Saturday, May 26, 2012

Two Bay Area Junior Girl Golfers Are Hopeful of U.S. Women’s Open Success

One Bay Area junior girl golfer has qualified for the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open golf tournament, and another will be on her way to Southern California early next week, determined to do the same.

Hannah O’Sullivan
, 14, of Cupertino, placed second in the May 21st, 2012 qualifying tournament on the Ocean Course at Half Moon Bay Golf Links. O’Sullivan posted a 36-hole total of 143, 1 under par, 1 stroke behind medalist Gigi Stoll, of Beaverton, Oregon. Stoll, O’Sullivan and Altadena, CA golfer Mo Martin were the top three finishers at the Half Moon Bay qualifying tournament, and have earned a spot in the field at the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open, which will be played July 5 – 8, 2012 at Blackwolf Run, Kohler Wisconsin.

The other Bay Area junior girl who is taking a shot at a place in the field at the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open is Casie Cathrea, of Livermore. Cathrea, 16, is traveling to Industry Hills Golf Club, City of Industry, CA to tee it up on Tuesday, May 29th, against a field deep in professional, collegiate and post-collegiate amateur talent. According to Cathrea, she elected to travel to the Industry Hills qualifier rather than compete at Half Moon Bay because her father liked the course better – and for the challenge. Casie feels that making the cut out of the stronger field she expects to encounter there would make a statement. In her words, “Usually qualifiers don’t make the cut. I plan to.”

Casie Cathrea, of Livermore, CA, will compete for a spot in the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open golf tournament in a qualifying tournament Tuesday, May 29th, at Industry Hills Golf Club in City of Industry, CA.
Photo credit:
Getty Images

As that statement indicates, Casie is a confident young lady, with the record to back up her confidence. Her CV is comprised of an impressive list of on-course accomplishments – including 150 tournament victories since she started playing competitive golf at age 6. In 2011 she partnered with Hall of Fame golfer Ben Crenshaw, a 2-time Masters champion and the 1999 Ryder Cup Team captain, to win the Pro-Jr competition at the The First Tee Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links with a combined score of 22-under par. Cathrea has committed to play her college golf at Oklahoma State University.

Other notable contestants who will be in the field next Tuesday at Industry Hills Golf Club include SJSU freshman golfer Jordanne Barr, of Bakersfield; Salinas native Sydney Burlison, currently playing her collegiate golf at Stanford; Meghan Hardin, of Blue Jay, CA, a contestant in the Golf Channel competition/reality show Big Break Atlantis; teen actress Kathryn Newton, of Coral Gables, FL, who has appeared in the films Gary Unmarried and Bad Teacher; and an impressive lineup from the 2011 NCAA Division 1 Women’s Championship-winning UCLA Women’s golf team which includes 2011 US Women’s Amateur Public Links champion Brianna Do, and 2010 and 2012 U.S. Curtis Cup Team member Tiffany Lua.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Local favorites, PGA pros, to play in June 4 sectional qualifier at Lake Merced & Harding Park

A 130-man field comprised of hopeful amateur and professional players from all across the western United States, and as far afield as Canada, England, and Australia, will assemble at Lake Merced Golf Club and TPC Harding Park on June 4th in hopes of qualifying for the 2012 U.S. Open, which is coming to the Olympic Club, in San Francisco, June 14 to 17.

The short but challenging par-4 18th hole at the Olympic Club may be the site of closing round drama at the 2012 U.S. Open Golf tournament. (Photo credits: John Mummert/USGA)

With 77 players of the 156-man field for the Open already selected based on fifteen exemption categories ranging from status as a former U.S. Open winner to a position within the top 60 in the Official World Golf Rankings, the number of spots available to players who are working their way through the ranks in local and sectional qualifying tournaments is shrinking. A further six players have made the field from the first of two international sectional qualifiers, held May 21st at Lake Hamamatsu Country Club in Shizuoka, Japan. After the second international qualifier, to be held May 28th at Walton Heath Golf Club in Surrey, England, is in the books, the remaining spots will be filled from the eleven sectional qualifiers which will be held in the United States on June 4th. Depending upon the number of players advanced from the Walton Heath qualifier, there could be as few as 6 players per tournament advancing from the U.S. qualifying tourneys.

The Bay Area qualifying tournament was originally slated to be held at Lake Merced Golf Club only, but the private course in Daly City quickly became over-subscribed. The popularity of the venue with U.S. Open hopefuls is understandable, and not just for the quality and challenge of the course. Originally designed by Willie Lock, a transplanted Scot with many ties to early-20th Century Bay Area golf, the greens complexes and bunkering were reworked in 1929 by Dr. Alister Mackenzie, the renowned course architect who is responsible for such world-famous courses as Royal Melbourne, site of the 2011 Presidents Cup matches, Cypress Point, the dramatic seaside course on the Monterey Peninsula, and the famed Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters tournament. After a re-routing which was required by the construction of nearby Interstate 280 in the 1960s, the last revisions to the course, made in 1996, were designed by Rees Jones, famous for his preparation of numerous U.S. Open venues.

The pedigree and quality of the Lake Merced Golf Club’s course aside, possibly the biggest advantage the venue has in the eyes of potential players is its location – virtually next door to the Olympic Club’s Lake Course, the site of the 2012 U.S. Open. The chance to experience the weather conditions of the Peninsula location a week in advance of the Open would be a boon to players, which is the reason that so many selected Lake Merced as their sectional qualifying venue. Luckily for the USGA’s tournament schedulers, another venue, quite nearby, was available to deal with the overflow – the City of San Francisco’s Harding Park Municipal Golf Course, known as TPC Harding Park since the venue’s association, in 2010, with the PGA Tour’s TPC Network of championship-caliber courses.

Sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open consists of two 18-hole rounds played in one day. The field of 130 players, split 66 and 64, will each play one round each at Lake Merced Golf Club and Harding Park. Notable players who will be attempting to make these two courses their springboard into the field at he U.S. Open this year include pros Paul Goydos, Alex Cejka, Michael Allen, and Bob May.

Goydos, 47, a respected journeyman pro who is known as “Mr. Sunshine” for his dry wit, has one Nationwide Tour victory (in 1992, when it was known as the Ben Hogan Tour) and two PGA Tour wins to his credit. Goydos has been away from the Tour since March 13, when he had surgery to remove a bone spur in his left wrist. The June 4th sectional qualifier is his return to competitive golf following the surgery.

Cejka, 41, a German player currently living in Las Vegas, Nevada, is playing on a major medical extension on the PGA Tour. Cejka has failed to finish high enough in his first five PGA Tour events to recoup his exemption – advancement into the U.S. Open, and a good finish in the championship, would be a big boost back into the upper echelons of professional golf circles for him.

Michael Allen, 53, of San Mateo, is a well-known Bay Area golfer. A late starter who had limited success on the PGA Tour, Allen has come into his own on the Champions Tour, winning three times since he started playing the 50+ circuit, including the 2009 Senior PGA Championship – his first 50+ victory. Allen is familiar with both of the courses he will play in the sectional tournament, and carded a round of 61 at Harding Park during the 2010 Schwab Cup Championship.

Bob May, 43, another journeyman pro seeking a boost up the rankings with an appearance in the U.S. Open, has battled back problems for most of his career. May is best known for his narrow loss to Tiger Woods in the 2000 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club, in Kentucky.

Some of the local favorites who are setting their sights on a spot in the 2012 U.S. Open field by way of the June 4th sectional qualifier include Thomas Petersson, of Stockton, and Domingo Jojoja, of San Francisco – both are local pros who represent Lake Merced Golf Club. Other local pros in the field are John Poucher, of San Francisco, John Ellis and Mark Hubbard, of San Jose, Andrew Hoffer, of Santa Rosa, Paul Brehaut and Michael Jensen of Los Altos, Thomas Ryan, of Danville, and Joe Dolby of Mountain View. Local amateurs in the tournament include Andrew Hoffer, of Santa Rosa, Rick Reinsberg, of Lafayette, Hank McCusker, of Mendocino, Jay Myers of San Jose, and Matt Cohn, of San Francisco.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

More Bay Area Golfers Advance In U. S. Open Qualifying

Thomas Petersson, 28, a native of Stockholm, Sweden, who now lives in Stockton, and Domingo Jojola, 24, a native of New Mexico and former USF golf standout, are two players who are going to be very comfortable on the first tee at Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City when play starts in U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying tournament there on June 4th. Petersson, who came to California to attend college at University of the Pacific, and Jojola, who now makes San Francisco his home, both represent Lake Merced Golf Club, so they will be playing a crucial tournament on their home course.

Petersson and Jojola are two of the six area golfers who advanced to sectional qualifying through the local qualifying tournament yesterday at Mayacama Golf Club in Santa Rosa. The scores that the six qualifiers put up on the hilly 6,761-yard Nicklaus-designed course, ranging from 70 to 67, gave notice that they are all players to be reckoned with.
Petersson, the medalist, posted a 5-under score of 67 with a round that included 5 birdies in the first 10 holes, with one bogey in that stretch, at the sixth hole. He stumbled a bit with back-to-back bogeys at 13 and 14, but recovered in high style with an eagle at 15, thanks to a 30-foot putt, and clinched the top spot with a two-putt birdie at 18.

Jojola tied for second with Hank McCusker, an amateur from Mendocino; both carded 4-under 68s. McCusker opened his round with a brilliant opening nine score of 30. Starting from the 10th tee, he carded a birdie on 12 and had a run of four straight birdies on 14 through 17, but two bogies against one birdie on his closing nine brought him back by a stroke. Jojola stumbled out of the blocks with a bogey on the 1st hole, but righted the ship with a birdie on 6, forging ahead with a run of three more birdies at 8, 9, and 10. After four straight pars at holes 11 through 14 he finished birdie, bogey, par, birdie to close out his 4-under 68.

Rounding out the top six were another amateur, Jeff Wilson, of Fairfield, a former touring pro, Michael Jensen, a pro from Los Altos, and Timothy Bogue, of Windsor, another professional player. Wilson and Jensen carded 69s, while Bogue was one stroke back, offsetting a lone bogey with three birdies for a 2-under round of 70.
Lurking at the heels of the top 6, and ready to step in for a shot at a U. S. Open berth should any of the qualifiers not be able to play, are the two alternates, Scott de Borba, of Elk Grove, and Bobby Poole, of Burlingame, who each carded 1-under 71s. de Borba is the first alternate, a position he won in a playoff over Poole after they tied in regulation play.

There are stories behind just about everyone who steps up to the tee box at a U.S. Open qualifier. Hank McCusker, the amateur from Mendocino, has been down this road before – he also qualified at Mayacama for the Sectional tournament at Lake Merced Golf Club in 2008; he has been club champion at his home club, Little River Golf Club, four of the past five years. Wilson, who runs an auto dealership in Fairfield, has played in four U. S. Opens, the first as a teen, in 1982. He was the 2000 U.S. Amateur champion, and in the 2010 U.S. Amateur fired a 62 in the first round, aided by eagles on the two closing holes. Jensen, a third-year touring pro who plays out of the Sharon Heights Golf & Country Club in Menlo Park, played his college golf at Berkeley, and was co-captain of the team in 2008-2009. Bogue, the only Sonoma County golfer in the top 6 (which explains his large gallery), is a longshoreman at the Port of Oakland.

The six qualifiers face a long day of tough competition June 4th at Lake Merced Golf Club, because while local qualifiers are 18-hole tournaments, sectional tournaments consist of two rounds of 18 holes – 36 holes of competitive golf against some of the best players in the western United States.

Lake Merced Golf Club is one of eleven sectional qualifying locations across the United States, of which only three are west of the Mississippi. The other western locations are Emerald Valley Golf Club, in Creswell, Oregon, and Lakeside Country Club, Houston, Texas. There are two international sectional qualifiers – one in Japan for players on the Japan, Asia, and Australasian tours, and one in England for European Tour players. Some 750 players, spread across the thirteen sectional qualifying sites, will be vying for the 75 – 80 spots in the starting roster for the U. S. Open that are not already filled by the pros and elite amateurs who are exempted into the tournament.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Three Qualifying Tournaments in the Bay Area Provide A Path to the U.S. Open

With the 2012 U. S. Open at The Olympic Club, in San Francisco, CA, less than a month away, thousands of competitors are teeing it up in local qualifying tournaments at 109 locations across the United States, including six locations in California, in hopes of winning through to a berth in the field at the 112th edition of the United States Golf Association’s premier championship tournament.

The Bay Area hosted two 18-hole local qualifying tournaments over the past week – May 7th at Ruby Hill Golf Club, in Pleasanton, and May 14th, at the famed Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz. Six golfers advanced from the Pleasanton qualifier last week, with two alternates waiting in the wings, and a further six qualified today at Pasatiempo, along with two alternates. These players, and local qualifiers from other locations in the western United States, will take the next step at the sectional qualifying tournament at Lake Merced Golf Club, in Daly City, on June 4th.

Local qualifiers from the Ruby Hill venue included Kevin Wentworth, 27, an amateur from Arnold, CA; Joshua Stone, of Stockton – the reigning Stockton City Amateur champion, and journeyman Jeff Brehaut, of Los Altos. Brehaut, 48, is a UOP graduate and on-again/off-again professional player on the Nationwide Tour. He has two wins to his credit in Nationwide events, and can lay claim to having been the leader in a U.S. Open round. He led by a stroke after 10 holes at the 2009 Open at Bethpage when rain halted play, only to see his lead taken over by Canadian Mike Weir when the round was completed the following day.

Among the qualifiers from the May 14th tournament at Pasatiempo were three Bay Area golfers – Eddie Olson of Aptos, Andrew Buchanan of Los Altos Hills, and Matt Cohn of San Francisco. Olson, a former California State High School Champion, played college golf at UNLV and was a member of their 2008 Conference Championship squad. Buchanan is a junior at the Menlo School in Atherton who has made a verbal commitment to play college golf at Southern Methodist University. Cohn is the current California Mid-Am champion, having taken that title May 6th at Stevinson Ranch Golf Club.
A notable non-qualifier from the Pasatiempo tournament was Joseph Bramlett, of Saratoga. Bramlett, a 2010 Stanford graduate, made headlines when he became the first golfer of African-American descent to qualify for the PGA Tour through the Tour’s Qualifying School since Adrian Stills in 1985. Bramlett posted a 4-over 74 on the Alister Mackenzie-designed course, 3 strokes back of the final qualifying spot. Bramlett is playing primarily on the Nationwide Tour in 2012 after finishing 199th on the PGA Tour money list at the end of the 2011 season.

The field of 156 golfers who will begin championship play at the Olympic Club on June 14th includes 53 exempt players who go straight into the field without being required to play local or sectional qualifying tournaments. Players qualified for exemption include the winners of the U.S. Open Championship the last 10 years (2002-11), the winner and runner-up of the 2011 U.S. Amateur Championship, the winner of the 2011 British Amateur Championship, the top-ranked in player in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, the winners of the Masters Tournament the last five years (2008-12), the winners of the British Open Championship the last five years (2007-11), and the winners of the PGA of America Championship the last five years (2007-11), among others.

A number of pros from top global tours, and certain elite amateurs, are partially exempt and are able to go straight into the second round of qualifying tournaments, sectional qualifying. They will be joined by 550 survivors of the local qualifying tournaments – just over 6% of the near-record 9,006 players who entered this year. Sectional qualifying tournaments are held at eleven locations in the U. S., with two international locations, in England and Japan, serving overseas players. The sectional qualifying tournaments are a stiff test, 36 holes of golf in one day – a lot of golf, at championship-caliber venues, against determined competition.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Stacy Lewis & Jason Dufner Both Find Validation in Weekend Wins

Both major American golf tours played in sunny, springtime weather in the Deep South this past weekend, and the winners in both the men’s and ladies’ events – though taking different routes to their destinations – each silenced their critics and gave their respective reputations and confidence an important boost.

Jason Dufner, a winless, late-blooming 35-year-old journeyman who has been playing on the Nationwide and PGA Tours since 2004, and Stacy Lewis, a fourth-year LPGA player who already has a major victory to her credit, might not appear to have much in common, at first glance – beyond the obvious fact that they are both professional golfers, and both hoisted trophies at their respective tour events this weekend. Dufner’s win, in the Zurich Classic at TPC Avondale, just outside New Orleans, was his first Tour victory; Lewis’, at the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic in Mobile, Alabama, was her second – but both wins provided validation, of a sort, for these two very different professional golfers.

Both Lewis and Dufner gained visibility with the media and the public during the 2011 season. Dufner rose to a certain fame for almost winning a major – the PGA Championship, the final major of the PGA season, which he lost in a dramatic 3-hole playoff to PGA rookie Keegan Bradley. Lewis, on the other hand, shot into the ladies’ golf firmament in only her third season on tour with a dramatic win at the first major of the season – the Kraft Nabisco Championship, which she snatched from the grasp of the LPGA’s most dominant player, Yani Tseng of Taiwan, by a commanding 3-stroke margin. Press coverage of both golfers in the months since those events have been full of speculation; in Dufner’s case the press have asked when he will get the playoff-loss monkey off his back and come back to finally score a “W”, for Lewis the speculation has been along the lines of “Was the Kraft Nabisco win a fluke, or does this gal really have what it takes?”

Jason Dufner is such a low-key character (one media wag has nicknamed him “Flatline” for his seemingly emotion-less demeanor) that even a win and a $1.152 million payday – a week before his wedding, no less – elicited no more than a mere twitch of a smile, and an admission that it was nice to get that behind him, during a post-round interview. Dufner had to go head-to-head in a playoff, again, before claiming victory in the Zurich Classic, but this time his opponent was not a rookie, but 42-year-old Tour veteran Ernie Els, a player with more tournament wins to his credit than Dufner has years on earth – including three major championship victories.

Dufner hung tough down the stretch in the final holes of regulation play to make it into the playoff against Els, rolling in a 44-foot putt on the 70th hole of the tournament to stay in contention. Els, who is in the midst of a 16-month-long winless streak (his most recent victory came in December, 2010, in the South African Open) blinked first during the playoff when his drive on the second hole of the playoff found a bunker just left of the fairway on the par-5 18th hole. With the possibility of getting on the green, or even decently close, taken out of the equation for Els, the tournament was Dufner’s for the taking. A nerveless second shot to nearly the exact spot on the green he had putted from just a few minutes before put Dufner in enviable position, and after Els failed to roll in a birdie putt from the left fringe, Jason had only to two putt from about 50 feet to secure his first victory – and a $1,152,000 wedding gift for his bride-to-be.

As Jason Dufner wrapped up his victory near the shores of Lake Ponchartrain, 130-odd miles away, near Mobile, Alabama, Stacy Lewis was working hard to put herself in the victory circle, too. Lewis, though a cheerful and good-natured young woman on the surface, has an intense character beneath her sunny demeanor, and was noticeably intent on clinching her validating, “Yes, I do belong here” victory at the Mobile Bay event on Sunday afternoon. The final round appeared to be shaping up as a showdown between Lewis, who led after 54 holes with a score of 202, and Brittany Lincicome, who was two strokes behind Lewis going into the final day of the tournament, but the long-hitting Lincicome, a seven-year veteran of LPGA competition, faded on Sunday, firing a disappointing 72 after two straight rounds of 67. Instead of Lincicome, the challenger who stepped up to put pressure on Stacy Lewis on Sunday afternoon was 17-year-old rookie phenom Lexi Thompson.

Thompson had something to prove in Mobile in 2012 – this time last year she entered the final day of competition tied for the lead with Korean Song-Hee Kim, but a closing round of 78 dropped her to T-19. Five strokes back of Lewis after 54 holes this year and playing in the second-to-last grouping, Thompson scorched the course with a bogey-free 65 to put some final round pressure on Stacy, and was briefly tied with her for the lead after a timely birdie at the 16th hole.

Lewis was growing frustrated in the middle of the final round. Her short iron play and putting fell off slightly for an eight-hole stretch, from 7 to 14, as she floundered in search of birdies to maintain her lead but could do no better than pars. A critical 3-putt bogey at the par-4 15th hole could have put her into a real funk – she was visibly upset with herself after closing out the hole – but a delay while the group ahead worked through their difficulties on the 16th green gave her time to collect herself. She bounced back admirably from the bogey at 15, negating it with a timely birdie at the par-5 16th to regain her one-stroke lead over Lexi Thompson. The closing pair of holes at the Crossings Course, a difficult par-3 and a long par-4, do not afford strong opportunities for a last-minute birdie when a pursuer needs to make up that critical final stroke to force a playoff, and both Lewis and Thompson parred in over the last two holes, cementing Lewis’ one-stroke win.

While Lexi banished the bad memories of last year’s final-round collapse with this year’s closing 65, Stacy Lewis’ hard-fought victory silenced the doubters amongst the press and the public who had begun to whisper that her 2011 Kraft Nabisco win might have been a fluke. She put together a string of four rounds in the 60s – the only player in the tournament to stay out of the 70s – and showed that she had the stuff to stand in the victory circle again.

Golf is a game that can get inside your head, and a lack – or loss – of confidence can be as debilitating as any physical injury. Standing up in front of the press and the fans with a trophy in your hand (and a fat paycheck in your pocket…) is a big confidence-booster, and in this game, somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Stacy Lewis and Jason Dufner both hung on this weekend for big victories that validated their belief in themselves and their abilities – and in this game, knowing that you can win is halfway to the winner’s circle.