A day that started in disappointment with the last-minute withdrawal of 1992 Masters Champion Fred Couples ended in euphoria for six other golfers, who all claimed their spot in the 2015 U.S. Open, which will get started a week from Thursday at Chambers Bay. All competitors played 36 holes of stroke play, with one round at Big Canyon CC and one round at Newport Beach CC.
“Honestly I’m speechless, I don’t know what to say,” said Kevin Lucas, who qualifies for his first U.S. Open. “This is incredible, and I don’t think it has sunken in yet.”
Lucas’ two-round total of 9-under-par 134 earned him medalist honors, while two other first-time U.S. Open Qualifier success stories in Jared Becher, an asst. golf professional at Washoe GC in Reno, Nev. whose round was highlighted by a 85-foot eagle putt on his 27th hole of the day, and amateur Jake Knapp finished two shots behind.
“A lot of things are going through my mind,” said Knapp, (pictured top). “It means everything to have my family here, I had a huge fan base even for my early morning round. To roll in par putts and gets some roars, it’s unbelievable.”
Knapp tore up Newport Beach CC in the morning, posting the low score of the day at 7-under-par 64. For Knapp, the round was reminiscent of a 2012 U.S. Open Local Qualifying one, in which he shot a 61 on the same course to advance to Sectional Qualifying. The 61 remains one shot off of the course record. Knapp, a UCLA golfer from Costa Mesa, would follow up the mornings 64 with an even par 72 at Big Canyon.
And as icing on the cake, Knapp will head to Chambers Bay with fellow SCGA members and friends Beau Hossler and Brian Campbell, who finished at 7-under-par and 6-under-par, respectively. The three Southern California natives all grew up playing junior golf together.
“It’s pretty incredible to have all three of us qualify out of the same site,” said Hossler, who at age 20 is headed to his third U.S. Open. “Jake and Brian are two of my best friends from growing up playing golf together, and we always try to catch up when we see each other at tournaments, so to be able to do that at Chambers is going to be a blast. It’s a tough day out here. I’m very proud of the way I played, but it’s definitely a grind. But I’m happy to do it to get a chance like this.”
Hossler brings a load of experience into this year’s Open, having two SCGA Amateur Championship wins and a Western Amateur win already under his belt. In addition, the University of Texas golfer from Rancho Santa Margarita knows how to play under pressure, having made the cut at the 2012 U.S. Open as a 17 year old before finishing T29.
“I think more than anything I’ll be better prepared this time,” said Hossler. “Knowing exactly what I’m getting into, knowing what types of shots I need to be able to compete at the highest level, and more than anything just being comfortable.”
But the biggest drama of the day came off the clubs of Alex Kim, who earned the final qualifying spot with a two-foot par putt on the day’s first and only playoff hole. Sitting at 5-under-par heading into his 36th hole of the day, UCLA graduate Kim needed a birdie on Big Canyon CC’s 18th hole to force a two-man-for-one-spot playoff with former Pepperdine University golfer and 2007 California Amateur Champ Josh Anderson. Kim looked like he was in trouble, hitting his second shot on the par 4 9th hole left of the green, but chipped it to about two feet to setup an easy par putt. Anderson, who looked like he was cruising with a birdie putt of about 15-feet for the win, left it about three feet short and then missed the par putt to open the door for Kim. Kim would take advantage, and with a yell of joy from his mom sitting greenside, he would sink his easy par putt to earn his first U.S. Open spot.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet, I didn’t expect to win it right there, but I can’t describe the feeling,” said Kim. “To have my mom here, she means everything to me, so to have her here by my side is incredible. I played well in the morning round, but the afternoon was playing tough, and my caddie really helped me stay in there.”