Emerald Valley Golf Course
(50 golfers for 2 spots)
Emerald Valley was the first regulation-length public facility to open in the greater Eugene, Ore., area. The course, which opened its first nine holes in 1967, runs along the Coast Fork of the Willamette River. Bob E. Baldock laid out the original 18 holes, but the 170-acre course went through a re-design by Dan Hixon in 2002. This is the fourth time since 2006 that Emerald Valley is hosting a U.S. Open sectional qualifier.
Notables in the field: Amateur Cheng-Tsung Pan of Chinese Taipei and the University of Washington will look to qualify for his third U.S. Open, having qualified in 2011 and 2013.
Other storylines: Amateur Dan Whitaker (runner-up to Trip Kuehne at 2007 U.S. Mid-Amateur at Bandon Dunes); Canadian pro Nick Taylor (runner-up at 2009 U.S. Amateur Public Links, same year he shot 65 at Bethpage Black to share lowest round by an amateur in U.S. Open history); and professional Jonathan Moore (won 2006 NCAA title/qualified for 2006 U.S. Open/clinched deciding point for USA at 2007 Walker Cup Match at Royal County Down); Easton Paxton (15-year-old freshman at Riverton High in Wyoming is second-youngest in sectional qualifying/lost mother, Kara, to brain cancer last year following a four-year battle); and Corey Prugh (brother Alex is also trying to qualify for the U.S. Open in Memphhis/father, Steve, is a club professional at Manito Golf & C.C. and played in 2006 U.S. Senior Open).
Blair, Rask Earn U.S. Open Spots Via Oregon Sectional Qualifier
By Beau Eastes | Photo: USGA/Steven Gibbons
CRESWELL, Ore. – Zac Blair is headed to Pinehurst No. 2 via stops in Panama, the Dominican Republic and Uruguay.
Blair, 23, a former Brigham Young University standout, earned medalist honors at a 2014 U.S. Open sectional qualifier at Emerald Valley Golf Course, posting 7-under-par 137 over 36 holes. Having exhausted his eligibility at BYU last year, Blair spent the spring honing his swing on PGA Tour Latinoamerica, where he has made six of seven cuts and posted three top-10 finishes in his last four starts.
The 114th U.S. Open will be contested June 12-15 at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2 in the Village of Pinehurst, N.C.
“It was nice to have that consistent schedule and play a lot of golf,” said Blair, who grew up in Ogden, Utah, and now lives in St. George, in the southern part of the state. “Just getting as much tournament experience as you can is obviously a big help.”
With his fiancée on the bag, Blair shot a 3-under 69 during the morning round, putting him in a three-way tie for second place behind early leader Joel Skarbo, of Seattle, who posted a 68.
Skarbo faded in the afternoon – he finished the day at 4-over 148 – while Blair took over. Starting on No. 10 for his second round, Blair turned at 3-under 33, birdieing four of his last six holes on the incoming nine. He three-putted and settled for a bogey on No. 1, but got the stroke back on the next hole with a 20-foot birdie putt to go to 6 under.
“I saw the leader board the next hole and saw I was close to the top,” said Blair, who at that point was leading the 50-man field with seven holes to play. “I knew a solid finish would give me a chance, at the very least.”
Blair, the 2013 West Coast Conference golfer of the year, parred the next six holes before capping his day with a 40-yard chip-in for birdie on No. 9. His 4-under 68 during the second round was the lowest score of the afternoon by two strokes.
“Pars out here are pretty good,” said Blair, who made a habit of hitting fairways and greens. “The greens are fast and firm. You’ve got to be in the fairway if you want to hit good shots. I went for the middle of the green, knowing if I got some two-putts, that was my kind of game.”
Clayton Rask, of Otsego, Minn., secured the second and final U.S. Open berth at Emerald Valley with a late rally to finish at 3-under 141, barely edging first alternate Brandon McIver at 2-under 142.
McIver, who just completed his sophomore year at the University of Oregon – Emerald Valley, just 12 miles south of Eugene, is the Ducks’ home course – was in position to challenge Blair for medalist after getting to five under on the day with a birdie on the par-5 13th. A bogey on No. 14 and a double bogey on No. 15 doomed the Billings, Mont., native, though, and opened the door for the 29-year-old Rask.
A former University of Minnesota star, Rask birdied two of his last three holes to shoot an even-par 72 in the second round.
“Walking up to that last tee, I haven’t ever had that much excitement going on,” said Rask, who knew all he needed was a par on his last hole, No. 9, to qualify for the U.S. Open. “I drank some water, did some breathing exercises and then hit it right into the rough. But my second shot went right where I wanted it to, in the middle of the green, and I was able to two-putt.”
Rask competed in the sectional qualifier without ever having laid eyes on Emerald Valley before his 8:50 a.m. tee time. Rask, his fiancee and a golf buddy drove seven hours from Vancouver, British Columbia, the previous night to make the qualifier.
“Went in blind as a bat,” said Rask, who was competing in his fourth sectional qualifier. “I hadn’t seen the course at all. It was fun, though, and the course was awesome. I’ve never played Pinehurst either, so maybe I’ll be able to go in there blind [and play well], too.”
Paul Peterson, a former Oregon State University golfer who lives in Portland, Ore., earned the second-alternate spot at 1-under 143.
Beau Eastes is an Oregon-based writer.