Andrew Svoboda and Alistair Presnell Handle Pressure at Memphis
By John Armstrong
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Andrew Svoboda, Alistair Presnell and Scott Stallings all needed to make a few birdies in their final holes to qualify for the 113th U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club.
They did, but in their three-for-two playoff, all Svoboda and Presnell needed were pars to advance to the national championship.
Stallings, of Knoxville, Tenn., who was coming off consecutive fourth-place finishes on the PGA Tour, birdied four of his last five to get into the playoff. Svoboda birdied two of his last four and Presnell three of his last five. On a day where pressure can make golfers go the wrong way on the scoreboard, these three moved up.
“I made some great putts coming in, a 15-footer and 20-footer [for birdie], and had two clutch par saves at the end,” said Svoboda, of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
The three tied for 8th place with scores of 4-under 139, and headed to the par-5 10th hole of the Colonial Country Club’s North Course to see who would take the two remaining spots.
Svoboda and Presnell split the fairway while Stallings found the right rough. Stallings’ second shot went into the water hazard running down the left side of the fairway, and his par putt slid left of the hole.
After shooting 1-under 71 in the morning, Presnell, of Australia, made a run in his final round with a 3-under 68. Svoboda went the opposite way, shooting 5-under 66 in the morning and holding on with a 1-over 73 in the afternoon. He posted the only second-round score over par among the nine qualifiers.
The medalist was 48-year-old Kevin Sutherland, who shot 10-under 133 to advance to his first major championship since the 2010 PGA Championship and his first U.S. Open since 2009.
“I’ve felt like I’ve been playing better as of late,” Sutherland said, “and I wanted to just go out there and see what happened. I putted well, got some momentum and rode out the rest of the day.”
Scott Langley, who shared low amateur honors with Russell Henley in the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, made his ace on the 174-yard 8th hole on the North Course in the afternoon. The shot moved him into the top nine and he stayed there, finishing at 5-under 138.
“The shot fit my eye really well and I striped a nice one in there,” he said. “It was a good time for my first hole-in-one.”
Next week will mark the third U.S. Open for the Manchester, Mo., native, and his second as a professional. He also made it through sectional qualifying last year, but said it wasn’t any easier the second time around.
“It’s a grind,” he said. “There were some pretty tense moments on the back nine [in the afternoon]. I had a feeling I might be in the mix. The tournament means a lot to me.”
A pair of eagles in the second 18 lifted Shawn Stefani into a 2nd-place finish alongside Jerry Kelly at 9-under 134. Stefani, of Baytown, Texas, made 3s on the 5th and 10th holes of the North Course, vaulting into the early clubhouse lead until Sutherland overtook him late in the day. It was an impressive feat for someone who played only five practice holes, a decision that Stefani believes helped him.
“I came in with no expectations,” said Stefani, who played in the 2009 U.S. Open. “I played my game and just focused on golf. Sometimes playing a course for the first time, you do better and don’t get too aggressive.”
Now a full member of the PGA Tour, Stefani brings more experience for his second U.S. Open.
“I will be more calm and have a better understanding of what’s going on,” said Stefani. “It will help me be more prepared this time.”
Also earning spots in the field at Merion were Morgan Hoffmann, of Jupiter, Fla., and Joe Ogilvie, of Austin, Texas, who tied for fourth place at 6-under 137. Both players shot 69 in the morning on the South Course and 68 in the afternoon at the North Course. Hoffmann, who was on the Walker Cup team that competed at Merion in 2009, was the only player to go the entire 36 holes without a bogey.
Brandon Crick of McCook, Neb., tied for sixth place with Langley on the strength of four straight birdies in the afternoon, earning his first trip to the U.S. Open.
Stallings will be the first alternate and amateur Will Bishop, a rising junior at the University of Kentucky, will be the second alternate after winning a three-way playoff with Ben Crane and Jack Newman after the three tied at 2-under 141.