When he rolled out of his Annapolis bed Monday morning, a flight home in his immediate past and his 21st straight day of golf staring him in the face, Billy Hurley III might have just left it at that.
“I was almost indifferent on today,” Hurley said. “Two weeks off sounded pretty good.”
Chad Collins spent all last week atop a tractor at his Indiana farm. His problem wasn’t too much golf, but not enough of it. “Hunting and fishing is my passion,” he said, quite unapologetically, so he was perfectly happy putting in plots of clover all across his land, better to attract game come deer hunting season.
There’s the U.S. Open, all rolled into one. It takes all types. In perfect conditions Monday at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Collins turned back to golf and shot matching 69s, finishing at 6-under-par 138, earning medalist honors in U.S. Open sectional qualifying. Hurley, a Leesburg native and graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, earned one of the remaining spots in next week’s Open at Pinehurst, N.C., following his morning 74 with an afternoon 67 that featured three straight birdies, the birdies that earned him a spot.
Collins is 35, has played the PGA Tour and the mini-tours, and has appeared in one major — the 2006 U.S. Open, for which he also qualified at Woodmont, in which he missed the cut. Hurley is 32, a father of three and now a PGA Tour regular, and this will be his first appearance in a major — period.
Same for Donald Constable, a shaggy-haired Minnesotan who matched Hurley’s 3-under total — and finished his day by snapping photos of the handwritten scoreboard near Woodmont’s driving range. And same, too, for Nick Mason, who also shot 3-under 141 — and began his qualifying at the local stage in his native Hawaii, advancing to Rockville and, now, moving on to Pinehurst.
None will draw the attention of Phil Mickelson’s arrival or Tiger Woods’s absence, and they’re likely to get buried in the 156-player field. But the Open welcomes all comers, and how they got there can be more interesting than how they play when they arrive.
Three years ago this week, Collins fractured three ribs. “To be honest with you,” he said, “I don’t know how I done it.” He healed up, and in the fall of 2011 began hitting balls again. The PGA Tour granted him a major medical exemption, which gave him a spot in nine tournaments — a chance to keep his card, to keep his job.
So he went out and played the first nine events on the 2012 calendar. “Healthwise, I was fine,” he said. “Gamewise, I wasn’t.” He missed nine straight cuts, and went back to the second-tier Web.com Tour, fighting through 2013 to get his big-boy card back for this year, which he did. But he flew into Washington on Sunday having missed his last three cuts, failing to break par in any round. He faced a 5 a.m. Tuesday flight to Memphis for his next event.
So Monday, with just two bogeys over the North Course’s 7,193-yard layout?
“Kind of unexpected,” he said.
Hurley is living the where-am-I life of a tour professional, and he took a 5:30 p.m. flight home Sunday from Columbus, where he shot a final-round 68 in the Memorial, his third straight PGA Tour event. He is not playing this week’s tour event in Memphis, and if he didn’t make the Open, the punishment would be another week at home with his wife and kids, ages 7, 5 and 4 months.
Yet when he got alongside the ninth green in his second round Monday, standing at even par, he found focus. “I was playing too good to be even par,” he said. He needed, he figured, four birdies coming in.
When he flipped a wedge to 21 / 2 feet at 15, hit a hybrid from 217 yards to four feet at 16 and then stuck an 8-iron to three feet at 17, he had three of them. He was getting close.
But Open qualifiers aren’t the Open, either. There are no scoreboards on the course, and the word about standings travels mostly in whispers among the friends and family that dominate what amounts to a gallery. In the group ahead of Hurley, a 24-year-old San Diegan named James Erkenbeck rolled a sliding 15-foot putt for birdie. It stopped short, and Erkenbeck whipped around, tearing off his hat, sending his sunglasses to the ground, indignant.
“Did that mean anything?” he asked a friend. Erkenbeck, at the moment, was 1 under. Had he birdied, he might have been in a position for a playoff.
“I thought I had it,” he said.
Yet Hurley had put on his show behind him. When he, too, came to 18 and faced his own birdie putt, he turned to his caddie and said, “Does that need to go in?”
“No,” came the reply, which came only after some investigation.
And so he two-putted, right into the Open. He’ll be joined there by Collins, by Constable and by Mason — each at Woodmont on Monday, but each with a different route to Pinehurst.
After three years of coming up short in qualifying, Justin Leonard earned a return to the U.S. Open.
The 1997 British Open champion, who has won 12 times on the PGA Tour but not since 2008, was among the 16 players at the Columbus site who qualified. Among those also qualifying were Bo Van Pelt, Mark Wilson, Aaron Baddeley and Paul Casey.
Among those qualifying in Memphis, site of this week’s PGA Tour stop, were David Toms, J.B. Holmes, Joe Ogilvie, Jeff Maggert and Hudson Swafford.