Thursday Notebook: California Teen Calmer For Second Open Go-Around

Thursday, June 14, 2012

By David Shefter, USGA

San Francisco – Beau Hossler felt a different kind of nervousness as he stepped to the first tee Thursday morning at The Olympic Club.

Playing in the first grouping off the tee –28 minutes before the marquee group of Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Bubba Watson started on No. 9 – the 17-year-old Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., resident admitted to having some butterflies, but nothing like a year ago when he teed it up as a U.S. Open rookie at Congressional Country Club.

In 2011, Hossler was overwhelmed by everything about the U.S. Open: the crowds, the course and the attention of playing a major championship for the first time. It showed on the scorecard with rounds of 76-77 and a missed cut.

A year older and a year wiser, Hossler, a rising senior at Santa Margarita High and who plans to attend the University of Texas in 2013, came to the Bay Area with more confidence and a sense he belonged.

Despite a disappointing 2-over-par start that included consecutive bogeys at Nos. 4 and 5, Hossler managed an impressive even-par 70 on the 7,170-yard Lake Course. His round was the best among the eight amateurs in the field, including No. 1-ranked Patrick Cantlay, a fellow Southern Californian who shot 76.

“I felt like I prepared myself for this tournament,” said Hossler, the stroke-play medalist at the 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur. “I felt comfortable. I was nervous, but last year was pretty ridiculous.”

With much of the attention going to Andy Zhang, who at 14 became the youngest competitor in U.S. Open history, Hossler escaped the kind of attention he received as last year’s youngest contestant. Not since Mason Rudolph in 1950-51 had a golfer this young qualified for consecutive U.S. Opens.

Hossler made it through both stages of qualifying, including a sectional on June 4 just down the road from Olympic at Lake Merced Golf Club and TPC Harding Park, where he shot rounds of 70-67.

Earlier in the week, he teamed with fellow 17-year-old Alberto Sanchez Jr. to beat left-handed pros Mickelson and Mark McCormick in a friendly match.

More important, Hossler learned from his Congressional experience how to better prepare for the challenges of an Open.

“As hectic as it is, I feel a lot more comfortable with the situation now than I did last year because it was something so new to me,” said Hossler, a recent runner-up in the California High School Championship. “Managing my misses from the fairways is huge. Unfortunately today on Hole 4, I missed it on the high side. You can’t do that.

“So being able to control where my ball’s missing and being a bit more conservative with my lines and still making aggressive swings is huge.”

Hossler said The Olympic Club fits his game a bit more than Congressional, which played long due to the rains that soaked the Blue Course before the championship. The firm and fast conditions here this week are a benefit.

His steady play shouldn't be a surprise, as he is coming off a fourth-place finish at the American Junior Golf Association’s Thunderbird Invitational in Scottsdale, Ariz., in late May, and a win at the Heather Farr Classic, also in Arizona.

It helped that school ended for him last Friday, meaning more time to focus on his golf game.

As for that game against Mickelson and McCormick, Hossler was asked if any money changed hands.

“I can’t say anything on that,” said Hossler with a wide smile.

On Thursday, he ended up six strokes better than Mickelson.

Home Cooking

Olympic member Michael Allen figured to have a chance at a decent showing this week given his depth of local knowledge. After all, the Champions Tour standout estimates he has played around 2,000 rounds on the Lake Course.

It’s worked out well so far. Allen, 52, used an eagle on the par-4 14th hole to propel him to a solid 1-over-par 71, which leaves him tied for 15th after one round of the 112th U.S. Open.

“It's the only round I've really played in competition out here. So for me it is my best round so far,” Allen said. “You go out with your buddies and play and shoot 66 or 67 and, yeah you played better, but it has never been a U.S. Open or a U.S. Amateur or anything like that. So this is great to play well in these conditions.  And this is a completely different golf course than I played as a member.”

True, but Allen can’t remember holing out for eagle on the 14th hole as a member, either. After putting his drive in the right intermediate cut, Allen hit a 9-iron from 142 yards that landed in front of the flagstick and then trickled into the hole.

“At that point, I just felt I really needed to hit a good shot and get a good birdie putt,” said Allen, “and then to see it go in, I felt like maybe now I'm kind of back in the tournament and having a chance to … get things going out here and get things going the right way.”

Up A Tree

There are about 30,000 trees on the property here at Olympic, and they already have been a factor in this 112th U.S. Open beyond the normal impediment to advancing the ball.

Signaling a long and trying day, Phil Mickelson lost his opening tee shot on No. 9 in the trees right of the fairway with a vicious hook, and the ball never was found. He returned to the tee and hit another drive. Mickelson salvaged a bogey, but it was no way to start a championship.

Later, Dustin Johnson, fresh off a win at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, had his ball swallowed by the branches at the par-4 10th hole, when he sprayed his tee shot right of the fairway. He also was forced to go back to the tee and eventually made a double-bogey 6.

Interestingly, on the way to his 1998 victory at Olympic, Lee Janzen hit a tee shot into the trees on the fifth hole, and it was thought to be lost. Just before the five-minute time limit expired for the search, a gust of wind blew the ball out of the tree, and Janzen, who was heading back to the tee, was spared a penalty. He made a remarkable par by chipping in from off the green and went on to beat Payne Stewart by a shot.

(Double) Eagle Has Landed

Nick Watney, of Fresno, Calif., carded a double-eagle 2 on the par-5 17th hole, hitting a 5-iron from 190 yards. It is the third double eagle in U.S. Open history, and second in the majors this year, following Louis Oosthuizen’s albatross at the second hole in the final round of the Masters.

Previously, T.C. Chen (on the 527-yard second hole in the first round at Oakland Hills' South Course, in Birmingham, Mich., in 1985) and Shaun Micheel (on the 523-yard sixth hole in the fourth round at Pebble Beach Golf Links in 2010) had scored double eagles in the U.S. Open.

“I couldn't see it,” said Watney of the hole-out.  “It was just the crowd. I was expecting them to just … I thought it would miss and they would say, ‘Oh,’ but they didn't. So it was good.”

Local Knowledge

If Ryo Ishikawa has a successful week at The Olympic Club, he might thank his caddie. Steve Molinelli is a longtime member at Olympic and a recent club champion. He also had the bag for the last USGA champion here, Colt Knost at the 2007 U.S. Amateur.

In fact, when Knost got into the field on Monday as an alternate, he contacted the club about getting Molinelli, a San Francisco resident who brokers transactions for dental practices. But Molinelli had already taken Ishikawa’s bag.

Molinelli, who serves on the board for The First Tee at Harding Park, grew up in nearby Burlingame, attending the same high school as Olympic head pro Chris Stein and Nathaniel Crosby, who won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA.  Also contributing were David Shedloski and Alex Shedloski.

 

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