Saturday, June 15, 2013
A short week for those who took the longest road
ARDMORE, Pa. -- Among those who had the shortest week at the U.S. Open took the longest road to even get to Merion.
For the first time since at least 1997, none of the 20 players who endured 18 holes of local qualifying and 36 holes of sectional qualify for the U.S. Open made the cut.
That doesn't mean the experience was a total waste of time.
Take 18-year-old Gavin Hall, who birdied his last four holes to make it through sectional qualifying in New York. Hall went to bed Thursday night with his name on the leaderboard because he was 1-under par when the opening round was suspended. He ran off a string of bogeys Friday morning, though he also holed out from the eighth fairway for an eagle to open with a 74.
The second round was tougher -- a 40 on the front nine, and then a triple bogey on the 10th hole, the shortest par 4 at Merion. He shot 77, but that included back-to-back birdies on Nos. 15 and 16, and an experience he wouldn't trade.
"That's a special place, a special tournament to play in, and for me to play in this at such a young age is a great learning experience, and it's just a great tournament to kick off the summer," said Hall, who clearly had a great time despite missing the cut.
"I've gotten exposed to a lot of things and I have a lot to work on," he said. "But I still feel like if I clean up some things in my game, I belong out here."
Harold Varner III made it through local qualifying, and he was an alternate from sectional qualifying to play in his first U.S. Open. He went 76-79, so it was never really close when it came to staying for the weekend.
Varner was one of two players who competed in The First Tee event at Pebble Beach -- Scott Langley was the other -- only the 22-year-old who played at East Carolina was more disappointed with his results.
The biggest surprise was the size of the crowd.
"When I played in the Wal-Mart First Tee, there was a lot of people, and then I played in the one Web.com in Charlotte, seeing that many people," Varner said. "But this week was obviously like a circus. It was unbelievable."
WEIBRING'S STRUGGLES: Matt Weibring made the cut in his first U.S. Open, though it becomes an even greater achievement considering that Merion was only his second form of competition in the last two months.
Weibring, a Web.com Tour player and the son of former PGA Tour player D.A. Weibring, has been coping with Bell's palsy, a form of facial paralysis.
"I was happy just to be here, just to be back playing," he said. "And I hung in there, and I did what I had to do. It's hard out there."
Weibring, who qualified out of Dallas, had to return Saturday morning to complete his round and slipped over the cut line with two holes to play. But he made a birdie on the par-3 ninth hole, hung on for par and a 73 and earned two more days at Merion.
The 33-year-old Weibring said he couldn't even practice the last two months.
"Your face gets paralyzed so you can't close or blink your eye or anything," he said. "It's hard being outside because if the wind blows, you feel disoriented. I practiced a couple of weeks leading up to the qualifier. Sometimes you go out after you've been sick and shoot good, and I tied for medalist, and here I am. So I'm excited."
BIG NAMES MISS THE CUT: Former Masters champion Zach Johnson was among 12 major champions who failed to make the cut, and he wasn't happy -- not about his game, not about the way Merion was set up, and certainly not with the USGA.
"I would describe the whole golf course as manipulated," Johnson said after rounds of 74-77, his first weekend off at a U.S. Open since 2009 at Bethpage Black. "It just enhances my disdain for the USGA and how it manipulates golf courses."
As another example of how predicting winners is mostly guesswork in golf, three of the players who some thought would contend at Merion were Johnson, Graeme McDowell and Jim Furyk. All of them missed the cut by at least three shots. For McDowell, it was his second straight cut in a major -- in a year when he already has won twice.
Furyk had his worst U.S. Open, and it hurt coming in his home state.
The most painful cut belonged to Stewart Cink, who played his last four holes in 4-over -- including a double bogey at No. 18 -- to miss by two shots.
DIVOTS: Kevin Sutherland, who turns 49 on July 4, was the oldest player remaining at Merion. Jay Don Blake, now on the Champions Tour, said he only recognized a dozen or so players in the locker room. "I have seen some of the kids walking in there," the 54-year-old Blake said. "Even seeing the name, I didn't even know some of the names, either. It's pretty interesting. It's kind of neat, though." Blake missed the cut with 74-80. ... For the second straight year, only two players were under par through 36 holes. The winning score at Olympic Club turned out to be 1-over 281. ... Thirty players were separated by five shots going into the third round.