NCAA Champion Builds on Momentum With U.S. Open Berth
By Beau Estes
VANCOUVER, Wash. – Aaron Wise’s domination of the Pacific Northwest continues.
A week after winning individual and team NCAA championships in nearby Eugene, Ore., Wise stayed hot and claimed medalist honors Monday in the U.S. Open sectional qualifier at Royal Oaks Country Club. The 19-year-old University of Oregon sophomore from Lake Elsinore, Calif., shot a blistering 9-under-par 135 over 36 holes to earn one of three berths in next week’s U.S. Open Championship at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club.
Travis Howe, a former standout at Penn State University, posted a 7-under 137 to take second. Matt Marshall, a 31-year-old assistant pro in Portland, and 19-year-old pro Austin Connelly tied for third at 138. Marshall claimed the third U.S. Open spot by topping Connelly in a playoff that lasted three holes.
Wise, Howe and Marshall will all be making their U.S. Open debuts.
“I just got on a roll,” said Wise, who overcame three early bogeys in his first round by shooting a 30 on Royal Oaks’ back nine. He birdied nine holes during the morning round en route to a 5-under 67, which gave him a share of the lead with Marshall and Connelly.
“I was really struggling, but on the back nine my putter got hot,” added Wise, who only had nine putts on the back nine.
Wise made just one bogey in the afternoon round, carding a 4-under 68 to earn medalist honors. He ended his day by making a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-4 ninth.
“I started hitting some shots close and then it was easy to carry on to the next round,” Wise said. “I told Van (Williams, Oregon assistant golf coach who caddied for Wise) midway through the first round, ‘I’m playing good enough to make it today, it’s just a matter of eliminating dumb mistakes.’”
Howe, 28, posted a 2-under 70 in the morning despite ending the first round bogey-double bogey. In the afternoon round, he carded a 67 with the help of four birdies and one eagle against just one bogey to climb the leader board.
“I played a great round, but let a couple go,” Howe said about his mindset after the first round of play. “It wasn’t from poor swings. I just got ahead of myself on a couple putts. I left the ball where I wanted to … but gave two (strokes) away, at least. But coming back and getting off to a quick start got my juices flowing again.”
A Pennsylvania native, Howe grew up about 200 miles northeast of Oakmont.
“It’s going to mean a whole lot,” Howe said about playing in front of friends and family. “Lots of family, lots of friends are already going. It’ll mean the world, it really will.”
Marshall earned his berth in the U.S. Open in dramatic fashion, sinking an 8-foot par putt on his 36th hole to force a playoff with Connelly. The two each made par on the first two playoff holes before Connelly bogeyed the third hole – his first bogey of the day.
“The whole day was just a steady grind,” said Marshall, who was playing in his fifth sectional qualifier. “I’m semi-retired. I’d kind of given up on the professional golf dream and last month I took a job as an assistant pro at Portland Golf Club. And then today happened.”
Connelly, who bypassed college and turned pro last fall, shot a 67 with five birdies during the first round and 71 with one birdie during the afternoon’s second round. He claimed the first alternate spot and Frederick Wedel, an amateur who just finished his senior season at Pepperdine University, shot 72-67–139 to earn the second alternate spot.
The day belonged to Wise. He is now the fourth consecutive NCAA individual champion to qualify for the U.S. Open, though none of the previous three made the cut.
“I’ve got bigger plans than just making the cut, but that’s a great goal to have,” Wise said. “To be somewhere near the hunt would be awesome, a dream come true. I’ve got a lot of work, though. I’ve heard that course is near impossible, so I better be on my game.”
Beau Eastes is an Oregon-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.