Gavin Hall Steals Open Berth at Purchase
By David Shefter, USGA
PURCHASE, N.Y. – Emotions run high at U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying, where elation can quickly give way to heartbreak.
Brandon Matthews experienced the emotional plunge Monday afternoon. After taking an unplayable lie behind the 18th green at Century Country Club, the 18-year-old from Dupont, Pa., figured that an up-and-down bogey might land him alternate status for next week’s U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club.
The rising sophomore at Temple University deftly flopped his ball from the rough, watched it land softly on the green and trickle toward the flagstick. A crescendo began to build from the 50 or so spectators surrounding the green.
When the ball went in, a wild celebration ensued with high-fives and hugs from family and friends. An ecstatic Matthews had completed a 4-under round of 67, and coupled with his 2-over 72 at nearby Old Oaks Country Club, he stood at 2-under 139.
With only a handful of golfers still on the two qualifying courses, it appeared his unlikely pitch would be good enough to garner one of the four qualifying spots and maybe even earn ESPN SportsCenter’s Play of the Day.
At the least, Matthews figured, he would be in a playoff.
Forty minutes later, Matthews watched fellow 18-year-old amateur Gavin Hall, of Pittsford, N.Y., roll in a 10-foot birdie putt on Century’s ninth hole – his fourth in a row – to complete a furious finish to share medalist honors at 4-under 137 with Geoffrey Sisk, of Marshfield, Mass., and Jesse Smith, of Barrington, N.H.
The withdrawal of exempt player Richard Sterne opened up a fourth spot during the day, which was secured by PGA Tour professional Jim Herman, of Palm City, Fla., at 3-under 138, leaving Matthews, incredible finish and all, to settle for first-alternate status.
“The kid deserves it,” said a gracious Matthews, who came over to congratulate Hall. “He played phenomenal. I’m not disappointed at all. I had a great second round.
“There’s nothing I can do. I had two unbelievable pars coming in.”
Hall, a left-hander who will enroll at the University of Texas in the fall, had appeared to be out of the running after a bogey at Century’s 472-yard fifth, his 32nd hole of the day. Playing through several hard downpours, he had posted even-par 70 at Old Oaks during the morning, and now only had four holes remaining.
“Basically, I just started making putts,” said Hall, who wasn’t aware of his position on the leader board.
Birdies at six, seven, eight and nine carried Hall to the 67, matching the low round of the day at Century with Matthews. Bryan Bigley, of Schenectady, N.Y., and Smith each shot 67s at Old Oaks.
After carding a U.S. Junior Amateur qualifying-record 62 three years ago at Egypt Valley Country Club in Ada, Mich., en route to a quarterfinal showing, Hall has battled through a pair of wrist surgeries to get his game back in form. He also watched good friend and future Texas teammate Beau Hossler play in two U.S. Opens while he recovered. Now, he’ll get his own chance.
“I hadn’t felt pressure like that in a while,” said Hall. “You just never know in these qualifiers with no scoreboards. You just do the best that you can. Each hole, I tried to stay in the moment, which is tough to do. My caddie [Zack Hicks] made me feel comfortable out there.
“I’m just really excited to get my summer going.”
Smith’s cross-country flight to Seattle on Tuesday just got a little shorter. The 33-year-old has spent the last nine years on various pro circuits, including this week at a Canadian Tour event in British Columbia.
“My golf career has certainly been up and down,” said Smith. “It’s never reached the height I wanted it to. This is a dream come true.”
Maybe having instructor Dave Glenz on the bag was good luck. Four days earlier, the longtime PGA professional had caddied for student Kendra Little, who qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open at Edgewood Country Club in River Vale, N.J. “I might have a new career,” joked Glenz, who is slated to be on Smith’s bag again next week at Merion.
Smith will also have support from the Six Nations Tribe in Ontario. His father, Guy, a full-blooded Mohawk from the tribe, played for the New England Whalers of the World Hockey Association before dying when Jesse was 16. Smith still has close ties to the tribe and often stays with family members when playing in Canada.
“I’m proud to represent,” he said. “Hopefully they’re watching some of the coverage on the Golf Channel.”
Sisk, 48, earned his seventh U.S. Open trip, and his sixth through both stages of qualifying.
Sisk almost gave up trying a few years ago because the courses were getting too long. But when he was locally exempt in 2011 due to his finish on the 2010 Web.com Tour money list, Sisk entered again, making it to Congressional.
“I just love these golf courses,” said Sisk of the classic Old Oaks and Century layouts. “I am waiting for them to give me an honorary membership. I’ll take either one of them.”
A double-bogey 6 and bogey 5 on holes three and six, respectively, at Old Oaks put Sisk in jeopardy, but his experience and patience paid off down the stretch. He birdied 15 and 17 to shoot a round of 69 to go with his 3-under 68 at Century.
He now gets a Philadelphia homecoming. Sisk played at Temple in the 1980s, but the Owls never practiced at Merion. His only trip to the Ardmore, Pa., course was when he qualified for the 1989 U.S. Amateur.
“Merion is just going to be fantastic,” said Sisk. “I’ll be ready to go.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.