U.S. Open qualifying is golf's best day
Across the country today, 902 players will nervously fumble in their pockets for tees and ball marks at 11 different sites in the hopes of securing one of just 76 remaining spots in the field at next week's United States Open Championship at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, Calif.
Included among those 902 players will be those you know, like Robert Allenby, Rory Sabbatini, Rocco Mediate and Madison's Jerry Kelly, along with major champions like Davis Love III, Mike Weir and Ben Curtis.
Today, those players you know have as much of a chance to make it to the U.S. Open as those you don't – like Garrett Jones of Rewey, Bryant Odom of Fitchburg and Andy Hansen of Mequon.
That is what makes today – U.S. Open sectional qualifying day – the best in golf.
Next week will be fun, as we watch the world's best compete for our national championship on the West Coast in prime time. Will Tiger Woods win that fourth U.S Open? Will Phil Mickelson win his first? How will Rory McIlroy defend? Can Madison's Steve Stricker finally break through?
Those are all legitimate storylines, and worth talking about. But the man who holds up the trophy on Father's Day eve is not really what the U.S. Open is about. It's about the 9,006 players who entered qualifying a few weeks back, down to the 900 or so that are left.
It's the truest form of democracy in sports. Any man can play their way into the U.S. Open, if they have the talent and the wherewithal to survive very tough local and sectional tests.
Yes, I said every man.
There is a handicap requirement in order to enter, and a sizable fee, but over the years many have faked a handicap or just declared themselves professional to get around it. Then they'll go out and shoot 100 at a local qualifier – just to say they tried – only to be sent a letter by the USGA politely telling them they'll never be allowed to try again without proof of near-scratch ability.
That guy was never going to make the actual U.S. Open, but he could try, and that's what makes this championship great.
You could try out for a Major League Baseball organization, or NBA or NFL franchise, but the odds of earning a contract – let alone actually putting on a uniform and playing at the highest level – are so infinitesimal a microscope would need a telescope to see it.
Not so, here.
If Jones, Odom or Hansen takes first or second at the Village Links of Glen Ellyn in Glen Ellyn, Ill., today, he will play in the same field with Woods, Mickelson, McIlroy and Stricker next week. He will stand next to them on the driving range, put his shoes on with them in the clubhouse. He will be at golf's pinnacle, along with everyone else.
It is what makes golf great. The every man can do this: the high school state champ, the college junior, the accountant, the public course club champ, the retired carpenter who picked up the game late.
No other sport allows for this chance.
That's not say sectional qualifying is easy, however. You're talking 36 holes of golf in one day, competing against players with at the least the same, if not greater, skill levels, for minimal spots.
The three men from Wisconsin competing in Glen Ellyn have to best a field of 48 other players for two spots, a field that includes PGA Tour players Tom Pernice, Jr. and Tim Herron, former U.S. Amateur Public Links champion Brad Benjamin and University of Illinois golf coach Mike Small, a former Nationwide Tour player who has appeared in 10 major championships.
It's far from easy, and by the end of the day 826 men will slam their trunks in disappointment.
But they had a chance, which is all you can ask for in sports. It's why it makes today the best day in golf.
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