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Putter Swap Propels Maguire to Erin Hills
June 05, 2017 Tequesta, Fla. By Lisa D. Mickey
Joaquin Niemann, the world's top-ranked amateur, battled his way to a U.S. Open spot via a 3-for-2 playoff. (USGA/Scott A. Miller)

Jack Maguire admits he is a “tinkerer” when it comes to golf equipment. During Monday’s 36-hole U.S. Open sectional qualifying at Jupiter Hills Club, an adjustment he made between rounds paid off.

Maguire didn’t like the way he was navigating the difficult greens, so he went to his car and switched putters for his afternoon round. He swapped the putter he last used in the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay for one he thought could get him on track. That tactic worked.

Maguire tied the course record (set by Luke Donald in 2012) with a score of 5-under-par 65 in his second round to finish as medalist at 3-under 137. He carded a 2-over 72 in his opening round.

“I definitely turned it around after the first round,” said Maguire, 22, of St. Petersburg, Fla. “I’ve been back and forth between a bunch of putters for the last few weeks, so obviously it helped to change putters today. If I had stuck to what I was doing this morning, I probably wouldn’t be playing at Erin Hills.”

Maguire started his afternoon at a blistering pace, playing his first nine in 5-under-par 30, including four consecutive birdies. He added only one more birdie on his inward nine, but it was good enough to earn his second trip to the U.S. Open and put to rest his struggles on the greens on a day when everything else was working.

“I put the ball in good positions off the tee all day,” said Maguire, who is playing on the Web.com Tour for a second consecutive season. “But I was 3 over through 19 holes. I knew I had to do something.”

Top-ranked amateur Joaquin Niemann, of Chile, birdied the 18th hole from 5 feet to force a 3-for-2 playoff with Eugene Hong and Tyson Alexander. The three players returned to hole No. 10 tied at 1-under 139 after 36 holes.

Alexander, of Gainesville, Fla., earned his second trip to the U.S. Open on the first playoff hole with a birdie. He struck a “perfect 3-wood” and laced his 52-degree wedge to 15 feet to set up the birdie.

“I was the farthest from the hole on the green, which I didn’t mind,” he said. “I just hit a good putt and it was perfect.”

That sent Hong and Niemann on to No. 17 to play off for the last of the three available spots. Niemann made par to qualify while Hong missed his chance by making bogey.

As the third generation of his family to qualify for the U.S. Open, Alexander will follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, Skip, who competed in six U.S. Opens, and his father Buddy, who won the 1986 U.S. Amateur and went on to compete in the 1987 and 1994 U.S. Opens.

“It’s the U.S. Open and it’s the biggest [championship] we can play,” said Alexander, 28.

Alexander currently competes on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica and will be leaving Tuesday for a tournament in the Dominican Republic. He’s excited to add another chapter to the family’s U.S. Open history.

“It’s just cool because my grandfather was a great player and my dad played in two Opens, so now I’m tying him,” said Alexander. “I’m a pro now. I was an amateur the first time I qualified for the Open in 2009 at Bethpage.”

Florida’s summer rainy season began in earnest last week, with nearly 3 inches of rain falling on the club in a three-day span.

But even as more rain fell on Monday and the threat of thunderstorms hung low in the dark skies all day, players were able to complete play and beat sunset in the playoff.

Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer.