Moments before, Ji Soo Park stepped off that same green, his best rounds on that course — and elsewhere — almost assuredly ahead. He is 19. On Monday, the Chantilly High grad and University of Virginia freshman played in a U.S. Open sectional qualifier for the first time. He didn’t make it, either.
“I tried not to think about what it meant,” he said. “I’m playing with professional golfers.”
There was so much to think about on Monday, the quietest big day in golf. At Woodmont, 78 players tried to gain one of seven spots available into next week’s Open at Olympic Club in San Francisco. They came from all over — Funk from Des Moines, where he finished a Champions Tour event Sunday; Shane Bertsch and Jeff Curl and others from Raleigh, N.C., where the Nationwide Tour event concluded Sunday; Park just from his parents’ home in Clifton. No set of logistics seemed too much to overcome.
“It’s the U.S. Open,” Bertsch said. “It’s the biggest event in the world.”
All this was part of what is widely gaining attention as golf’s longest day — 36 holes for dreamers, drifters and everyone in between, all with a potential appearance in the national championship fraying nerves. In April, the United States Golf Association, which stages the Open, accepted 9,006 entries for the 112th version of the tournament. Some 8,000 of those players were eliminated during a local qualifying stage. Two international sectional qualifiers, in Japan and England, were contested last month. And that left 791 players searching for 58 spots at 11 sites across the country Monday.
So in some senses, it is the day that makes the Open the Open: No special invitations. Play well, and you’re in. Lucas Glover, a seasoned PGA Tour pro, had to play a sectional qualifier in 2009 to earn a spot in the Open at Bethpage Black. He did, and won the Open.
“Every kid dreams of playing in the U.S. Open,” Curl said.
The seven dreamers who survived already endured a significant test. The wind gusted to 25 mph all day, making club selection tricky. Five players — including Virginia Tech alum Drew Weaver, who shot 82 in the morning round — withdrew at the halfway point.
“It was a tough day,” said Funk, who finished 1 over par.
For some, in the midst of a tough week. Bertsch flew in from Raleigh, N.C., Sunday night and settled at his hotel room around midnight. His wakeup call was for 5 a.m., his tee time at 7 a.m. He walked off the course some 10 hours later.
“My feet are tired,” he said.
Those are the kind of ragged figures who gathered around the scoreboard Monday evening, wondering if they were in, out, in a playoff? What?
“I don’t care how young you are, how old you are, what kind of condition you’re in, where you come from, anything,” said Nicholas Thompson, who also played in Raleigh over the weekend. “Anyone that says it’s not a test is lying.”