Postcard day gives golfers unusual opening
GENOA – There had to be a mistake.
Sixty-five degrees, a slight breeze and blue sky overhead.
The United States Golf Association couldn’t permit area golfers to begin their quest to qualify for the U.S. Open with these benign conditions.
Normally the players are wearing winter hats and windbreakers and wishing they had spent the day skiing at Squaw Valley USA.
Consequently, a 39-player field took advantage of the favorable conditions as 12 participants shot par or better.
“Typically, anything under 70 is going to make it out here but today was so perfect that you had to wonder what was going to make it,” said Steve Sear of Washoe Valley. “I played two years ago and shot 73 and it was some of the worst weather conditions I’ve ever played in.”
Emerging with the coveted sectional qualifying spots were Sear and Reno’s Steve Sheehan and David Nelson. All three carded 4-under-par 68s on the 7,359-yard layout at The Golf Club at Genoa Lakes.
“This course pretty much lays down when there’s no wind,” Sheehan said. “I felt 65 or 66 was going to be the low score and I was trying to shoot for low medalist.”
Sheehan started out like he was going to set a new course record, birdieing the first three holes. Accurate approach shots left him with seven-, one- and 10-foot birdie putts to go to 3-under par.
However, a couple of bogeys sent him to the back nine at 1-under and in jeopardy of not advancing to sectionals.
“On the back I told myself I needed five birdies and I really had a legitimate chance to make five birdies, but I only made three,” Sheehan said.
The key to Sheehan’s back-nine regrouping was his play on the two par-3 holes. He birdied the 174-yard 12th as well as the 232-yard 14th.
It marked the fourth time that Sheehan has qualified for sectionals, but the brother of LPGA Hall of Famer Patty Sheehan has yet to play in the Open.
“I really haven’t come that close to making it to the Open. I’ve made it to the sectional and then not played well,” Sheehan said. “But I’m playing better now and I think I have a better head for it. I feel like I belong out there. To make the Open and go play Shinnecock that would be a great thing and I think my time has come.”
Sear, who tied for eighth in the 2000 Buick Open, has spent the past quarter century trying to qualify for the U.S.’s biggest open golf tournament.
The financial advisor for Merrill Lynch nearly qualified in 2000, but double-bogeyed the 16th hole when a par-par-birdie finish would have done the job.
Sear didn’t let an opening-hole bogey determine how his round would go.
“It was so early in the round that I didn’t really put too much emphasis in it,” said Sear of the four-foot par putt that lipped out on the first hole.
Sear rebounded by reaching the 553-yard par-5 second hole in two strokes. He two-putted for birdie to get back to even. Following a string of six straight pars, Sear again attacked on a par-5, reaching No. 9 in two strokes and two-putting for birdie.
Sear ran in a 20-footer for birdie on No. 10 and tapped in a 3-footer for birdie on No. 11. He took another shot from the next par 5, hitting a sand wedge within a couple feet to get to 4 under.
Even though Sear bogeyed the 16th hole, he got it right back on the next hole by birdieing the final par 5.
“I was hitting my driver real well so I was pretty darn confident I was going to birdie 17,” Sear said.
Nelson used a strong back nine, including an eagle on No. 11, to grab a share of first place.
Former Incline High golf standout Ryan Mitchell shot a 1-over 73 and missed an alternate position by two shots and ex-Whittell High student Alexander Mross fired a 77.
Sear and Sheehan will compete in the Lake Merced sectional on June 7 in Daly City, while Nelson will take his chance in Littleton, Colo.
Anyone passing the 36-hole sectional test advances to the U.S Open June 17-20 at Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, N.Y.
“It would be nice to play in the U.S. Open, but it’s also a week off of work that I’d have to talk to my boss about,” Sear said.
U.S. Open Local Qualifying
At The Golf Club at Genoa Lakes, Genoa
7,359 yards, par 72
(top three qualify for sectionals)
q-Steve Sear 68
q-Steve Sheehan 68
q-David Nelson 68
a-Chandler Cocco 70
a-Ian Hagen 70
a-Erik Flores 71
a-Seth Cotter 71
Keven Rutherford 71
Carlos Concha 72
Dustin Hall 72
Bob Leist 72
Casey Watabu 72
Ryan Mitchell 73
A.J. Shiffert 73
Scot Orchard 73
Jeffrey Duncan 73
Tyler Juhola 73
Matthew Kinsinger 73
Eric Flickinger 74
Thomas Dawson 74
Nate Kelley 74
Jason Ferrin 74
David Garcia 75
Martin Chuck 75
Matthew Dito 76
Brent Jensen 76
Mike Holmes 76
Eric Arnold 77
David Rathjon 77
Alexander Mross 77
Brad Thompson 78
Mike Maquire 78
Willie Yacknow 79
Matthew Laporte 79
Guy Duensing 79
Adrian Drakulich 79
T.J. Duncan 80
Eric Snyder 83
Jim Sterrett 92
Takuji Hirayama NS
Michael Harding NS
Edward Pfister NS
Steve Hummel WD