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Emotional Cink Among U.S. Open Qualifiers in Columbus
June 05, 2017 Columbus, Ohio By Dave Shedloski
Stewart Cink will make his 20th U.S. Open start when he tees it up at Erin Hills. (USGA/Fred Vuich)

An emotional Stewart Cink, who a year ago bypassed U.S. Open sectional qualifying to support his wife Lisa as she underwent treatment for stage 4 breast cancer, dug deep Monday at Brookside Golf & Country Club, playing his final six holes in 5 under par to secure one of 14 spots in the 117th U.S. Open next week at Erin Hills in Erin, Wis.

Cink, 44, who won the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry, fired a 6-under-par 66 at Brookside, regarded as the tougher of the two Columbus sites – The Lakes Golf & Country Club was the other. He completed 36 holes at 10-under 134, tied for fourth place with former PGA champion Keegan Bradley, 2007 USA Walker Cup player Jamie Lovemark and Martin Laird, of Scotland.

“It means a lot to be playing in the National Open again,” said Cink, who qualified for his 20th U.S. Open and first since 2014. “I have a long career. I should say I am having a long career, and majors are my focus now. I love the majors. I love the challenge of the U.S. Open. I don't know anything about Erin Hills, but I know the U.S. Open is going to be a good test.”

The medalist was J.T. Poston, 24, of St. Simons Island, Ga., who will be competing in his first major championship. Poston shot a pair of 66s with his lone bogey coming at twilight on the final hole at Brookside to finish at 12-under 132, a stroke ahead of 2009 USA Walker Cup player Bud Cauley and Ohio native Jason Kokrak. Cauley was the 18-hole leader after opening with 63 at Brookside, while Kokrak had a 64 in the afternoon there to tie at 133.

“It’s pretty exciting to play in a U.S. Open, our home major. I watched it as a kid and it will be great to be in that atmosphere,” said Poston.

Among the notable competitors missing the cut in the 122-player field were the primary antagonists from the 2011 U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills, Kelly Kraft and Patrick Cantlay. Kraft, who defeated Cantlay, 2 up, in the 36-hole final, carded a 2-over 74 at Brookside to finish at 2-under 142. Cantlay was in good shape after a 66 at The Lakes Golf & Country Club but slipped to a 75 at Brookside in the afternoon for 141.

The Columbus sectional was delayed 2 hours, 15 minutes at the start due to thunderstorms. A 4-for-3 playoff for the final spots was completed on Tuesday morning after those players all tied at 8-under 136.

Two USGA champions advanced. Peter Uihlein, of Orlando, Fla., the 2010 U.S. Amateur champion, was the first to get through by stuffing a 91-yard wedge approach to the 10th hole at The Lakes to 5 feet for birdie. Scottie Scheffler, of Dallas, Texas, the 2013 U.S. Junior Amateur champion, qualified for the second consecutive year via a playoff, making a 9-foot birdie on the fourth playoff hole, the 18th at The Lakes. Also making birdie on the fourth playoff hole was Talor Gooch, of Choctaw, Okla.

Michael Putnam, of University Place, Wash., a member of the victorious 2005 USA Walker Cup Team, settled for first alternate, while second alternate went to Johnson Wagner.

"It's nice to get through, but I wish I made it less stressful," said Scheffler, a rising senior at the University of Texas. "I knew the playoff was different this time in that these guys were not going to make mistakes. Pars were good last year. I needed to make a birdie, but I was not going to force it."

Bryson DeChambeau, the 2015 U.S. Amateur champion, safely navigated this sectional site for the third year in a row. Despite a bogey on his last hole, he blitzed The Lakes for a 6-under 66 and posted 9-under 135. He punctuated his afternoon performance with a 60-foot eagle putt on the par-5 16th hole. 

DeChambeau, 23, of Clovis, Calif., has struggled for much of the year on the PGA Tour, having not made a cut since the Shell Houston Open in early April. But the sectional qualifier brings out the best in his game.

“I just love the golf courses here,” said DeChambeau, who tied for 15th last year at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club, with a relieved smile. “Just hit it straight, knock some wedges close and knock in a couple putts and that’s what I did today. I’m looking forward to Erin Hills. I played well there in 2011 (he made the Round of 32 in the U.S. Amateur). I love the golf course. It really fits my eye.”

Tying DeChambeau at 9 under and earning a place in the field at Erin Hills was Cheng-Tsung Pan, David Lingmerth and Ted Potter Jr.

The most inspirational story belonged to Cink, who played sparingly last year to support his wife. He competed only when she could travel with him, and he even skipped the Open Championship, which makes his appearance at Erin Hills next week his first in a major since the 2015 Open Championship at St. Andrews.

Cink, who finished third in the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla., said he needed a virtual punch in the nose to get going in the afternoon after a solid but unspectacular first 27 holes. He made an eagle and three birdies down the stretch.

“The ball plugged in the bunker about 30 yards from the green, couldn't get up and down. That woke me up,” he said. “I guess I needed an eye-opener.”

Having taken a pass a year ago made his effort extra meaningful.

“You know, it's been a tough thing,” Cink said. “I was not in competitive form last year. We were right in the midst of Lisa's treatments, and we were focused on that, so I didn't even try to qualify. To come back this year and get through successfully, it really means a lot to me.”

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.