Don’t take the “open” part of the U.S. Open literally.
The security folks will strenuously object if you show up with your sneakers and rental clubs and ask for directions to the first tee.
But even with the restrictions and long-shot chances, the fact that the national golf championship is somewhat open to everyone makes for interesting stories and occasional drama.
At 10 sectional sites around the U.S. on Monday, players will golf 36 holes for the right to qualify for the 115th U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, June 18-21. These golfers already have been exempted to the sectional round or advanced through 110 local qualifying rounds at sites across the country in May.
To even get into the local qualifiers, you better have serious game, nothing higher than a 1.4 handicap.
Those who advanced will show up Monday morning and might find themselves in pairings with some familiar faces.
Who? Oh, Fred Couples, Davis Love III, Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen, Lee Janzen, Mike Weir, Ben Curtis, Stewart Cink, Trevor Immelman — all have major titles on their résumés, but still have to qualify.
Seventy-four golfers are currently fully exempt from qualifying as a result of world rankings and previous qualifying victories. The final field will top out at 156 golfers.
There’s a couple of 15-year-olds still battling for spots, so there may be some unknowns who make it to Chambers. Some will have great stories.
My favorite column out of covering the 2000 Open at Pebble Beach was not about Tiger Woods’ runaway win or Jack Nicklaus’ last rounds in an Open, or even the moving tribute the golfers made to the late Payne Stewart, driving balls into the ocean at dawn in his honor.
More representative of the nature of the Open that year was qualifier Javier Sanchez, who was an impoverished immigrant from Mexico who was working as a cook at a Palo Alto, California, golf course when he touched a golf club for the first time at age 21.
He didn’t make the cut, but his dedication to the game was an inspiring story.
After all, it’s anything but easy to make it this far. Golf Digest made a list of achievements that are statistically easier than qualifying for the U.S. Open, and they included admission to Harvard, winning the Cy Young Award and breaking out of a state prison.
Yes, golfers who had to come through qualifiers have won the U.S. Open, but they haven’t been among the long-shot unknowns. Lucas Glover in 2009 and Michael Campbell in 2005 won after going through sectional qualifying, having been exempt through the locals.
But in 1969 Orville Moody won after trudging through both locals and sectionals, as did Ken Venturi in 1964.
A local favorite to qualify this year will be Couples, the 1992 Masters champ from Seattle, who is playing in the Newport Beach, California, qualifier.
Other PGA Tour winners trying to qualify include Robert Allenby, K.J. Choi, Tim Clark, Steve Stricker, Luke Donald, Nick Watney, Kevin Streelman, Bo Van Pelt, Aaron Baddeley, Nick Taylor, Brendan Steele, Rory Sabbatini and D.A. Points.
It’s interesting to see Love trying to play his way in, as he’s the sitting U.S. Ryder Cup captain.
Qualifying rounds Monday out of those with such PGA experience wouldn’t be surprising.
But how about these guys for interesting stories:
Josh Jamieson of Scotland, a junior on the Northwestern golf team, grew up caddying on the Old Course at St. Andrews, and is a descendant of one of the 11 founding members of that course.
Or Dillon Dougherty, who used to caddie for Woods at Stanford.
Or Casey Martin, coach of the University of Oregon golf team, who is trying to qualify out of the sectional closest to us, Tumble Creek Club in Cle Elum. Martin, you might recall, qualified for the 1998 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club and used a cart in competition due to a severe circulatory disorder called Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome.
Here’s a golfer to pull for making it to Chambers: Mark Watros of Darien, Connecticut, trying to qualify out of Purchase, New York.
Watros is the caddie master at The Country Club of Darien. He served with the Marines in Afghanistan and Iraq and was awarded the Purple Heart and also decorated for valor while saving the lives of fellow Marines.
An appearance by Watros at Chambers Bay would be another reason why it’s so important to keep this tournament “open.”