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.

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