Cle Elum’s Dan Whitaker seems to have a knack for knowing how to survive at United States Golf Association tournaments.
On Thursday at U.S. Open local qualifying, he was the only man in the field to break par at windy Rope Rider Golf Course at the Suncadia Resort.
Aided by a ninth-hole eagle from the fairway, Whitaker shot a 1-under-par 71 to nab medalist honors.
California’s Joshua Wood and East Wenatchee’s Kevin PomArleau also sewed up berths to sectional qualifying as co-runners-up at even-par 72. PomArleau is the reigning state mid-amateur champion.
With seven spots available, five golfers at 1-over 73 were in a playoff for four spots. It came down to the third extra hole, when Kenmore’s Derek Berg, a University of Washington product, made birdie to edge Ephrata teenager Andrew Whalen.
The qualifier was somewhat of a home match for Whitaker, who lives nearby. He has played the year-old Rope Rider Course seven or eight times.
But even he admitted the layout was tricky with tough pin locations on rock-hard greens.
“What made it so tough was the combination of the wind and firm greens, which I always love playing,” said Whitaker, the 2007 U.S. Mid-Amateur runner-up who now will play in U.S. Open sectional qualifying for a third time in his bid for his first U.S. Open.
“The back-nine greens are newer, and firmer anyway – so it played a lot tougher.”
Whitaker holed out from the left rough on the ninth hole with a pitching wedge from 121 yards for an eagle-2.
Some of the local products who just missed out included Sumner’s Brian Thornton, the teaching professional at Meridian Valley Country Club in Kent (74); and Olympia teenager Dominick Francks, the reigning Class 4A state high school champion (75).
Francks was in good shape at even-par through 12 holes before he made double bogey on the 13th.
“The wind kept changing, and I could not get comfortable and left my approach shot way short and right,” Francks said.
His pitch shot got an unfortunate bounce, stopping 30 feet away, and he three-putted for a double bogey.
“After the double … over the last few holes, I knew I needed to make one birdie, if not two,” he said. “I just couldn’t get it done.”