When qualifying began Monday there were 9,882 chasing the dream of playing the June 18-21 tournament at Chambers Bay.
It means exactly what it says — the U. S. Open.
It’s a national championship, open to any man, woman or child who wants to give it a shot.
Sure, you have to have a handicap index of 1.4 or less, which knocks out a great majority of the golfers in the world, but when the local qualifying stage began Monday there were 9,882 chasing the dream of playing the June 18-21 tournament at Chambers Bay.
And in that chase, there are hot-shot youngsters, talented club pros, and probably even a 45-year-old dentist or two who just want the chance to act like Roy McAvoy from the movie, “Tin Cup.”
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“It’s the one championship that’s truly open for all,” said John Bodenhamer, the USGA’s senior managing director for rules, competition and equipment standard. “You can follow your dream.”
Bodenhamer attempted it numerous times when he was an amateur and young pro playing out of Oakbrook Golf & Country Club in Lakewood. He got close once.
Tim Feenstra, an assistant pro at Broadmoor Golf Club and two-time winner of the Washington State Open, will give it another try this year, first playing in the local stage May 11 at The Home Course in DuPont. There will be 120 golfers there chasing seven spots to advance to the sectional June 8 at Tumble Creek in Cle Elum. There, it will probably be 30 or so golfers going after one or two spots. In all, maybe 90 or so of the 10,000 who start the process will make it to Chambers Bay.
“Obviously, I try to do it every year. It’s a dream of mine, and we’ll keep plugging away to see if I can catch lightning in a bottle for two rounds,” said Feenstra, 31.
“It’s a very long shot, but there’s always that one-in-a-million chance, right?”
At the local stage, it’s mostly club pros and amateurs from around the region. Members of the PGA Tour are exempt from the local stage and placed directly into the sectional if they haven’t already earned their way into the Open. Feenstra has made it out of the local stage, but it gets more difficult at the sectional.
“It’s just a matter of timing,” he said. “You’re mostly playing against guys either on a mini-tour or Web.com or some professional tour where they’re playing 50 weeks a year versus a club pro who is teeing it up once a month in a tournament. You have to get a little lucky, but you never know.”
It was more than luck when Feenstra blitzed PGA Tour members Michael Putnam and Andres Gonzales by seven strokes in winning the Washington State Open in 2011.
“That was my lightning in a bottle for a couple of days at Glendale,” Feenstra said.
Todd Erwin, a teaching pro at Tacoma Firs Golf Center, cashed in on those long shots years ago when he was around Feenstra’s age. He played so well in a sectional that PGA Tour players were amazed at his scores that day. In both 1990 and 1993, when he was an assistant pro at Canterwood in Gig Harbor, Erwin got to the U.S. Open.
“I was playing awfully good. That was probably the best year of golf I’ve ever had,” Erwin, now 53, said of 1990.
“I went to the U.S. Open feeling fairly confident in my ability, but still I had not competed against a field of players like that.”
Erwin missed the cut both years.
“You don’t just go into these things, a U.S. Open, being a journeyman pro like I was and say, ‘I’m going to get into the U.S. Open and I’m going to knock their socks off,’ ” he said.
“Most of us mortals are going to feel like, OK, we got into it and we’re just going to go out there to put on a good showing and hope for some good things to happen and hope you make the cut. But you’re playing against the best players in the world; you’re not playing against your neighbor.”
Though it can be a dream for a club pro, there are some nightmarish consequences.
“It’s not going to be comfortable for anybody to walk out there and you’re suddenly on the practice tee next to Rory (McIlroy) and Phil (Mickelson) and everybody else,” Erwin said. “It’s like, ‘Whoa.’ ”
Though major champions McIlroy and Mickelson don’t have to go through qualifying, a lot of PGA Tour pros face a 36-hole qualifier June 8, a day after many of them will have played in the Memorial Tournament in Ohio. Expect the Putnam brothers — Michael and Andrew — to attempt to qualify along with Gonzales, possibly in Ohio.
Ben Crane, a PGA Tour player out of Portland, will go through the 36-hole sectional in Memphis, site of the next stop on the PGA Tour.
“It’s a tough day, and you have to play really well,” Crane said. “Only about two out of 10 Tour players make it though qualifying.”
Qualifiers can go on to win the Open. It happened in 2005 with Michael Campbell and 1996 with Steve Jones. However, you have to go back to 1969 and Orville Moody to find the last player to win the Open after going through both local and sectional qualifiers.
It would be an added treat for the 30,000 spectators per day at Chambers Bay to have a chance to root for locals such the Putnams, Gonzales or Fred Couples, who will go through sectionals in Southern California. Ryan Moore of Puyallup is expected to be exempt from qualifying because of his lofty world ranking.
“If a Fred Couples makes it,” Feenstra said, “everybody is just going to eat him up and love the fact that he’s there.”
It all comes down to chasing the dream, dreams that start at a young age. Bodenhamer remembers when he was a kid, with his home behind the third green at Oakbrook. After a long day of playing and practicing, he would play the three holes near his home as the sun was setting.
“I’d finish on the third green, and I’d have a final putt,” he said. “Whether it was 6 feet, 20 feet, 30 feet, it was always for one thing every night … to win the U.S. Open.”