FOXBOROUGH — Sean Fitzpatrick, an amateur golfer from Walpole, sits at the bar nursing a Bud Light, a bag of Cape Cod potato chips, and a dream to play with the greatest golfers in the world at the US Open.
The 37-year-old electronic security integrator has been here for hours, hoping to make the first cut after shooting a 1-under-par 71 in a local qualifier at Foxborough Country Club.
“The best part about the US Open is it’s open to anybody,” Fitzpatrick says.
Players, including amateurs, can earn one of 156 spots for the Open at The Country Club in Brookline by advancing through local and final qualifiers, or by having exempt status.
US Golf Association director Jeff Hall calls the US Open “a championship for dreamers.”
This year, 9,265 golfers applied to play in the 122nd US Open, including 12 former champions. USGA rules allow any professional or amateur with a 1.4 handicap or below to enter qualifying.
The field in Foxborough is an eclectic group of 84 golfers — 53 amateurs and 31 professionals. They include a high school kid playing hooky and a drummer who graduated from the Berklee School of Music.
Most of the competitors are from Massachusetts, as local qualifiers are held at 109 sites in 44 US states and Canada.
The top six players here (and two alternates) advanced to the 36-hole final qualifying on June 6. They were part of the 530 golfers who played at nine US and two international sites.
Today, the blossoming trees create a dreamy, Monet-like palette of colors. The greens are lightning-fast, and a flock of turkeys grudgingly yields the fairways.
Old-timers here remember the days when golfers from Florida would arrive in droves, hoping to beat Northerners with rusty swings.
“They stopped coming because they don’t have hills in Florida and they didn’t know how to play the grass, which is different up here,” a veteran official says.
Cameron “Bunk” Read, Official in Charge, says today’s field is a mixed bag.
“Some of them are playing just to have fun,” he says, “but others are playing for their lives, to make a cut, and to put bread on the table.”
Nowhere is that more evident than on the seventh hole with the sharp dogleg right guarded by a pond. Half the golfers play it safe, while the others risk playing over the pines and water.
The mood is serious, but nobody is afraid of the long odds.
“I’m not scared. I’ll give it a go,” says Sean Resnick, 16, of Walpole, before teeing off.
He is the youngest competitor here.
“Right now, I’d be in world history,” says Resnick, who got permission to skip school. “I’m going to attack the course as best as I can.”
Asked what his qualifications are, he smiles and says, “TBD.”
To Be Determined shoots an 87, a good grade in school but 15 over par here.
Pro golfer Mark Purrington, 35, of Dartmouth, works for Titleist and plays drums at local clubs. He calls playing in the US Open “a life goal,” and says his chances are “better than the lottery.” He made a final qualifier in 2019.
“You figure if you can play 36 holes of good golf there, then you’ve got a chance,” he says.
By mid-afternoon, the US Open trophy arrives and is given the white-glove treatment. Everyone wants a selfie with the gleaming sterling-silver cup, even if it is a replica. The names engraved on it are golf royalty.
“I haven’t gone over and taken a peek at it, but I will,” Fitzpatrick says. “Although I can say with all confidence my chance of winning it is zero. The only time I’ll touch it is today.”
Last year, nine amateurs got to compete in the US Open. The last amateur to win the championship was Johnny Goodman, an insurance agent from Omaha, in 1933.
Winning the US Open by advancing through both qualifiers hasn’t happened since Orville Moody did it in 1969. Moody was so unheralded that one of the marshals at the 18th hole ordered him behind the ropes, thinking he was a spectator.
By late afternoon, Fitzpatrick clinches second place behind medalist Cooper Griffin of Weston, who shot a 2-under-par 70.
As the skies open up, five golfers who shot even-par 72 compete in a playoff for the remaining four spots.
On Hole 1, Purrington, Kevin Gately, Jake Shuman, Benjamin Spitz, and Peter French all record pars.
But on the next hole, French’s first two shots find the water and the rough.
Then, 50 yards away from the pin, French’s chip shot bounces on the green and plops into the hole, like a rabbit being chased by a coyote.
With no margin for error, the others calmly two-putt to advance, joining Fitzpatrick and Griffin for the final qualifier. Five of the six golfers to advance today are amateurs.
Griffin, a 20-year-old Weston High School standout in golf and hockey, is thrilled to finish first on his third try at local qualifying. He was disappointed he did not get recruited by a college golf team because of special COVID rules that allowed for a fifth year of eligibility.
But in the weeks after the victory, the reenergized Griffin stepped up his workouts, hitting 800 balls per day at the Woodland Golf Club in Newton, where his father is the golf pro.
“I love the game of golf with all my heart,” he says. “I don’t want to stop playing and getting better.”
He’s also aiming high.
“It would be a dream to play with Tiger Woods,” he says.
It won’t happen at this US Open, since Woods already said he wouldn’t play. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen in the future.
“You can’t freak out being on the golf course with Tiger; otherwise he’d say this kid is not grown up,” says Griffin. “But it would definitely be a surreal moment. Something that would stick with me for the rest of my life, for sure.”
Fitzpatrick, who has played well at The Country Club in the past, guarantees he will be at the Open.
Well, sort of.
“If I don’t make the cut, I’ll buy tickets and put ‘em on my expense account,” he says, laughing.
Editor’s note: None of the six golfers who advanced through the qualifier at Foxborough CC made it through final qualifying to the Open. A roundup of the notable stories from final qualifying can be found here.
Read more US Open stories
- Let’s find out how to play The Country Club: Your hole-by-hole guide of the US Open course
- Your guide to the US Open: What to watch, how to tune in, and more
- ‘I will never, ever forget that walk up 18′: Remembering Curtis Strange’s 1988 US Open victory at The Country Club
- The Country Club’s devilish 17th hole is bound to play a role in this US Open
- Let’s wade into this deep US Open rough, inch by terrifying inch
- With a pro caddie to guide us, we played The Country Club. Here’s the hole-by-hole report.
- Oral history: From 1913, to 1988, to 1999, the three biggest moments at The Country Club
- How The Country Club toughened up: Larger greens and trickier putts await in the US Open
- Will the US Open’s big hitters go for the green on The Country Club’s reachable par-4s?
- Yes, the PGA Tour is getting younger — but that’s because power and distance rule
- Cracking the code at Brookline’s venerable and fiercely private The Country Club
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at email@example.com.