PINEHURST, N.C. — Text messages started flooding the cellphones of the Quinn clan walking outside the ropes at Pinehurst No. 2 watching Fran Quinn, who was playing in the 114th US Open and getting some television airtime as Thursday turned from afternoon into evening.
With each birdie Quinn made, more texts rolled in. Friends, parents of friends, former classmates and teammates, family members who couldn’t be there. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to share in what was quickly becoming one of the best days ever for Quinn on a golf course, and the opening-round surprise in the Carolina sandhills.
“Hey, this game brings you together,” said Chris Quinn, who, like his older brother, lives in Holden, Mass. “Today was special.”
And likely unforgettable. Quinn, a 49-year-old who played his way into this US Open through a local qualifier (when he survived a playoff) and then a sectional qualifier (where he was co-medalist), calmly rolled in a short birdie putt on his last hole, No. 9. It capped a 2-under-par 68, and left him tied for second, three shots behind leader Martin Kaymer, who shot 65.
Imagine: Fran Quinn, after the first day of the US Open, had just one player in front of him on the leaderboard, with his wife, mother, brother, and additional family members in his gallery, and his 15-year-old son serving as caddie.
“To come back and play this year, I’m 49 years old, it’s Father’s Day weekend, I’ve got my boy on the bag. My dad passed away two years ago, and I know he’s looking down today,” Quinn said. “It’s just a tremendous feeling. It was a dream start. It was everything that I could want, and more.”
Quinn is no stranger to the US Open, having played in three before this one. But those came in 1992, 1994, and 1996. Before any of his three children were born, including Owen, a sophomore at Wachusett Regional High School who plays a little golf himself.
“This is his fourth time at the US Open, and I was there for the first three,” said Quinn’s wife, Lori. “But this one has a lot more meaning with Owen on the bag.”
They made a great team on Thursday, with Quinn starting his round at No. 10 and making birdies at Nos. 12 and 14. A three-putt bogey at the 18th was his first dropped shot, but a two-putt birdie at the par-5 fifth hole and the closing birdie at the ninth were sandwiched around Quinn’s only other bogey, which came at No. 7 when he drew a bad lie near the edge of the fairway.
First rounds at the US Open can occasionally feature unlikely names at the top of the leaderboard. Quinn qualifies, although he has won four times on what is now the Web.com Tour, most recently in 2010. More importantly, he came in with some confidence, hard to do because he hasn’t had many playing opportunities this season. He has played in just one Web.com Tour event, missing the cut.
“He’s been playing good golf, but has had no tournament to play in,” Lori Quinn said. “That’s the worst.”
Thursday might have been the best. Quinn learned the game from his father, also named Fran, who was a decent stick himself, winning the 1966 New England Amateur. Fran and Carol Quinn encouraged their seven children (Fran is the second oldest) to play lots of sports and try lots of things, the same approach Fran and Lori have taken with their children. The main three people missing from Pinehurst on Thursday were Quinn’s father (Fran died at age 74 from pancreatic cancer), and his younger two children, who had extracurricular activities to tend to back in Massachusetts.
They missed quite a show. Quinn said earlier in the week that he was playing well and expecting some good things. His aching back held up and he handled his nerves, calmed by having Owen walking alongside.
“He did a terrific job. He’s got such a great disposition,” Quinn said. “He’s positive and he understands the game of golf. And he’s an athlete. He knows how to compete.”
Owen liked what he saw from the old man on Thursday, nothing more than the birdie to complete the round, Quinn’s lowest in his brief US Open history. Previously, he missed two cuts and tied for 43d in 1994.
“It was unbelievable. I’m at the US Open and my dad played a great first round,” Owen said. “It’s awesome to see him out there. It’s awesome to see him string together a good 18 holes.”
Quinn has been a professional golfer since 1988 and has played all over the world, on numerous tours. There have been lots of highs, lots of lows, hundreds of tournaments, thousands of shots, and enough wins to allow Quinn to keep chasing the dream. It’s landed him here, at the US Open, surrounded by family members, who are watching him work.
But if anything, a 49-year-old has perspective, able to see the significance in things large and small. This was big.
“I put myself in a nice position, but I have to go out and keep backing it up. It’s not going to get any easier,” Quinn said. “But it was overall a terrific day. It was awesome being out there with my son. It’s a dream, and I hope I don’t wake up until Sunday.”