Four Earn U.S. Open Bids in Rainy Jacksonville

Tim Wilkinson fought through Tropical Storm Colin to shoot two sub-70 rounds and earn a spot in his first U.S. Open.
Tim Wilkinson fought through Tropical Storm Colin to shoot two sub-70 rounds and earn a spot in his first U.S. Open.  (USGA/Scott A. Miller)

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Aron Price of Australia outlasted the field and the nearly 4 inches of rain from Tropical Storm Colin to emerge as the medalist on Tuesday in the U.S. Open sectional qualifier at Timuquana Country Club.

Price earned his way into next week’s 116th U.S. Open Championship at Oakmont Country Club with rounds of 69-66 for a 9-under-par total of 135.

“I’ve played the Open only once – at Pinehurst two years ago,” said Price, 34, who has competed on the Tour and the Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada this year. “It was amazing to qualify for that Open, but I was really nervous.”

Price, who lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., had only one blemish on his card when play resumed Tuesday after heavy rains and stormy conditions suspended Monday’s qualifier at 3:05 p.m.

Price started play at 9:57 a.m. Tuesday on No. 12 with three putts from 20 feet, his first putt sliding 10 feet past the hole. After that wake-up bogey, he recorded five birdies in his next 15 holes.

“I think I missed one fairway in two rounds and only a few greens,” said Price, who plays Timuquana four or five times a year. “I just played really steady.”

Price’s Jacksonville golf buddy, Tim Wilkinson of New Zealand, will make his major-championship debut at Oakmont after carding rounds of 69-68 to finish second at 7-under 137 in his fifth sectional attempt.

“It feels great, especially to qualify for Oakmont,” said Wilkinson, 37, who tied for fourth at this year’s AT&T Byron Nelson. “When you play on tour and you’ve done well, it’s an advantage confidence-wise in trying to qualify.”

The left-hander qualified for the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry, but tore a ligament in his right thumb and was forced to withdraw. He was out for a while with the thumb injury and “lost some confidence,” which he says he has worked hard to rebuild.

“I’ve been playing well for the last month, so I feel like my game is in good shape,” said Wilkinson, who now lives in Jacksonville Beach.

Five players tied at 6-under 138 and returned to the 18th hole for a playoff for two spots. That quintet included Willie Mack III, Zachary Edmondson, Matthew Borchert, amateur Sam Horsfield and Joey Garber.

Borchert, a club professional at Isleworth Golf & Country Club in Orlando, drained a 15-foot putt for birdie to earn his spot, followed by University of Florida collegian Horsfield, who rolled in a 10-foot birdie putt for his second U.S. Open berth.

“I think it will really help me as a teacher that I’ve played in a major,” said Borchert, 39, of Windermere, Fla. “It’s something I’ve always dreamed of.”

In 23 previous attempts to qualify for the U.S. Open, Borchert had always come up short. In fact, he qualified for his only other USGA championship – the 1999 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach – at Timuquana.

“It’s just that dream of still playing in an Open,” said a smiling Borchert, who competed professionally for 13 years, including in 2009 on the PGA Tour and 2010 on the Tour.

Horsfield, 19, of Davenport, Fla., looked comfortable when he drained a breaking birdie putt to earn a return trip to the U.S. Open.

“After playing my first Open last year, now I know a little more of what to expect,” said the teen, who was born in Great Britain.

Horsfield lamented that he “didn’t take advantage of the par 5s these last two days.”

The teen did pull off a shot that adds to his growing legacy as a player with all the tools.  He was forced to remove his shoes and socks on No. 6 and stand in a water hazard to play his shot from an embankment. Horsfield hit the shot to 15 feet and two-putted to save par.

Following two playoff holes, Edmondson, of Cary, N.C., earned the first-alternate spot, while Garber, of Petoskey, Mich., is the second alternate.

Won Jun Lee, of Wesley Chapel, Fla., finished at 7 under and was apparently in position to earn a ticket to Oakmont, but the 17-year-old amateur was assessed a two-stroke penalty for violating Rule 13-2 (tapping down a mark in his line of play) after a post-round discussion with Lee, fellow-competitor Wilkinson and their caddies.

With the penalty, Lee carded rounds of 71-68 for a total of 5-under 139 to miss the playoff by one stroke.

“He shot a 68 today and it included a two-stroke penalty, where he tapped down a pitch mark behind his ball on the fringe of the 11th green,” said Jim Demick, executive director of the Florida State Golf Association. “He improved that area of his intended swing, which is unfortunately a two-stroke penalty, according to Rule 13-2.”

The Jacksonville sectional began Monday morning with 63 players competing for four spots at Oakmont. Nineteen players withdrew before the completion of play on Tuesday.

Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.