Commentary

Bad lies at U.S. Open qualifying

Updated: June 11, 2012, 4:24 PM ET
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

Three StoogesHulton Archive/Getty ImagesThe process for qualifying to play in the U.S. Open attracts all kinds of golfers.

For every hug-happy U.S. Open qualifying love story -- like Oregon's Casey Martin making it this year on one leg -- there are 100 more left-your-fly-open stories. Guys who were supposed to shoot 69 and shot 99 instead.

When that happens, the USGA wants to know why. They dispatch a letter asking why you said you were a 1.4 handicap or better and then shot yourself a radio station -- a ZOO-103 or a KOZY-105.

You better have a good excuse, or you'll be banned from any USGA event for the next three years. Let the stammering begin ...

One guy wrote, "The reason I played poorly was the night before my wife took my clubs, so I had to go to the neighbor and borrow some. That (expletive) really knew how to hurt me."

Another man explained, "The color of the greens bothered me. I just never played on that color of green before."

One golfer said that he'd recently uncovered "incriminating" evidence that Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Stephen King had plotted to assassinate John Lennon and that FBI agents were "hiding behind every bush and tree" as he played.

The USGA called the Secret Service on that one.

"One fella came down to our offices, mad as a hive of bees," says Larry Adamson, who was the director of USGA championship administration for 25 years. "He was yelling, 'Get your clubs, Mr. Adamson! Any local course you wanna go to! Right now! I'll show YOU I can play this game!"

When security got him settled down and off the property, he still had to answer the letter.

If you try to qualify for a U.S. Open (this year it's at Olympic Club in San Francisco, June 14-17), as over 9,000 golfers did this year, try not to play like a drunken yeti. You'll get a letter requiring proof your handicap isn't phonier than a ski slope in Dubai.

"Just show us some scores from some reputable tournament," says Betsy Swain, who has Adamson's job now. "We're not even going to check them."

One guy, who'd shot in the high 80s both rounds, answered that with: "But I only hone my game for the U.S. Open every year."

To which Adamson replied, "Hone it somewhere else."

"We have to," says USGA director Mike Davis. "It's not fair to the guy who's trying to shoot 68-68 to be paired with somebody shooting 90-90 and looking for balls all day. There's no way for him to get any kind of rhythm."

But golfers are prideful animals, if not always honest ones. They'll pull two hamstrings trying to explain why they're better than their score. You know, the old: "I can play better, I just never have."

One guy wrote to say that while looking for his ball in a pond, his glasses fell off his face and he couldn't see for the rest of the day.

Another said the night before qualifying, his girlfriend had a baby and "I found out it wasn't mine. Kinda hard to get that off your mind."

And one golfer, who showed up to a Florida qualifier with his clubs in a plastic bag, admitted he just wanted to play with "famous golfers."

Reverse sandbagging has become an epidemic at Open qualifying because golfers realize that for just the $150 entry fee, they can play a practice round and a tournament round at a sweet course they could never get on otherwise.

For instance, for local qualifying this year, you could've teed it up at Trump National in Westchester, N.Y., or Newport Beach Country Club in California. It's a good deal if you can live with the lying.

Some golfers have legit excuses. One guy no-showed because he was taken off to prison. Others were called into active duty. Some were doctors dealing with emergencies mid-round. All of those are accepted. Many are not.

"A lot of guys say they played bad because their wife was about to have a baby," Swain says. "And we're thinking, 'You haven't known the due date for nine months?'"

Adamson tried to use empathy with the particularly stubborn cases. "I'd ask them, 'Think about this: How would you like to play with you?' I remember one guy saying, 'Hell, I'd have quit.'"

And then there was this hand-written letter, which Adamson saved. It was from a 20-year-old in Ohio:

Dear Mr. Adamson,

This was the first USGA championship I'd ever entered.

But my Uncle Art died and my mom and dad said I had to go to the funeral.

I heard you can't get your money back, so I sent a friend of mine. His name was Curtis and he played under my name.

After he got home that night, he told me he shot 75-79. You tell me he shot 99-102. Now, somebody's lying and Curtis says it's not him.

I hope this is good enough.

Sincerely,

Name Withheld

(P.S.: I sure am mad at Curtis.)

Rick Reilly | email

Columnist, ESPN.com