Richard Bland, the 48-year-old co-leader through 36 holes, is not the only player this week at Torrey Pines who personifies persistence.
Rick Lamb, 30, of Nashville, Tenn., is competing in his first U.S. Open – and first major championship – thanks to coming through final qualifying for the first time in four attempts. Before that, Lamb had failed to get through local qualifying “four or five times” as a high school or college player.
Lamb gained a bit of notoriety on June 7 when he was interviewed by Steve Burkowski of Golf Channel immediately after he birdied the fourth hole of a 3-for-1 playoff at Piedmont Driving Club in Atlanta, Ga., to gain his spot in the field. Exhausted and elated after 40 holes of golf, he was speechless when Burkowski asked him what it meant to play in first major, finally managing to blurt out, “Pretty cool.”
“He kind of caught me off-guard with that question,” said Lamb on Friday after his 36-hole total of 4-over-par 146 (71-75) got him into the weekend on the cutline. “I got a lot of text messages afterward; it’s just something where you work hard and you never know whether you’ll get a chance to play in a major. I had been within two shots of making it before.”
To say that this is an important week for him is an understatement, not just because it’s his first major, but for the measuring stick it provides.
“This is the ultimate test of golf,” said Lamb, a native of South Bend, Ind., who played collegiately at Santa Clara before transferring to the University of Tennessee. “I know my game is good enough, and it’s nice to finally get here and put it to the test. In the first round, I played very nicely but I left a couple of putts out there. In the second round I was kind of hanging on; I was just barely out of position a couple of times and you get penalized for it. You end up with 30- and 40-foot putts all day, and that wears on you a little bit.”
Lamb, the co-runner-up to Max Homa in the 2013 NCAA individual championship, had a good idea that 4 over might turn out to be the cut number, and he finished with a pair of solid pars to keep himself there.
“My iron play was a little lackluster today,” said Lamb, who played 29 PGA Tour events in 2017-18, making nine of 29 cuts with a top finish of T-3 in the 2017 John Deere Classic. “I had a good idea where I stood, and it was nice to be able to tap it in [on the final green] without having to mark it.”
One eye-opener this week for Lamb, who shot 3-over 74 on Saturday, is the course itself.
“Having played Torrey Pines in the PGA Tour event (Farmers Insurance Open), it’s such a different golf course this week,” said Lamb, who won a Korn Ferry Tour event in 2016 and is 111th on that circuit’s points list in 2020-21. “I never appreciated it; I just thought it was long and wet and bumpy from playing it in the winter. I like a fast and firm golf course where you can play your ball on the ground, and we don’t get a lot of that on the Korn Ferry Tour.”
Given the chance on Friday to answer the question he struggled with in Atlanta, Lamb offered: “This game is so hard; it’s nice to get rewarded and get to play in an Open.”
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of content for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.