Monday, June 5, 2017

Golfers contend for spots in the U.S. National Championships on golf’s “longest day”

The calendar tells us that 2017’s longest day is still a couple of weeks away, but for over a thousand golfers across the United States and in England and Japan, June 5 was the longest day – the day that they would play 36 holes of golf in hopes of earning a spot in the USGA’s two biggest national championships, the U.S. Open and Women’s Open.

Nine hundred hopefuls vie for 72 spots in the ’17 U.S. Open
On the men’s side, 753 players at ten locations across the USA; 111 in England, at Walton Heath Golf Club; and 36 in Japan, at Ono Golf Club, teed it up in sectional qualifying tournaments on Monday, June 5 in hopes of earning a spot in the field at the 117th United States Open, held the week of Fathers Day at Erin Hills Golf Club in Wisconsin. 900 hopeful players, but only 72 – a scant eight out of 100 – would earn their way to the Big Show.

Those 900 players already represent the cream of the crop, because to get to sectionals they had to have either survived local qualifying in the dozens of tournaments that were held between May 2nd and May 18th, or be exempt from local qualifying based on their standing in the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR).

California’s sectional qualifying venue alternates between the northern and southern halves of the state; this year it was Southern California’s turn to host the event, at Newport Beach Golf Club and Big Canyon Golf Club, in Newport Beach. Among the 103 players at the SoCal venue were five from the May 16th local qualifier at The Preserve Golf Club in Carmel – medalist Luke Vivolo, John Crater, Mac McClung, Christopher Marin and first alternate Erick Justesen, in place of the absent J.R. Warthen.

After rounds on the par-71 Newport Beach course and par-72 Big Canyon course, it was amateur players who ruled the day in the California qualifier. Five of the six qualifiers from Newport Beach/Big Canyon were amateurs, led by medalist John Oda, a native of Honolulu who is playing college golf for the UNLV Running Rebels. Oda, a rising senior at UNLV, carded rounds of 64 and 68 at Newport Beach and Big Canyon, respectively, to take top honors with an 11-under 32, two strokes ahead of Arizona’s Mason Andersen, an incoming freshman at Arizona State University.

Five of the six qualifiers form the Newport Beach/Big Canyon sectional qualifier pose in front of the scoreboard. from L to R: medalist John Oda, Mason Andersen, Stewart Hagestad, Sahith Theegala, and Kevin Dougherty (Copyright USGA/JD Cuban)

Next among the qualifiers from Newport Beach, with an 8-under 135, was local player Stewart Hagestad, a 2013 USC graduate. Hagestad is the reigning U.S. Mid-Am champion, and in April became the first Mid-Am champion to make the cut at the Masters – and topped that accomplishment two days later by taking Low Amateur honors at the prestigious event. Pepperdine University sophomore Sahith Theegala was a stroke back of Hagestad with a 136-stroke total, followed by the lone professional in the group, Torrance, CA, native Kevin Dougherty, a 2014 graduate of Oklahoma State.

Northern California was represented by the final qualifier, Sacramento’s Cameron Champ, a junior at Texas A & M, who survived a one-hole playoff against Stanford’s Brandon Wu to take the final spot. Danville, CA, native Wu was the medalist at the May 3rd local qualifier at Yocha Dehe Golf Club in Brooks, CA. Champ and Wu only had a shot at a transfer spot at all because of a late change from five to six qualifiers at the SoCal venue, the result of withdrawals from the Columbia, Ohio, sectional qualifier.

Women take on Lake Merced Golf Club for a chance at the distaff championship

The smaller number of women vying for spots in the U.S. Women’s Open precludes the necessity for local qualifying; the 1,709 contestants who entered are playing for their chance between May 22nd and June 12th at 21 courses across the United States, as well as one each in England, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the People’s Republic of China. The women’s championship will be held in Bedminster, New Jersey, July 13 – 16.

Lake Merced Golf Club, in Daly City, hosted one of six sectional events that were held on June 5th. This was the eighth sectional qualifier for Lake Merced, which hosted the 1990 U.S. Amateur and 2012 U.S. Girls’ Junior championships. Seventy-seven contestants took on the tough par-72 LMGC layout, vying for two qualifying spots.

Emily Childs, a professional hailing from Alameda, was the medalist at LMGC, carding an even-par 144 total with rounds of 70 and 74. Childs, a former Cal golfer, was the 2010 NCGA Women’s Amateur champion.

Danville’s Ty Akabane, a member of the NCGA’s Junior Tour of Northern California, carded a pair of 2-over 74’s to move on to the Women’s Open.

Andrea Lee of Hermosa Beach and Danville’s Sarah Banke each carded 5-over totals of 149, just one stroke shy of a potential playoff with Akabane for the second spot.

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