Bulle Breaks Through, Leads Three into U.S. Open Field

Amateur Ryan Stachler is congratulated by family members after qualifying for the 2016 U.S. Open.
Amateur Ryan Stachler is congratulated by family members after qualifying for the 2016 U.S. Open.  (USGA/Tami Chappell)

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ROSWELL, Ga. – Even though he missed the cut in last week’s Web.com Tour event in the Dominican Republic, Kent Bulle believed he was on the cusp of playing well. On Monday, he proved it by finishing first in the Roswell, Ga., U.S. Open sectional qualifier at Ansley Golf Club’s Settindown Creek Course.

The Glasgow, Ky., native shot 69-64 to finish with a 36-hole total of 11-under-par 133. That put him three strokes ahead of Ryan Stachler, of Alpharetta, Ga., and four better than Frank Adams III, of Salisbury, N.C., who earned the other two spots in the 38-player field.

“I had a good feeling,” Bulle said. “I made a double [bogey] on the next-to-last hole [in the Dominican Republic] and missed the cut, but I felt like my game was on the verge of being really good. I just haven’t finished rounds off.”

Bulle was tied for fourth place after the morning round, but his 64 in the afternoon was the best score of the day and enabled him to qualify for next week’s U.S. Open at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club, his first major championship appearance.

Bulle, 27, played at Middle Tennessee State University and last year competed on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica, where he played well enough to earn status on the Web.com Tour.

“I’m so excited, especially it being at Oakmont,” Bulle said. “I’ve heard so much about it and I’ve seen it on television. I’m really looking forward to seeing it in person.”

Bulle had a good feeling about his chances when the day began. He had visited two weeks earlier as the guest of former NBA player Tom Gugliotta and recorded a hole-in-one.

Following a first-round 69, Bulle’s second round began on the back nine and he shot a 5-under 31. The highlight was at No. 15, where his tee shot finished right of the cart path. Bulle took his approach high over the trees and it went in the hole for an eagle.

“That shot kept me going and gave me a little more leeway,” he said.

Not that he really knew. Bulle said he didn’t look at the scoreboard or ask about his position until the end of the day.

“I had no idea of where I stood,” he said. “I just wanted to come out and do what I needed to do and play the best golf I could. My caddie knew the whole time. I didn’t know until I knocked it on the green at 18 with a 6-iron and I asked my caddie, ‘Am I good with two putts here?’ He said, ‘Yeah, you’re good.’”

Stachler, a rising sophomore at the University of South Carolina, finished the morning round in a six-way tie for sixth place at 71. His round stayed on pace thanks to a remarkable eagle on No. 3, his 12th hole of the day. Stachler hit a big slice off the tee that barely stayed out of a hazard. Still, he had a horrible lie; the ball was well below his feet and he had to squat to get a club on it.

He did better than that. The ball went into the hole from 136 yards and he avoided a big number.

“I was just trying to make contact,” he said. “That could have been a double bogey.”

He came out smoking in the afternoon round, making a birdie on six of the first eight holes to turn in 30. He bogeyed the final hole, but by that time had already secured his spot with a 65.

“The hole looked like a bucket on the front nine,” he said. “I just wouldn’t miss. I had it going. I wasn’t hitting it that close, but I told my caddie that I felt like if I could get it on the green, it had a chance of going in.”

Stachler had a chance to play Oakmont last week and was taken aback by the severity of the rough.

“You’ve got to make good swings there and keep it in the fairway,” he said.

Adams, 37, made it to the U.S. Open after coming up short in two previous tries. He was the leader after the morning round, opening with a 66. The afternoon round was a solid 71 that kept him well inside the margin of error.

“Things got rolling in the right direction for me. You see a few putts go in, you hit a few good shots, you hit a few mediocre shots that end up in the right place and you know today is going to be a great day,” he said.

Adams gave a lot of credit to his brother, Russ, a former Major League Baseball player who served as his caddie today, as he does at other big events. Adams said his brother would be on the bag at Oakmont, too. “If he wasn’t, there would be an altercation,” he said.

Bryan Fox, of Roswell, Ga., birdied the first extra hole of a storm-delayed playoff to earn the first alternate spot over Ryan Gildersleeve of Clearwater, Fla. They had tied at 140.

There was a four-way tie for sixth place, one shot out of the playoff for alternate. Coming up short at 141 were PGA Tour player Roberto Castro, Web.com Tour player Ollie Schniederjans, Chase Seiffert and Jonathan Cox.

Stan Awtrey is a Georgia-based freelance writer who has previously contributed to USGA websites.