Wilkes-Krier, Amateur Trio Earn U.S. Open Berths
By Bob Baptist
SPRINGFIELD, Ohio – With seven holes to play in a June 6 U.S. Open sectional qualifier at Springfield Country Club, Patrick Wilkes-Krier was 9 under par and five strokes clear of his nearest pursuer. The 32-year-old teaching pro from Ypsilanti, Mich., was all but a gimme to be among the four players to earn berths for next week’s U.S. Open at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club out of the starting field of 59.
But not before he conjured memories of Roy McAvoy from the 1996 movie “Tin Cup.”
“Am I that old already?” Wilkes-Krier said in reference to the 20-year-old film.
He was able to laugh because the lead he built on the rest of the field through 29 windy holes was enough to withstand four consecutive bogeys on his final nine. Wilkes-Krier shot rounds of 66 and 69 for a 5-under-par 135 to share second place behind University of Illinois sophomore and medalist Nick Hardy, of Northbrook, Ill., who birdied four of his last five holes for a second-round 64 and a 134 total.
College players also earned the other two spots. University of Michigan sophomore Kyle Mueller, of Watkinsville, Ga., shot 68-67 for 135, and Hardy’s teammate, Charlie Danielson, of Osceola, Wis., beat PGA Tour player Tony Finau with a par on the first hole of a playoff after each finished at 139.
Finau, ranked 74th in the Official World Golf Ranking, tied for 14th in the U.S. Open last year after qualifying at Springfield, but only the top 10 and ties were exempt from qualifying this year. He made a bending 10-foot putt for birdie on his last hole of regulation to earn a spot in the playoff but misplayed his first three shots on the extra hole. He picked up after Danielson two-putted from 20 feet for par and congratulated his opponent, a gesture Danielson appreciated.
“He could have totally given me the cold shoulder,” Danielson said, “but he wished me luck, told me, ‘congrats.’ He was friendly from the get-go. It was pretty cool.”
The U.S. Open will be the first major championship for Wilkes-Krier, an eight-year veteran of various mini-tours who has never played in a PGA Tour event and, played in only two Web.com Tour events. Two years ago, with a pregnant wife, he decided to stay at home and become a teaching pro at the Kendall Academy at Miles of Golf in Ypsilanti, a state-of-the-art practice and club-fitting facility that caters to some of the best players in southeastern Michigan.
“Guys at my level, we all just dream about this opportunity,” he said. “Not only just to experience what a major championship feels like, but I want to play against [defending U.S. Open champion Jordan] Spieth. I want to play against [Jason] Day.
“When you’re a kid, even more than winning big tournaments and this and that, you just want to play against the best, and it’s hard to do that unless you make it up there. This tournament, the U.S. Open, is one of the few chances where you can go from nothing – you know, me giving lessons – to playing against Jordan Spieth. That’s a dream.”
One of the things Wilkes-Krier said he enjoys about working for his boss, Dave Kendall, is that he encourages his instructors to play when they are able.
“So if I take a week off to go play a tournament, that’s what he wants me to do,” he said, “which is nice for me because I still like to compete. I still feel I have the game to compete, at least at some levels.”
So do the college players. Hardy qualified out of Springfield a year ago and made the cut in the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. Danielson, a four-time All-America player at Illinois and the 12th-ranked player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™, made the cut in the PGA Tour’s Northern Trust Open in February. He will turn pro after the U.S. Open.
“You’ve got to convince yourself you belong first. If you don’t, you’re not going to play well,” Hardy said. “You have to be like, ‘OK, I can beat these guys.’ They’re good, they’re proven, but you’ve got to believe in yourself. After making the cut in the U.S. Open last year, I knew I belonged. I proved it to myself.”
The field had to contend all day with winds gusting to nearly 30 mph that not only challenged their tee-to-green games but made the putting surfaces slick, especially for putts from above the hole.
“College kind of prepares you for that,” Mueller said. “Growing up, I wasn’t a great wind player, but over the last two years, I’ve become a lot better wind player.”
Bob Baptist is an Ohio-based freelance writer who contributes to USGA websites.