Every year, thousands of golfers file entries with the hope of qualifying for the U.S. Open Championship. Last year, PGA Tour rookie Andrew Landry embodied the spirit of the championship’s democratic nature. The Dripping Springs, Texas, native first advanced through local and sectional qualifying to earn a spot in the field at Oakmont Country Club, then earned a place in Sunday’s final pairing alongside 54-hole leader Shane Lowry. Landry began his week with a 66, the lowest opening-round score ever in a U.S. Open at Oakmont, and continued his stellar play the next two days before a final-round 78 resulted in a tie for 15th. The 29-year-old, who currently competes on the Web.com Tour, recently discussed his 2016 performance and his preparations to qualify for this year’s U.S. Open at Erin Hills.
What did you take away from your U.S. Open experience?
Landry: To be honest with you, I took confidence. That’s probably the biggest thing I took from it. A 15th-place finish from a no-name guy, it’s a good finish. But it’s not something I wanted. I obviously wanted to win. I wanted to place as high as I could place.
By Monday, could you finally put the week into perspective?
Landry: I think we got home from Pennsylvania around midnight that Monday. I laid in bed at about 1 o’clock in the morning and told my wife, I almost won the U.S. Open. I was 18 holes away from changing my life.
How about performing like that in your first major championship?
Landry: Maybe as a spectator looking in, yeah, it’s a great week for this [unheralded] kid. But I played on the PGA Tour. I feel like I deserve to be playing in major championships and I deserve to be playing on the PGA Tour.
Although you lost your PGA Tour playing privileges last year, you did come out this season on the Web.com Tour and win the second event of 2017 in the Bahamas. How much did your performance at Oakmont contribute to that victory?
Landry: One hundred percent of that win came from the final round at Oakmont. I learned what not to do. I learned how to control my emotions and how to control my golf swing and how to control myself as an individual. I wanted to win a golf tournament where I knew I was in the lead and was in the final group. Just to know I could win [in that situation]. I was able to control myself and my golf swing, and that’s what I did.
What kind of reaction have you gotten from fellow competitors about what transpired at Oakmont?
Landry: I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback. Guys came up and said, “Sorry it didn’t work out for you, but we were still pulling for you.” It ended up working out really well. Everyone had that mentality – if you can do it, anybody can do it. I was just super pumped to be in that situation. If you had told me in the beginning of the week, you’re going to be in the final group with Shane Lowry at the U.S. Open, I’d have taken it.
You shot a 66 to produce the lowest first-round score in a U.S. Open at Oakmont. Was there any other special moment that stood out?
Landry: To be honest with you, the biggest thing that stood out for me is it was one of those weeks. If it had been any other golf tournament, I would have won. As a player, you can feel those weeks. When your ball-striking is on, your short game is on, your putting is on, your mental game is on, everything is just clicking on all cylinders, that’s when I win golf tournaments. I was just so mentally strong that week. I never had one idea that that 66 was for something. I turned my phone off for the week. I stuck with my family for the week. I think I looked at the leader board one time during the rain delay [on Thursday]. And I saw that I had a three-shot lead, but that was early. It would have been nice to come in with a 64 or 63, but, you know, a 66 will work. (Round 1 highlights below)
What were your emotions like on Saturday night?
Landry: To be honest with you, I really wasn’t nervous. It was one of those weeks where when I stepped on the first tee, I was prepared. I had prepared myself for that particular moment so many years in advance. You prepare yourself for that event and you are there, you are in it, so you might as well just embrace it and go have fun with it. And that’s exactly what I did.
Were you too pumped up on the opening nine during the final round?
I got off to kind of a slow start there. That was the biggest confusion to me – even to this day – that my iron [approach] shot that I hit on No. 2 went over the green. Adrenaline was something that I had to account for that I didn’t even feel I had. Normally you can kind of feel your adrenaline and feel yourself going through the motions and you can feel some jitters. I never felt that. But the ball was going forever.
But you did manage to calm down after the first-nine 42 to shoot a 1-over 36 coming home.
Landry: I felt something in my golf swing on the ninth tee where I just tried to feel like I am swinging 80 percent at it. That’s when I started driving it well again. My tempo got off on the first nine, and that’s why I played bad. You can’t play that golf course without hitting the fairway. If you hit the fairway, you are going to be in great position because you’re going to have a lot of scoring clubs in your hand. Given, the [hole locations] were tucked and they were really hard, but when you hit the fairway, that eliminated the double bogey. If the tempo had been there from the get-go, we would have had a really good shot at staying in contention and maybe winning that golf tournament.
How does your game stack up for a U.S. Open setup?
Landry: Putting is a strength of my game and driving is a strength of my game. I told my caddie once we got through [qualifying], we’re going to have a great week, so get ready. This is the kind of golf that I love. If you can make 18 pars [every round], you’re going to be close to the final group at the end of the week. It was just a good golf course for me because it rewards good driving.
How about the preparations for this year’s sectional qualifier, especially given it is at the same two golf courses in Memphis, Tenn. (Germantown C.C./Ridgeway C.C.)?
Landry: I feel the same. We’re going to be going from [the Web.com Tour event in] Raleigh to Memphis on Sunday night and then play on Monday morning. And then we’ve got to go to another tournament [in Illinois] right afterward. I am looking forward to getting back over there and getting through again, and trying my luck at Erin Hills. I know if I get in that I will play well. I am playing some of the best golf [of my career] right now. I am looking for some big things.
David Shefter is a senior writer and content manager for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.