At 8:04 p.m. Friday, a horn blew across the expanse of Congressional Country Club. For the second time during the second round, lightning hovered around Bethesda. Play was halted. Eleven minutes later, with darkness falling, it was called for the night.
The next task: figure out a way to get some sleep, with your immediate golfing future to be determined some 12 hours later over the course of one hole.
“I had a little, maybe an hour, break in the middle of the night where I couldn’t fall asleep,” Benjamin said. “All the different ways you can play the hole are running through your mind.”
“By the time I got back to the hotel, showered and ate, it was already 10:30,” Hadwin said. “I was so tired and my feet were so sore at that point, that I just crashed. Didn’t have time to think about it.”
Benjamin, 24, and Hadwin, 23, are the kind of grinders for which the Open is known. Neither gained an exemption into the field by being ranked in the top 50 in the world or having won a couple of times on the PGA or European tours, or some such route reserved for the world’s elite. Each had to advance through qualifying tournaments. Each was playing in his first U.S. Open.
Benjamin, a left-handed amateur from Illinois, played collegiately at Memphis and appeared in the Masters in 2009. He headed to that restless sleep on Friday without the burger he had ordered at dinner — the service was slow, he grew frustrated and went to his room, left to a banana and some water. In Thursday’s first round, on 18, he hit his drive way left. He couldn’t do that again when he returned Saturday, when play resumed at 8:08 a.m. He needed only bogey to make the cut.
“But I made just an awful swing,” he said. It went right. Dead right.
“I thought it was a lost ball,” he said. “I had no idea where it went.”
Hidden, though, in all the woods in which Benjamin went looking for his ball were some green fences, not visible from the fairway. “That’s the luckiest break I’ve ever gotten in my life,” Benjamin said, because he could move his ball away from the fence to the nearest point of relief. That, it turns out, wasn’t one club length away, nor two club lengths away. Three club lengths back, Benjamin found a playable lie, someplace he could get a 5-iron on the ball and punch it out. He did so, to the rough on the right of the fairway.
“Even that’s hard, because you know if you’re in the rough, it’s going to be a tough third,” he said. “Just a stressful hole.”
Hadwin, a native of Abbotsford, B.C., who played at Louisville and is a regular on the minor league Canadian Tour, returned to Congressional at 6:30 a.m. Saturday morning, and went through a full warmup, though he had just one hole to play. At the massive par-5 ninth, the tees were moved up, shortening the hole by 80 yards in order to tempt players to go for the green in two — over a gaping ravine, at the bottom of which lies the thickest rough on the course. Hadwin, though, blocked his drive slightly into the right rough. His decision was made for him: lay up.
“Me and my caddie picked a number we wanted, and it was 98 yards,” Hadwin said. His 8-iron lay-up settled down before the gully, precisely 98 yards from the pin. “That never happens,” he said.
At nearly the same time, some 500 yards across a pond at the 18th, Benjamin walked up to survey his lie in the rough. “You never know what you’re going to get in that stuff,” he said. He found, fortunately, his second straight lucky break. The ball was playable. Moreover, he had about 80 yards to where he wanted to land it on the green. “A pretty good number for me,” he said.
The approach to the 18th green, though, is treacherous. To that point, 15 players had made double bogey there. If Benjamin became the 16th, he would miss the cut. “You don’t know what the ball’s going to do,” he said.
Benjamin pulled out his lob wedge. Hadwin pulled out a 56-degree sand wedge. And within 10 minutes of each other, each needing to make one of his best swings of the tournament, each did.
“It was pretty cool,” Hadwin said. His sand wedge hit some 10 feet beyond the pin, and spun back to six inches. After a stressful night, he needed only to tap in for the birdie that allowed him to make the cut.
“Once it got back there, I just felt some relief,” said Benjamin, who stuck his approach to six feet. When he made the put — for par, making the cut with a stroke to spare — he pumped his fist. The early-rising gallery, already assembled, cheered loudly. The pressure Rory McIlroy felt with a six-shot lead headed into the weekend? Significant, no doubt. But go to bed, knowing that when you rise, you have one hole ahead, one hole to determine your Open fate.
Later Saturday, for their third round, Hadwin shot 73, Benjamin 80. But they were there.
“As golfers, that’s what you practice for,” Hadwin said. ”That’s why you put in the long hours. You know what you need to do, and you get it done.”