Chas­ing a dream at U.S. Open qual­i­fy­ing

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY DAN DALY

UR­BANA, MD. | “Plea­sure, man,” Michael Harvey said, ex­tend­ing his hand to play­ing part­ner Adam Ochs. “Sorry it was not our day.”

Harvey, Ochs and Floyd White, the other mem­ber of the three­some, had just wrapped up their rounds May 16 in the U.S. Open qual­i­fier at Wor­thing­ton Manor Golf Club. None had bro­ken 80, so they didn’t have to hang around to see if they made the cut. Af­ter a quick trip to the snack bar, they headed home, and tried not to tor­ment them­selves with woulda-coul­dashoul­das along the way.

Ev­ery lo­cal qual­i­fier for the Open is a “Tin Cup” con­ven­tion, and this one was no dif­fer­ent. Granted, Rene Russo wasn’t fol­low­ing one of the play­ers around, and Cheech Marin wasn’t serv­ing as any­body’s caddy. And no, there weren’t any shov­els or base­ball bats stick­ing out of golf bags.

But then, this wasn’t a Hol­ly­wood movie star­ring Kevin Cost­ner. This was real life star­ring guys like Harvey, a 41-yearold soft­ware spe­cial­ist from Wash­ing­ton who, just for the thrill of it, had taken the day off from his job at TMA Re­sources in Vi­enna, Va.

It was, by his count, his ninth at­tempt to earn a spot in the Open, all un­suc­cess­ful. “Never been close,” he said. “Six shots was prob­a­bly the clos­est.” And at this stage, of course, it’s not get­ting any eas­ier for him . . . es­pe­cially since, like most en­trants, he toted his clubs up and down Wor­thing­ton Manor’s many hills.

“It’s al­most im­pos­si­ble,” he said. “Only 12 out of this group of 156 [are go­ing to ad­vance to sec­tional play, the fi­nal round of qual­i­fy­ing, where the non-ex­empt tour­ing pros lurk], and I fig­ure half of these guys play golf ev­ery day in col­lege. They’re tall, skinny and young — and fear­less. So it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble.”

But Harvey, who played on mini-tours a decade ago af­ter grad­u­at­ing from UC-Santa Bar­bara, keeps try­ing. He keeps try­ing be­cause he’s con­vinced “if I play my best, I can do it.” He also keeps try­ing be­cause, as Roy McAvoy put it in “Tin Cup,” the Open is “the most demo­cratic golf tour­na­ment in the world. Any­body with a 2-hand­i­cap or bet­ter has got a shot at it. You’ve just got to get through a lo­cal and sec­tional qual­i­fier. And un­like Do­ral or Colo­nial or AT&T, they can’t keep you out. They can’t ask you if you’re a garbage man or a bean picker or a driv­ing range pro whose check’s signed by a strip­per. You qual­ify, you’re in.”

(By the way, one of those “tall, skinny and young — and fear­less” types fin­ished a few groups be­hind Harvey. That would be Univer­sity of Vir­ginia ju­nior Ben Kohles, the two-time ACC player of the year. Kohles shot a 1-un­der 71 and missed the sec­tional by a stroke. But there fig­ure to be other qual­i­fiers for the kid. In­deed, his col­lege coach, Bowen Sar­gent, told me in an email that Ben “will play in sev­eral U.S. Opens.”)

Not long af­ter Kohles fin­ished, Steve White could be seen walk­ing off the 18th green, mut­ter­ing

This wasn’t a Hol­ly­wood movie star­ring Kevin Cost­ner. This was real life star­ring guys like Har vey, a 41-year-old soft­ware spe­cial­ist from Wash­ing­ton who, just for the thrill of it, had taken the day off from his job at TMA Re­sources in Vi­enna, Va. It was, by his count, his ninth at­tempt to earn a spot in the Open, all un­suc­cess­ful. “Never been close,” he said. “Six shots was prob­a­bly the clos­est.”

to his caddy, “The lost ball kinda zapped me.” So ended White’s lat­est U.S. Open ad­ven­ture, the lat­est of 15, if his mem­ory is right. By day, White is the owner of XGrass, a com­pany in Dal­ton, Ga., that makes syn­thetic grass for, what else?, putting greens. But in his spare time, the for­mer Clem­son golfer com­petes in MidA­ma­teur events and dreams of tee­ing it up in the Open.

“I’ve played in lo­cal qual­i­fiers in River­ton, Wyo., and Ana­conda, Mont.,” he said. “I’ve played in a qual­i­fier in Idaho.” In 2001, he got as far as a sec­tional at East Lake in Atlanta. The cut­off for the Open that year was 136; the best he could do, alas, was 78-77 — 155.

In case you’re won­der­ing, White got “zapped” on the 14th hole, a short par 4. His ball hit a tree and kicked into the deep rough, and un­for­tu­nately, there was no gallery to help him find it.

“I was strug­gling be­fore that, a cou­ple over par,” he said. “And I made a dou­ble there.” End of story. Of course, al­most ev­ery com­peti­tor at Wor­thing­ton Manor got zapped at some point, had one of those Not This Year mo­ments. For Cur­ley Bishop of Mount Airy, Md., it hap­pened when he fol­lowed an ea­gle on 18, he started on the back nine, with a dou­ble bo­gey on No. 1. That lit­tle mishap left him with a par 72 and kept him from get­ting one of the fi­nal spots. (The top 12 shot 70 or bet­ter.)

Bishop, a fix­ture in area golf for years, has played, and come up short, in more qual­i­fiers than he can re­mem­ber. That in­cludes not just Open qual­i­fiers but QS­chool for the PGA Tour (though he did play his way into the Kem­per Open back in the day).

“I’ve al­ways said it was a mat­ter of money,” he said. “If I didn’t have to worry about my break­fast, lunch and din­ner, my put­ter would re­lease much bet­ter than it does. But that doesn’t mean I’m gonna stop go­ing af­ter it.”

Him and thou­sands of oth­ers. The scores ranged from 65 (Scott Shingler of Hay­mar­ket, Va.) to 100 (name with­held to pro­tect the in­no­cent). So it goes in the most demo­cratic golf tour­na­ment in the world. You’ve got your play­ers, and you’ve got your poseurs, the guys who oc­ca­sion­ally back things up on the course while they search for their mis­di­rected drives.

An­thony Kim wasn’t at Wor­thing­ton Manor. Nei­ther were Zach John­son or Dar­ren Clarke. But Joseph Kim (Rockville, Md.), Joshua John­son (Fred­er­icks­burg, Va.) and Steven­son Clarke (West Palm Beach, Fla.) were, try­ing their darnedest to join the big boys at Con­gres­sional next month. And if they had the chance to do it again, even Mr. (name with­held to pro­tect the in­no­cent), you’d bet­ter be­lieve they would.

I mean, we’re not talk­ing about the Greater Fred­er­ick Putt-Putt Cham­pi­onship here. We’re talk­ing about the U.S. Open.

PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY DREW AN­GERER/THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

Tour­na­ment of­fi­cial Randy Reed en­ters the scores on the leader­board in the club­house dur­ing the U.S. Open lo­cal qual­i­fy­ing tour­na­ment at Wor­thing­ton Manor Golf Club.

Rus­sell King of La Plata, Md. was a man on a mis­sion while look­ing for his ball in a haz­ard area on the 17th hole. His chore was ne­ces­si­tated by an er­rant tee shot dur­ing the U.S. Open lo­cal qual­i­fier at Wor thington Manor Golf Club.

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