This is how the U.S. Open is different. You’ve heard the bromide that the Masters begins on the back nine on Sunday? Well, the U.S. Open begins on a crisp, windy May afternoon at places such as Glen Head Country Club.
It begins with a 3-under par 68 by an assistant pro who commutes three hours from Manhasset to work at the bag drop and driving range at Hudson National.
“Tin Cup, you know? Roy McAvoy,” said Tarik Can, 25, who was the medalist at the local qualifier in Glen Head and heads a group of eight who will move on to sectional qualifying on June 6 in Summit, N.J. “Yes, it would be awesome to qualify for a PGA Tour event, but this is a major. This is big time.”
Can said he just wants to get his “foot in the door” of the golf business. It’s better than the snow shoveling and catering he has done to support himself. The guy does have plenty of game, having shot 65 at Bethpage Black at last year’s New York State Open. “I know it’s in there. I don’t know if I have 62s in me, but I’m working toward it.”
He was the best at dealing with Glen Head’s fast greens, the wind and, yes, the pressure that even the first stage of Open qualifying brings. Piping Rock head pro Sean Quinlivan, who also qualified with a 1-under par 70 Wednesday, said, “It would be so cool. I think every golf professional would love to play in an Open championship.”
So the dreamers pay the $150 entry fee and let it fly. “You’d be crazy not to,” said Quinlivan, an Irishman who is feeling more relaxed in his second season at Piping Rock. “You don’t get a chance very often. It’s a fun deal.”
His club will be well represented at Canoe Brook Country Club on June 6 because Abbie Valentine, a pro who caddies at Piping Rock, qualified with a 69 Wednesday.
It wouldn’t be an Open qualifier if it were easy. Five golfers shot par, then endured a six-way playoff for a ticket to the sectionals: Kirk Oguri, an assistant pro at the Greens at Half Hollow; Bob Rittberger, the head pro at Garden City Golf Club; Paul Dickinson, an assistant at Montauk Downs and Westchester pros Nick Maselli and James Ondo also made it.
The whole thing did have a bit of Open aura. “Par is always a good score,” Rittberger said, adding that he always tries to qualify. “It’s our championship, the national championship. And it is open. I hate to use the Tin Cup cliché, but anybody with a 1.4 index can try and qualify. For guys like us who work for a living, it’s a lot of fun to have an opportunity.”
Oguri said that at 37, he believes his best golf is ahead of him. He finally is over injuries that have bothered him for years. If only he can have 36 good holes on June 6 . . . “If I qualify one time, it’s a dream,” he said.
Dickinson, who started practicing the moment the East End snow melted, said, “They give you a fair chance to get in. Since they give you the opportunity, take advantage of it.”
That’s a mixed blessing, though. If you get really hot, as Creek Club head pro Sean Farren did in 2009, you make it to the Open itself, which is a bear. “I say it all the time. I want to qualify for the U.S. Open. I just don’t want to play in it,” Farren said.
But he just couldn’t help himself Wednesday. He shot 72 in the morning, showered, got dressed in vest, shirt and tie for a function at his club and came back to Glen Head in the evening. He won a playoff for second alternate by making birdie — wearing his vest, shirt and tie.