Tennis Star Mardy Fish First Alternate at Local Qualifier in California
By Cary Osborne
VALENCIA, Calif. – The intense competition had nearly sapped the energy out of tennis pro Mardy Fish – six hours and 18 holes at the Tournament Players Club Valencia and a round that had gone south after 14 holes.
Fish was called back to the course after his 1-over-par 73 at a U.S. Open local qualifier on Monday left him two strokes shy of earning one of the five available spots in sectional qualifying.
Only three years ago, Fish was the seventh-ranked tennis player in the world and now he was continuing his quest to become the third athlete to compete in a U.S. Open in tennis and golf.
After thinking his 73 had taken him out of the mix, Fish was one of five players vying for the two alternate spots, and his birdie on the first playoff hole, the par-4, 457-yard 10th hole, locked up the first alternate spot.
Now, the 32-year-old’s goal of reaching the U.S. Open next month at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club has a glimmer of hope.
“I’m used to the pressure,” Fish said of his birdie on the playoff hole.
Make no mistake, Fish, a 14-time winner on the ATP Tour (singles and doubles) and a 2004 Olympic silver medalist, doesn’t view golf simply as a hobby now that his competitive tennis days are dwindling.
Fish has shifted toward competitive golf over the past year, playing on mini-tours, including the All-American Gateway Tour, and he feels that he is trending upward. Monday’s performance supports that assessment.
“I’m a competitive guy,” said Fish. “I take it seriously. It’s frustrating. I was 2 under through 14 and came in with a couple of bogeys. In tennis, you either win or you lose, and out here it’s like you feel like you lose. But you don’t really lose.”
Fish eagled the par-5, 526-yard sixth hole, and birdied the par-5 14th. On No. 15, another par 5, Fish approached his tee shot with the thought of keeping his foot on the gas.
“I was always sort of a proponent [in tennis] of stepping on someone’s throat when you got the momentum or you could sense the guy was hurting a little bit or was tired,” he said. “I always told myself, work hard the next 15, 20 minutes and you’ll be in the locker room with a win. You just can’t do that out here.”
Fish went on to bogey Nos. 15, 16 and 17 before finishing with a par on 18.
Fish said he wishes he had his drive back on 15, but views it as a learning experience.
Only Ellsworth Vines, a two-time U.S. tennis national champion (1931 and 1932) in the pre-Open era, and Frank Conner have played in both the tennis and golf U.S. Opens. Vines qualified for golf’s U.S. Open in 1948 and 1949, while Conner, a tennis standout at Trinity University in San Antonio who played in the tennis U.S. Open from 1965-67, qualified for golf’s version in 1981. Fish, who has taken a hiatus from the ATP circuit due to a heart ailment, still has an outside shot in 2014 at becoming the third.
NOTES: 2013 USA Walker Cup competitor Max Homa failed in his bid to qualify for his second consecutive U.S. Open and first as a professional. He shot a 2-over 74 one day after finishing seventh at the Web.com South Georgia Classic … Amateur Jonathan Sanders, of Chatsworth, Calif., was the medalist with a 67.
Cary Osborne is the sports editor for The Signal newspaper in Santa Clarita, Calif.