Tuesday, May 16, 2017

U.S. Open hopefuls tee up their dreams at The Preserve Golf Club

The best thing, in my mind, about the U.S. Open golf tournament can be summed up in one word – “open”. What that means is that anyone can enter (well, anyone who meets the handicap criteria) and take their shot at earning a spot in the field at one of the most prestigious golf competitions in the world – the U.S. Open.

The Open will be held this year at Erin Hills Golf Club in Wisconsin – a first both for the Erin Hills course and the Badger State.

At 113 local qualifying tournaments across the United States, and new for this year, one in Canada, aspiring golfers tee up their dreams of glory, trying to be one of the lucky, and talented, players who will earn the right to compete on one of the golf world’s biggest stages – 8,979 players competing for 525 spots in the next stage.

Players hopeful of earning a spot in the 2017 U.S Open at Erin Hills, WI, warming up on the range at The Preserve Golf Club in Carmel. (photo by author)

As of May 16th, 95 of the 114 local qualifiers have been conducted, including three in Northern California – at Fountaingrove Golf and Athletic Club in Santa Rosa; at Ruby Hill Golf Club in Pleasanton; and at The Preserve Golf Club in Carmel; a fourth NorCal qualifier will take place May 18th at the Granite Bay Golf Club in Granite Bay. Over 7,700 players signed up to play in those 95 local qualifying tournaments, and 449 have won their way through to the next step, the sectional qualifying tournaments which take place on June 5th in Ono City, Japan; Surrey England; and ten locations across the United States.

In the May 16th local qualifier at The Preserve Golf Club, which is located in the hills above Carmel Valley about 12 miles, as the crow flies, from Pebble Beach, 78 players were signed up to play for five spots that would advance to the next round. Spread over 26 groupings and two hours of tee times off two tees, the 78 players, minus a handful of WD’s, took on The Preserve’s 7,100-odd-yard-long par-72 Tom Fazio course in high hopes of earning their way to sectional qualifying.

The Preserve GC’s Tom Fazio-designed course provided a worthy test for the field of U.S. Open hopefuls. Lying gracefully on the rugged Santa Lucia Mountains landscape, the Preserve course features seven elevated tee shots, two blind tee shots, two notably uphill tee shots and two heroic carries off the tee box – one of them at the 18th hole. Contoured fairways, well-placed bunkering and some inventive green-to-fairway relationships make this a thinking-person’s golf course where shot placement is vital.

The key to scoring well on this course, however, is putting. The greens are complex and well-contoured – they are never penal, but they definitely require complete focus. The correct position on the green, with respect to the flag, is vital, and a good feel for the subtleties of the break is necessary to keep your putt totals in the low 30s or below. I watched one member of the threesome I followed for the day crush drives and land exquisite approach shots, even from poor positions around the greens – but repeated failure to follow up with really top-notch putting made the difference between guaranteed advancement to sectionals and a “better luck next year” finish.

Local talent dominated the event, with Carmel High alum and UC Davis standout Luke Vivolo taking medalist honors with a 4-under 68, three strokes better than second-place finisher John Crater, of Monterey, a golf pro at Corral de Tierra Country Club in Salinas. Vivolo took his lead on the field on the front nine, carding 4-under 32 on the strength of three birdies, an eagle on the par-5 eighth hole, and one bogey.

Seven players who stood at even-par 72 at the end of regulation play went out again to determine the remaining three advancing players and two alternates. Three holes of play were required to determine the second alternate spot, which went to Stanford freshman David Snyder, but two holes was all it took to separate the remaining group of four players into qualifiers and first alternate.

Clean shots to the green and two-putt pars at the 186-yard par-2 second hole advanced Fremont’s Mac McClung, J. R. Warthen of Pacific Grove, and Christopher Marin of Monterey. San Jose’s Erick Justensen watched his tee shot at #2 ride the right-to-left breeze into the left-hand bunker, from which he could manage no better than bogey, leaving him as first alternate.

The qualifiers from today’s event at The Preserve, as well as the other Northern and Southern California local qualifiers, are likely to be headed for the sectional qualifier to be held June 5th at Big Canyon CC and Newport Beach CC in Southern California.

No comments:

Post a Comment