As a caddy, which isn’t such a bad thing at all. I have played in two USGA Senior Opens, but never the biggest tournament in the world, the US OPEN. My friend and fellow Olympian, Gregor Main has punched his ticket into the 2016 US OPEN at famed Oakmont outside of Pittsburg.
Gregor is an amazing talent, and shares the record in the 2011 US Amateur for the two qualifying rounds to get into match play, where in Wisconsin he shot 10 under par to be medalist. Gregor had three successful years at UCLA, and is now ready for Prime time versus the best players in the world. Before I get into the strategy behind playing Oakmont, I want to tell you more about Mondays 36 hole qualifier.
We started the day on the 10th hole of Olympic Clubs Ocean course, and had a solid start making par, par birdie. After a few missed opportunities Gregor drained a 50 foot BOMB on the 17th hole (our 8th hole) to get to -2 on the day. Some solid play on the front nine, yielded birdies on the two par five holes to get us to -4. The 5th hole was playing short at about 120 yards, and with a perfect 50 degree wedge, Gregor had a tough six inch putt to get to -5 on the day. He displayed a strong short game with a key up and down on the tough #7 hole on the ocean, and finished with two strong closing holes for a very solid 66.
Having played in 16 US Open Sectional Qualifiers, I know what happens in a players mind, you obviously start thinking about the US OPEN, and accomplishing a life long dream. THAT is not what you want to be thinking about, I made sure we NEVER talked about the US Open, and we played a game of, OK we have 6 holes left, you need to make 4 pars and 2 birdies. Gregor did a great job staying in the moment and not thinking ahead. But Seriously, this great 26 yr old, who probably weighs about 150 LBS (that may be generous) can flat out POUND HIS DRIVER!!! The game has evolved into a game of length, combined with amazing short games. Gregor has both, and both his driving and short game abilities were ON for this very important qualifier for a player who has not yet come close to reaching his potential as a professional golfer.
A funny story, I played a practice round with Gregor and another qualifier named Miguel Luis Tabuena (who is currently ranked #126 in the world at age 21). Miguel was consistently 20-30 yards behind Gregor and I off the tee, and was always hitting first. Additionally I didn’t see him hit one flighted down shot, always throwing the ball way up in the air even against the wind on the uphill par 4’s. But once this kid got around the green, it was magical. He displayed a short game to die for, with low spinning hook shots, and low spinning fade shots, all ending up next to, or IN the hole. In the end, Miguel and Gregor would finish ONE/TWO in the qualifier with some of the best local and regional players in this field. It was fun for me to just be apart of being on a qualifying bag, as this is NOT an easy tournament to qualify for, even for the majority of the PGA tour players that are not exempt into the OPEN.
As our day now moved to Lake Merced, Gregor was not as sharp on the front nine at Lake Merced, but managed to avoid any big mistakes. On the 3rd hole, a downhill, downwind hole playing 186 yards, we chose a 7 iron, that was WAY WAY to much club, and over the green we went. With a severe downhill shot, Gregor did well to flop it to 12 feet straight back uphill. He looked confident over his putt, and sank it for a great saving par, to keep his card clean of any bogies on the day. The 5th hole at Lake Merced has always given me trouble, its hard to decide how much fairway your going to chop off going over the left trees, or just lay up down the fairway and have 150-170 into the wind. It was the first time all day that we were in trouble off the tee. Our shot left Gregor with an awkward stance in the bunker, while needing to grip down on the steel. He left his second shot in an impossible spot, with a long green side bunker shot to a downhill slope. He hit an amazing shot to 10 feet, but wasn’t able to convert the par putt, and our first blemish came after 22 holes, and would be the LAST blemish of the day. Gregor would bounce back with a fine birdie on the next hole, a par 5 that he hit a 5 iron into a back pin, and almost made eagle. The other 3 par 5’s we had 5iron, 8 iron, and on 18 he had a 4 iron for his second shot. To qualify for his first major of his life, Gregor finished birdie, par, birdie, birdie par. It was amazing to watch and to be apart of.
But now the LAST box needs to be checked, we go up against the best players in the world, but only 156 players are in the US Open field. SO what is the game plan? Its the same as what he did in the qualifier, ONE SHOT AT A TIME. Oakmont is a unique and vicious course, that will punish mis-hit shots. My job is to keep Gregor in the moment, and to have a solid game plan for any situation that occurs. Like Spieth and his caddy Michael Greller work together and its a we and a us, when Spieth speaks about how he plans his approach, and how he plays. I believe Gregor will thrive with the we, and that its the two of us, to figure out this course, and how to approach every shot, putt and chip. Listen, I am ONE competitive person, and I never thought in a million years I would be caddying in a US Open, especially since I played in one less than a year ago. But I believe that this is going to be Gregor’s defining moment in his career, and I want to be there to make sure that happens.
So what next for this BLOG, well its all about giving you the feeling that you are right there with us every step of the way on this journey. I don’t write this blog to make money, I write this because I an VERY passionate about golf, competing, and meeting the great people that play this game. In the coming days, I will be writing about the lead up to being inside the ropes during the worlds toughest challenge in our sport. If you think this blog is worthy of your time, please share it with others you know, and together we will all take this ride with Gregor, to see him realize all of his dreams. I ask for your support in our quest, and hope that you will stay tuned as we begin to prepare for the sternest test in the game.