Teen Hossler back at U.S. Open

At the 2009 U.S. Amateur at Southern Hills, 14-year-old Beau Hossler was the smallest player in the field and the youngest ever to qualify for the championship. At 5-foot-3 and 125 pounds, the Mission Viejo, Calif., native had to lay up on six of the par 4s at the Cedar Ridge Country Club, the other Tulsa-area course used for the stroke-play portion of the championship. On the par 5s, he was hitting 4-irons for his third shots and on some of the long par 3s, he had to use a driver.

On the first tee at Southern Hills, an adult player in Hossler's group walked up to him and asked him who was his player, thinking that the rising high school freshman was a caddie.

"I'm the player," said Hossler, who after shaking hands with his playing companions striped his little 230-yard drive right down the middle.

With rounds of 77-77, Hossler wouldn't make the cut for the match play portion of the event, but his performance that week was a very important character-building time in his young life.

"Those were the two best rounds that I have ever seen him play," said his father, Beau Sr. "It was a good lesson for him. It taught him that you can play if you can chip and putt and keep a good attitude. After that I said you know what maybe we got something because he's not intimidated. He never waivered about if he belonged."

Since the '09 U.S. Amateur, Hossler has grown seven inches and added about 50 pounds to his slender frame. Now a 17-year-old junior at Santa Margarita Catholic High in Orange County, Calif., Hossler can reach most par 5s in two and not even the longest par 4s give him much trouble. Committed to play college golf at Texas, the AJGA veteran is one of the best junior players in the country.

On Monday in the U.S. Open sectional qualifier at TPC Harding Park and Lake Merced Country Club in San Francisco, Hossler finished 7 under par to earn a spot to the U.S. Open for the second year in a row.

Last year as the youngest player in the field at Congressional, the then-16-year-old Hossler missed the cut with rounds of 76-77. But he's hoping that familiarity with the setting will lead him to better results this time around at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.

"Physical maturity has been important for me," Hossler said. "I grew a lot before Congressional. So I was struggling a little bit with my swing. My ball flight and spin rate were changing constantly. I've finally grown into my body and thus a lot more consistent with my ball striking."

At Congressional, Hossler was a wide-eyed kid playing in his first pro event. Seeing his idols in person was exciting for him, but also a very humbling experience.

"I could see myself being there in the future. But I think the big difference between me and the best players in the world last year was consistency. I'm able to hit a lot of the same shots as they are able to hit. It's just a matter of nine times out 10 instead of seven out of 10.

"There is a lot to learn and a lot to deal with when you play for the first time at this level. From Congressional I think I'm going to be able to be a lot more comfortable this year. I think I will be more prepared for some of the things that come up in a round."

Hossler has been working for the last six years with Jim Flick, the 82-year-old swing instructor best known for working with Jack Nicklaus and Tom Lehman. Flick, who teaches at the TaylorMade Performance and Research Center in Carlsbad, Calif., will join Hossler for two days at Olympic to prepare for the tournament.

"When Beau first came to me he was so tiny that it worked to his advantage," said Flick, who had 11 different juniors win tournaments last year and who will also have as a student at Olympic 46-year old Bob Estes. "He became a very good short game player because everybody outhit him. But then as he got stronger he kept the short game and now he can hit the ball with some distance."

Flick, who is careful to not place too much pressure on his young students with lofty projections, sees a bright future for Beau Jr.

"Beau has a chance of becoming a very special player because of his mental approach and attitude," Flick said. "He's kind of like Tim Tebow. He practices looking like about a 10-handicapper, but when he gets on the golf course he gets very into playing the course and has the ability to put behind mechanics and play the golf course. He doesn't look so good practicing but once the tournament starts, he's a gamer."

Flick plans to help his young student map his shots around the intricate sloping fairways and doglegs at Olympic. But first Hossler has some unfinished business to complete -- his junior year of high school. Golf has been a welcome but bothersome diversion from finals week.

On Monday, Hossler had the U.S. Open Sectionals. Then Wednesday he finished second, losing by a shot to his good friend Austin Smotherman, in the California State High School Championship at the San Gabriel (Ca.) Country Club. On Thursday, he had his Latin finals, the toughest of a very rigorous course load that includes several advanced placement courses. Then on Friday he is to take his Politics and History exams.

"Beau is a very good student but it's getting harder and harder for him to keep his grades up because he misses so much school now from traveling all over the country playing in big amateur events," Beau Sr. said. "I think it's stressing him out a little bit."

Beau Jr. plans to stay all four years at Texas to complete his degree. His plans are to play professional golf, but he's in no rush. The future can wait, or, as Horace, one of his Latin poets might say, carpe diem -- enjoy the moment without concern for the future.

For a 17-year-old kid, playing in the U.S. Open is a moment to seize with all his heart and might.

"I expect a lot of myself. But it's a pretty cool accomplishment to make two straight U.S. Opens as a high school student," Beau Jr. said. "I look forward to focusing on the actual tournament next week.

"But my mindset will be, just like any other tournament, to make smart mental decisions. If I can do that then I know that I am going to have a chance of playing my best."

Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at evans.espn@gmail.com.