When Fran Quinn steps up to hit his first tee shot on Thursday in the 122nd U.S. Open Championship, he will complete an improbable journey, while making good on a vow his late father made 34 years earlier.
“I tried to qualify for the U.S. Open in 1988, and I missed out by one stroke at Purchase [N.Y.],” Quinn recalled. “I attended that Open at The Country Club with my dad, and he put his arm around me and said, ‘You’re gonna play here one day.’ I know when he said ‘here,’ he meant the U.S. Open, but when I tee off, I know he’ll be smiling.”
Quinn will be competing in the championship for the fifth time, and the first since he made a splash in 2014 at age 49 at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club. He held a share of second place after Round 1, and though he finished in a tie for 56th, he ended the week walking up the 18th fairway with his arm around his son/caddie Owen on Father’s Day.
Quinn is 57, making him the oldest player to advance through local and final qualifying in at least the past 40 years. The next closest is Wes Short Jr., who was 52 when he made it to Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club in 2016.
In a way, Quinn can thank Owen, now 23, for getting back to the championship. Quinn had last attempted to qualify in 2016, when he and Owen both missed out at the local stage, and Quinn had skipped the process for five years.
“I had no intention of playing in the qualifier,” said Quinn, a native of Holden, Mass., who graduated from Northwestern University. “Owen was signing up, though, and he was thinking about trying to qualify at Taconic [Golf Club, in Williamstown, Mass.]. I said, ‘I think that’s a great spot for you. I’ll tell you what, put me in, too.’”
The Quinns tied for second at Taconic to both advance to final qualifying at Century Country Club and Old Oaks Country Club in Purchase, N.Y., the site of Quinn’s missed 1988 bid, as well as his successful one in 2014. Quinn survived the 36-hole grind when he birdied the second hole to advance from an 8-for-3 playoff. The day began with 92 players vying for five places at Brookline.
“To tell you the truth, I was a little frustrated to be in the playoff,” said Quinn, who bogeyed three of his final six holes at Old Oaks to finish at 2-under-par 138. “Once I got in the playoff, I figured, if it happens, it happens. If not, I’m headed out to [Steve] Stricker’s event in Wisconsin, on the tour that I play on.”
Quinn parred the first playoff hole, a score eventually matched by all of the competitors, but that’s when the task got a little harder as Quinn waited for the second group of four to complete the hole on a day that had begun for him nearly 11 hours earlier.
“We had to wait almost 30 minutes, and my back started to seize up a little,” said Quinn. “It was the first time all day that I didn’t feel like I was in control of things.”
Quinn responded by knocking a 98-yard sand wedge approach to 2 feet for a birdie on the second playoff hole, a score that was matched by only two others, including Michael Thorbjornsen, the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur champion, who is 37 years younger than Quinn and a fellow Bay Stater. Kelly Kraft, the 2011 U.S. Amateur champion, earned the first alternate spot.
“It’s very rewarding,” said Quinn, who played the majority of his under-50 career on the Korn Ferry Tour, amassing four wins and 20 top 10s in more than 350 career starts. He played one full season on the PGA Tour, and he has played exclusively on PGA Tour Champions since 2015, earning nearly $1.5 million. “The way that I’ve been playing, I felt like my game was very well suited to the opportunity.”
Quinn’s age notwithstanding, he had to overcome a major setback to get here. In July 2019, during his third full season on the over-50 tour, he fell awkwardly and injured his shoulder.
“Fifty percent of my glenoid [his right shoulder socket] was shattered,” said Quinn. “I was out for 19 months, and one year into PT – two hours a day, six days a week – I still couldn’t raise my arm past my belly button. My trainer, Dave Abraham, and I were both frustrated that all the hard work wasn’t paying off.”
Quinn underwent a second surgery, this one performed by Dr. Mark Price, the head physician of the New England Patriots, and his range of motion and strength improved dramatically.
“I can’t throw a baseball anymore, but I sure can swing a golf club,” said Quinn, who averages nearly 295 yards off the tee. “As I reflect on it today, I’m very happy to be back. I’m the oldest guy to qualify for the Open, and after what I endured, it really is a borderline miracle.”
Now, to paraphrase a legendary Patriots’ coach, it’s on to The Country Club, where Quinn last competed in the 1987 Massachusetts Amateur. He lost in the final match to Kevin Johnson, who went on win the 1987 U.S. Amateur Public Links and play on a Walker Cup Team. Johnson, whose professional career closely paralleled Quinn’s, is now a PGA Tour Champions Rules official and still one of his best friends.
“I feel like I can compete at pretty much any level,” said Quinn, who plays out of Worcester Country Club, site of the 1925 U.S. Open. “I never think of myself as 57, you know? Even though it’s the reality, I know I still have a lot of good golf left in me.”
That may not include another U.S. Open after this week, but who knows?
“I have two goals – one is to give myself a chance to play my best, whether that’s top 10, 20, whatever,” said Quinn, whose wife, Lori, will caddie for him, as she has in his recent Champions Tour starts. “But I will cherish every moment, knowing that it could be my last one. People in New England have been so supportive of me through the years; they’ve been there for me since I was 18 years old. This one’s for my dad and all of them.”
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of content for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.