For maybe 15 minutes on Friday, Beau Hossler had the whole world in his hands. He was the lone leader of the U.S. Open.
Hossler is a gifted ball-striker who plays golf with imagination, intelligence and poise. But nobody figured the San Diego resident would compete for the Open lead, much less own it, for the simple reason he’ll be playing as a senior next year.
A senior in high school.
Hossler’s first-round score of 70 – even par on the Olympic Club’s Lake Course – was the amateur’s announcement that he meant business in his attempt to make the cut. Then on Friday, after his second birdie in three holes put him atop the leader board at 2-under, surviving into the third round seemed like a modest ambition.
Make the cut? The 17-year-old appeared inclined to make golf history. After 28 holes, Hossler was among the two players whose score was posted in red numbers. The other was Jim Furyk, 42, the 2003 U.S. Open champion participating in his 17th Open. Furyk was 1-under par.
Because fans are prohibited from bringing cellphones onto the grounds, news that a high-school student had taken over first place on golf’s brightest stage spread through the gallery the old-fashioned way: from scoreboards that showed first-round leader Michael Thompson losing – hemorrhaging, actually – his red numbers, and Tiger Woods unable to break away from the pack, and almost all of the rest of the 156-man field somewhere over par.
And then there was Hossler, who played the back side first and got through the front nine at 1-under. A birdie at No. 17 had swelled the size and volume of his fan club, and when he crushed a drive to set up another birdie on No. 1, the Open briefly became the Beau Show.
“You go, Beau!” he was told as he walked down the fairway. “You the man, Beau!”
Although a more accurate cheer for the teenager might’ve been “You the kid, Beau!,” the gallery clearly enjoyed the notion of a U.S. Open’s second-round story angle hijacked by a fresh face.
And make no mistake, the face is fresh. Should he ever choose to wear the sort of mustache popularized by PGA cult hero Rickie Fowler, Hossler will have to buy one at costume shop.
Even from afar, it’s easy to identify Hossler. He carries himself as if his feet are wedged inside new shoes that have given him blisters. The typical young gun golfer is tall and lean; it’s not too difficult to imagine him excelling at another sport. Hossler is a University of Texas-bound honors student who looks like somebody born to serve as treasurer of his high school’s Chemistry Club.
But his chip-and-putt skills are superior, and golf acumen off the charts.
“Just like any other event, I’m normally pretty nervous on the first tee,” Hossler would say later. “But once I got through the middle of the round, and I found out I had the lead, I felt pretty comfortable. I felt like I was getting into a little bit of a zone.”
The zone abandoned him after the clubhouse turn, on the front side – the infamous six-hole stretch that has flummoxed older, far more experienced players than Hossler. A bogey on No. 2 begat an unraveling that included three bogeys and a double bogey – and it could’ve been worse.
After sending his tee shot on No. 5 into a tree, Hossler found himself in the bunker on No. 4. Because tree branches impeded every escape angle, using one swing to put the ball in position for an approach shot was not a logical option.
Hossler chose it anyway, and somehow negotiated the ball out of the fourth-hole bunker and through the woods.
“My caddie was trying to get me to pitch it out there to maybe 250 yards,” he said. “But I don’t think a 70-yard pitch shot into the fairway from a bunker is that easy either. So I thought hitting a high hook 6-iron would be a little bit easier.
“Fortunately, it worked out. If not, I could’ve made a quadruple there.”
It’s rare for an amateur to lead the U.S. Open. (Last time an amateur led after a round was in 1976, when Mike Reid finished the first round atop the leaderboard.) It’s rarer still for an amateur to lead after the second round. (Last time that happened was in 1957.)
And the possibility of an amateur going on to win the Open is beyond unlikely. Johnny Goodman won the 1933 U.S. Open as an amateur, and Jim Simons took a two-shot lead into the fourth round of the 1971 U.S. Open before taking a double-bogey on the final hole.
Realistically, the best an amateur can hope to do is what Hossler did Friday, when he parlayed two birdies into 15 minutes of fame.
He’ll get used to it.john.mcgrath@ thenewstribune.com