Brian Stuard Goes on Birdie Run at Springfield
By Rob Oller
SPRINGFIELD, Ohio – Missing the cut at the Memorial Tournament may have helped Brian Stuard make the field at Merion Golf Club, the site of next week’s U.S. Open.
Stuard, a 30-year-old PGA Tour player from Jackson, Mich., shot 11-under 129 to win the first of two available spots at the 39-player Springfield qualifier. Brandon Brown shot 5-under 135 at the Donald Ross-designed Springfield Country Club to claim the second spot.
Both players will be making their first appearance in the U.S. Open – or in any other major championship.
Stuard missed the cut at the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, and walked away feeling as if he’d been in a boxing match. So brutal were the 30-mph gusting winds and lightning greens at Muirfield Village that it was a relief to tee it up at Springfield Country Club.
“You feel like you can make some birdies out here, where last week you were just trying to make pars,” he said.
The birdies came in bunches for both qualifiers. Stuard shot 65 in the morning to open a two-shot lead on fellow PGA Tour player Derek Ernst, and followed it up with a 64. He totaled 12 birdies and one bogey.
Brown, 31, who has spent most of this year playing on the National Golf Association Tour, went on a birdie binge to begin his afternoon round. After playing the first 18 holes at even par, the Shelbyville, Ky., resident posted seven birdies in his first 13 holes to move into second place, then added one more birdie before two bogeys over the last four holes caused him to hold his breath as his pursuers finished.
The only real challenge came from Ryan Lenahan, a former player at the University of Nebraska who came to No. 18 needing a birdie to tie Brown. His approach shot on the difficult par 4 settled 25 feet from the hole, but he three-putted to join Ryan Yip of Indio, Calif., at 137. Yip is the first alternate; Lenahan is second.
Brown found the 6,657-yard course with tight fairways lined with huge trees to his liking, saying it reminded him of his home course.
Brown’s career includes just one event on the PGA Tour, where last year he finished 62nd at the Reno-Tahoe Open.
“This is a dream come true for me,” he said of playing at Merion. “I’ll get to see my buddies.”
Brown is friends with fellow Kentuckians Josh Teater and Scott Stallings, who are top-50 players on the PGA Tour. Teater also earned a spot in the U.S. Open, qualifying in Columbus, Ohio. Stallings attempted to qualify in Memphis and is the first alternate from that site.
“I only get to play with [Teater] once a year, but he always tells me to keep believing and [a Tour card] will happen,” Brown said.
Brown also is benefiting from fatherhood; having a 6-week-old daughter has helped provide perspective on the relative importance of golf. “Golf is a game. That’s my life right there,” he said of his daughter.
Stuard’s life is pretty good these days. Although he lost his tour card after an unsuccessful season in 2010, he earned it back for this year by playing well on the Web.com Tour in 2012. He already has three top-10 finishes on Tour this season.
“It’s just being more comfortable out here with everything – who you’re playing with, the crowds and the surroundings,” Stuard said of his improved play. “I’ve gained confidence. You have to get the feeling where you’re saying, I should be playing here.”
Stuard entered the qualifier with the firm belief that he should be playing in the 2013 U.S. Open.