Luis Gagne told friends before the start of the 119th U.S. Open that he would gladly take four rounds of even-par 71 at Pebble Beach Golf Links.
One down, three to go, though that 71 on Thursday morning doesn’t quite make him as happy as it otherwise might have had he not given away a few strokes at the end of his round.
Gagne, who tied for low amateur in last year’s U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, made his pro debut on Thursday, and in the balance it was good enough to bring a smile to his face. The native of Costa Rica posted his lowest score in the championship and gave himself more than a reasonable chance to play on the weekend again.
The score came despite bogeys on the eighth and ninth, tough par-4 holes to finish his round, after he had gotten to 2 under par and inside the top 10 on the leader board with the last of his five birdies at the par-5 sixth.
“It was a solid round,” said Gagne, 21, who recently graduated from Louisiana State University. “Obviously, not too happy with the finish. Five birdies but also five bogeys … just made some silly mistakes that I need to clean up.”
Last year, Gagne tied 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Matt Parziale for low-amateur honors at 16-over 296, in a tie for 48th. That experience, plus competing in the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach in August, proved valuable to what he brought to Pebble Beach on Thursday going off in the first group on hole No. 10.
“Last year [at Shinnecock] was my first pro tournament, but being out there and playing well that week and making the cut gave me a lot of confidence that I can play with these guys,” Gagne said. “I think playing in the Amateur helped, too. It’s set up a lot tougher [this week]. The fairways are brought in and the rough is thicker, but we played the same tee boxes.
“The only difference,” he said with a smile, “is an extra practice round.”
Gagne, playing in just his fifth USGA event (he also competed in two U.S. Junior Amateurs), was No. 41 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking before declaring as a professional. He earned a berth in the field by shooting 12-under 134 and winning one of three spots at sectional qualifying at Streamsong Resort in Florida.
The diminutive 5-foot-9 golfer was able to bypass local U.S. Open qualifying by virtue of his four-round play at Shinnecock. “That made the decision easier,” said Gagne, who also placed second to Alvaro Ortiz in the Latin America Amateur in January.
After the U.S. Open, Gagne leaves immediately for Europe, where he has a number of exemptions waiting for him, starting with the BMW International Open in Munich, Germany. His plan is to earn a PGA European Tour card or make it through qualifying in Europe. Not a bad idea; reigning two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka began his career abroad.
If he is unsuccessful, he will attempt to earn his way onto the Web.com Tour.
While Gagne came up shy of joining the rash of red numbers on the leader board early Thursday, he couldn’t wipe the smile off his face. His first test as a professional went decently enough.
“Very happy,” he said. “Very excited. This is a great place. This is a great place to start my career as a pro.”
Phil Mickelson began his pro career at Pebble Beach in the 1992 U.S. Open. He’s done OK.
“It’s a start. It’s something to build on for sure,” Gagne said.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to usopen.com and usga.org.