Final Five Take Varied Routes To Pinehurst
By David Shefter, USGA
VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – More than 30,000 feet in the air, Brandon McIver’s cellphone pinged with a message on Sunday.
En route to North Carolina with hopes of landing a spot in the 114th U.S. Open, the first alternate from the Creswell, Ore., sectional qualifier was thankful the plane had WiFi service.
When the text message he hoped to receive from the USGA popped up, McIver was … sky high.
A rising junior at the University of Oregon, McIver, 20, of Billings, Mont., was one of five golfers to earn the final spots into the 156-player U.S. Open field at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2. The USGA held those spots until June 9 for any player who made it into the top 60 in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) who was not already exempt. Only two made the leap – Kevin Na and Bernd Wiesberger – leaving three spots to be awarded to first alternates on the allotment list. McIver, Cameron Wilson and Craig Barlow were the next three in that pecking order.
“It was crazy,” said McIver of the mid-flight message. “I was really happy.”
Six days earlier, McIver wasn’t rejoicing after carding a bogey and double bogey late in his sectional-qualifying round. Clayton Rask, meanwhile, birdied two of his last three holes for a 3-under total of 141, edging McIver, who had posted a pair of 71s on the par-72 layout, by a stroke.
So like all U.S. Open first alternates, McIver was left to play the waiting game. When two exempt players – Thomas Bjorn and Richard Sterne – withdrew last week, his chances improved. He contacted the USGA to find out where he stood and booked his plane ticket.
“I had a good idea that I would be in the field,” said McIver. “There wasn’t anything certain. It all worked out really well.”
On Tuesday, McIver played a practice round with PGA Tour winners Bill Haas and Brandt Snedeker, while trying to figure out the nuances of Donald Ross’ challenging layout.
“It’s everything I would imagine it to be and more,” he said prior to playing the inward nine. “It’s just cool to be out with a lot of these guys who I have seen on TV throughout the years.”
If anyone knows the experience of being a first alternate, it’s Barlow. In 2003, the Las Vegas resident was on the grounds of Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club and never got the call. This year, Barlow liked his chances, especially after USGA officials made him aware of the number of spots being held for the last exemption category, the top 60 in the OWGR.
Feeling confident, the first alternate from the Daly City, Calif., sectional booked a flight and hotel.
“I did my homework,” said Barlow, who will play his sixth U.S. Open and second at Pinehurst No. 2. “It was out of my control, but obviously I wanted to get in.”
Although No. 2 has changed considerably since then, Barlow did make the cut here in 2005, finishing 82nd. In fact, he’s played the weekend in three of five U.S. Open starts.
“As far as a tournament course and the mental side of the game, this is the best one of all the Opens,” said Barlow. “I’ve played Oakmont, Pebble Beach, Winged Foot and now this is my second at Pinehurst. It’s a great, great tournament course because you have to think.”
Cameron Wilson, of Rowayton, Conn., has had a lot to ponder since earning first-alternate status via a six-hole playoff in Purchase, N.Y., on June 2. The Stanford senior has commencement ceremonies this Sunday, but he also is looking ahead to making his professional debut at next week’s Travelers Championship on the PGA Tour.
He knew he would be donning a cap and gown in the serenity of Palo Alto, Calif., at one of America’s premier academic institutions, or walking the fairways of one of the world’s grand cathedrals at one of the game’s most prestigious championships.
“It’s a very good situation,” said the 2014 NCAA Division I individual champion.
That decision was made with Sunday’s phone call from the USGA.
“I was flying here no matter what,” said Wilson of his place on the allotment list. “I was going to be here.”
Now his second U.S. Open will be his last event as an amateur.
“I’m just a better golfer now,” said Wilson when asked if he feels more comfortable than 2012, when he played his first U.S. Open. “It’s nothing with having been here before.”
Wiesberger has never been here before. The U.S. Open rookie from Vienna, Austria, made the field right on the number. He withdrew from the Walton Heath international qualifier in England on May 26, choosing instead to focus on this past weekend’s Lyoness Open in his home country, an event he won in 2012. Sitting at No. 73 in the OWGR, Wiesberger knew he needed a high finish and some help from other worldwide events, specifically the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis, last weekend.
He got into a playoff with Mikael Lundberg, but lost on the first extra hole. Still, his runner-up finish moved him to No. 60 in the world, right on the number for making the field.
“I didn’t worry about it too much going into the round or into the tournament,” he said. “But I kind of knew what I had to do to give myself a chance.”
Wiesberger already had a flight booked, and when Twitter messages started showing up Sunday evening, he knew he was going to be flying across the Atlantic. By Monday, he was in North Carolina and still jetlagged from the trip. He awoke early Tuesday to get his first look at Pinehurst.
“I was a bit disappointed not to win [the Lyoness],” he said. “But I’m very happy to be here.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.