their rounds, and play was suspended until Tuesday. Worcester native Scott Stallings is part of the 84-player field.
Cameron Wilson, a Stanford student from Rowayton, Conn., was the medalist in Summit, N.J., earning his first Open spot on the strength of an afternoon 65 at Canoe Brook Country Club.
A pair of players from New England came close. Rich Berberian, the head professional at Hoodkroft Country Club in Derry, N.H., bogeyed his final hole and finished a shot behind after shooting 70-69. Amateur Ryan Harris, an 18-year-old who graduates from Concord-Carlisle High School Friday, tied for 14th in the 73-player field. Harris (72-70) was four shots too high, finishing at even par.
Others locals failing get through in New Jersey included Michael Welch of Quincy (72-71), Daniel Dwyer of Gloucester (74-73), Andrew Gruss of Trumbull, Conn. (73-78), Cory Muller of Darien, Conn. (74-78), Rick Leal of West Springfield (82-79), and amateurs Brad Valois of Warwick, R.I. (75-71), Garren Poirier of Killington, Vt. (73-75), Chelso Barrett of Keene, N.H. (85-74), Josh Biren of Boston (80-80), and Dartmouth student Charlie Edler (75-78). Matthew Adams of Peabody withdrew after a first-round 85, and Plainville native Jim Renner withdrew after a 74.
Andover native Rob Oppenheim (74-73) tied for 19th at the sectional in Rockville, Md., which awarded seven spots.
Andy Zhang, a 14-year-old from China, was trying to become the youngest competitor in US Open history. Playing in the Lecanto, Fla., sectional that offered three spots, Zhang shot 70-72 and tied for third, narrowly missing an eagle putt on the final hole that would have gotten him in. He then lost a playoff to Brooks Koepka, who birdied the first extra hole to claim the third spot.
Kite, who won the 1992 US Open at Pebble Beach, failed to advance to what would have been his 33d Open appearance. He tied for 31st in Houston after shooting 71-74.