Notebook: Three Golfers Wrapping Up Amateur Careers at U.S. Open

Justin Thomas has enjoyed success after being assigned locker No. 7 during his time at the University of Alabama. Fellow U.S. Open competitor and current Crimson Tide team member Robby Shelton has since taken that spot. (USGA/Fred Vuich)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

By David Shefter, USGA

VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – Despite his amateur status, Cameron Wilson looks every bit the part of a seasoned professional.

The 2014 NCAA Division I individual champion, who will receive his history degree from Stanford University on Father’s Day, has already exchanged his college stand golf bag for a large tour one for this week’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2. The red, white and blue bag has his name and college logo emblazoned on the front.

Wilson, who got into the 156-player field as an alternate on Sunday, will make his professional debut next week at the Travelers Championship in his home state of Connecticut.

“I’ve wanted to play pro golf for a long time and I am actually really excited to do it,” said Wilson, who also has PGA Tour starts lined up at the John Deere Classic in July and the Frys.com Open in the fall.

Wilson, who joined Tiger Woods and former USGA President Sandy Tatum as NCAA champions from Stanford, bypassed local qualifying thanks to an amateur exemption – he was in the top 50 of the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ – to play in the sectional qualifier in Purchase, N.Y., on June 2, thus he cannot play the U.S. Open as a professional.

“College golf was an amazing experience,” said Wilson. “Playing amateur golf in the Met [Golf Association] was great. Amateur golf is so great that I don’t know how many people realize it.””

Wilson isn’t the only player in the field who will complete his amateur career this weekend. Reigning U.S. Amateur champion Matthew Fitzpatrick, of England, and 2013 USA Walker Cup Team competitor Cory Whitsett, of Houston, are also planning to turn pro next week. Whitsett, like Wilson, used an amateur exemption (2013 Walker Cup and top 50 in WAGR) to bypass local qualifying. He shot 12-under 132 at Lakeside Country Club, his home course, in the sectional qualifier on June 2.

Fitzpatrick was fully exempt thanks to his U.S. Amateur victory, but had to remain an amateur to use it. The last reigning U.S. Amateur champion to make the U.S. Open his last amateur competition was Ryan Moore in 2005, also at Pinehurst No. 2.

On Tuesday, Whitsett played a practice round with Alabama teammate Robby Shelton IV, and two Georgia graduates, Hudson Swafford and 2011 USA Walker Cup Team competitor Harris English.

“There was some good entertainment,” said Whitsett of the round. “There were some ‘Roll Tide’ and ‘Go Dawgs’ [chants] going back and forth.”

Whitsett, who won the 2007 U.S. Junior Amateur, couldn’t think of a better way to exit the amateur stage than by playing in the U.S. Open.

“I feel like I have had a pretty good amateur career and the USGA has been so instrumental in my amateur career,” said Whitsett, who graduated from Alabama last month and will make his professional debut next week, at the Web.com Tour event in Wichita, Kan. “I’ve been lucky enough to win the Junior [Amateur] and play on a Walker Cup Team. It’s pretty cool to complete things in this way.”

Lucky No. 7

At the University of Alabama, players who have been assigned locker No. 7 have enjoyed plenty of success. Michael Thompson was a U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open runner-up at The Olympic Club in 2007 and 2012, respectively, and owns a PGA Tour victory at the 2013 Honda Classic. Bud Cauley played on the 2009 USA Walker Cup Team, and Web.com Tour rookie Justin Thomas played on the 2013 Walker Cup Team. Freshman Robby Shelton IV now occupies that locker.

“We kind of have a joke with coach [Jay] Seawell because he is in locker 7,” said Thomas, one of three Crimson Tide golfers in this year’s U.S. Open. “I kept texting him all year that he better keep playing well if he wants to keep that locker. Coach is like, ‘I just don’t give that to anybody.’”

Shelton ended up winning the Phil Mickelson Award as the nation’s top freshman and qualified for this year’s U.S. Open.

Phil’s the Man

With Tiger Woods still sidelined after back surgery in February, Phil Mickelson might be the most popular golfer in this year’s U.S. Open. It seemed that way around the 18th green on Tuesday as several hundred fans lined up to get the five-time major champion’s autograph.

Chants of “Let’s go Phil, let’s go Phil,” were followed by birthday wishes. Mickelson, a six-time U.S. Open runner-up, turns 44 on June 16.

World Will Be Watching

The U.S. Open isn’t the only major global sporting event this week. The World Cup begins Thursday in Brazil, and defending U.S. Open champion Justin Rose will have his eyes on the England-Italy match on Saturday.

“I haven't got a pool, but blind faith that England will get far in the tournament,” said Rose. “So, we'll see. I thought I could be a little bit of a national hero if I'm leading the U.S. Open and I swerve my press conference to go watch the game.”

David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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