Crawford's Improbable Birdie Leads Six Qualifiers

Christopher Crawford's 40-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole of the North Course at Canoe Brook earned him a spot in his first U.S. Open.
Christopher Crawford's 40-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole of the North Course at Canoe Brook earned him a spot in his first U.S. Open.  (USGA/Michael Cohen)


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SUMMIT, N.J. – Christopher Crawford was still trembling as he stood at the side of the 18th green on Canoe Brook Country Club’s North Course late on Monday afternoon.

Crawford, 22, of Bensalem, Pa., had just lived every golfer’s dream, and he was having a tough time explaining how it happened. The Drexel University golfer, who had his coach, Ben Feld, on the bag, holed a 40-foot birdie putt on his 36th hole to finish at 6-under-par 138 and earn the sixth and final qualifying spot in the Canoe Brook sectional qualifier for the 116th U.S. Open Championship, next week at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club.

“Everyone who grows up playing golf dreams of that moment, and I thought of it there: this putt is to get in the Open,” said Crawford, who dropped to his knees as the putt dove into the left edge of the hole. “I looked up when the putt was about halfway there and I knew it had a chance, but after it went in, it was kind of a blur.”

Crawford opened with a round of 7-under-par 65 in the morning on Canoe Brook’s South Course, and he knew exactly where he stood as he struggled to seal his spot, playing his final two holes of the day.

“I asked my caddie for the first time after I hit my tee shot on 17,” said Crawford. “I really hadn’t hit the ball that well this afternoon. This morning, I felt really good swinging the clubs, and I was making all the putts, but it wasn’t quite the same in the afternoon. It’s hard to back up a 65.”

Crawford bogeyed No. 17 to drop to 5 under for the day, then badly hooked his tee shot on the 601-yard, par-5 18th. He played his second shot up the adjacent 13th fairway, then hit a 6-iron over the trees onto the right-front corner of the green to set up the birdie.

“It wasn’t the best way of doing it,” admitted Crawford, who had attempted to qualify for the U.S. Open three times before, never getting out of local qualifying. Now, he will return to Oakmont, where he played in the 2014 Pennsylvania State Amateur.

“I played OK, finished about 10th – for what that’s worth,” said Crawford, who sported the Oakmont cap that he purchased that week and also wore in his local qualifier.

Crawford’s putt was easily the most dramatic finish of the day, and tied him with Andy Pope, Michael Miller and Justin Hicks at 6-under 138, one stroke behind co-medalists and PGA Tour players Jim Herman and Rob Oppenheim, both of whom shot 67 in the morning and 70 in the afternoon. Herman, a former assistant professional at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., won the Shell Houston Open in April. He qualified for his fourth U.S. Open, three of which have gone through Canoe Brook (2010, 2012), where he also won the 2006 Metropolitan Open.

Like Crawford, Hicks was trying to back up a morning round of 65, and he had to steady himself midway through the afternoon as he fell to 4 under par for the day.

“The greens started to give me fits,” said Hicks, who was tied for the lead after Round 1 of the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. “I hit some great shots but wasn’t getting anything out of them. It’s a long day and it’s easy to get beat up out there; my caddie kept me positive and I hung in there pretty well.”

Hicks, who battled a torn muscle in his hip last year and is only now getting more comfortable with his game, birdied the 12th and 13th holes and parred in to earn his sixth U.S. Open spot.

“Knowing that we’re all on this level playing field, trying to qualify, the U.S. Open is unique from that standpoint,” said Hicks. “I see a lot of kids out here, some older guys, too; I love the Open qualifying process. It’s what we do – we’re golfers.”

Michael Miller of Brewster, N.Y., has been trying to get into the U.S. Open since he was 15, and he finally made it at age 24, but not without some late retooling.

“Believe it or not, I changed my putter last night,” said Miller. “I got back from a PGA Tour Latinoamerica event where I finished eighth. I was two shots back with three holes to play, and I three-putted. So I changed putters and I’m really glad it worked because my father [Bob, the pro at Knollwood Country Club in Elmsford, N.Y.] probably would have killed me.”

Miller, a two-time Metropolitan Golf Association (MGA) player of the year, was thrilled to make the U.S. Open at Canoe Brook.

“This is an area where I’m so comfortable,” said Miller. “The MGA has done everything for me, from the time I was a junior golfer. The people who are coming up and saying congratulations to me are people who I know, and that’s fantastic.”

Pope made the cut in last year’s U.S. Open at Chambers Bay after advancing through both local and sectional play, and he said it felt like déjà vu.

“Just like 2015, I played great in the morning and made no putts,” said Pope, 32, of Orlando, Fla., who plays primarily on the Web.com Tour. He made a pair of eagles on par 5s on his final nine of the day, then saved par from a bunker on his 16th hole and made a 4-foot par save on his final hole to return to the Open.

Oppenheim took the good vibrations from a round of 58 on Friday at Sleepy Hollow Country Club in the Hudson Valley, making six birdies and an eagle in his morning round before a more workmanlike round of 70 in the afternoon on the longer North Course. He is looking forward to a return trip to the U.S. Open after qualifying for the 2014 championship at Pinehurst.

“It was like nothing I had ever seen before,” said Oppenheim, 36, whose mother, Karen, grew up in New Kensington, Pa., near Pittsburgh. “It can be pretty overwhelming, but once you get on the golf course, it’s the same. I feel more prepared and comfortable this year – comfort is so important in golf. If you’re out of your comfort zone, it’s tough to prepare.”

Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.