PORT CLINTON — It took an extra 24 hours, one playoff hole, and a couple Tylenol, but Mark Hoffman advanced to U.S. Open sectional qualifying.
The aspiring pro from Ontario fired an even-par 71 on Tuesday in local qualifying at the 6,755-yard Catawba Island Club, then survived a playoff with Dominic Choma for the third and final entry into sectionals.
It was the first round Hoffman walked in four months after tearing several ligaments in his ankle.
“I’m just happy to make it around the golf course standing up,” he said. “Last week, I was [worried I wouldn’t be able to walk]. It hurt throughout the round, just not enough to make me worry about it.”
A good walk spoiled this was not. Hoffman’s physiotherapist told him he couldn’t further injure the ankle and it was all about pain tolerance. In other words, mind over matter — just like the game of golf.
With a potential spot in the Open on the line, only a calamity could have kept Hoffman from finishing his round.
“I played hockey growing up, and hockey players just do whatever they can to get through it,” Hoffman said.
The Arthur Hills-designed course includes maple trees, which was appropriate on this day because two of the three qualifiers hail from north of the border. Michael Gligic, also from Ontario, took medalist honors with a ho-hum 67 and Justin Pollock, assistant club professional at Country Club of Detroit, was second with a 69.
Pollock, who formerly worked at Sylvania Country Club, had his bride-to-be, Bethany Buschmann, on the bag, a position she’ll keep for sectionals.
“This one has eluded me,” Pollock said. “This is pretty cool. We’re happy. I had a good caddie.”
About half of the 156-man field is exempt into the Open. The rest qualify the old-fashioned way — through local then sectional qualifiers, making the tournament truly an open and perhaps the most democratic event in all of sports.
There were 9,049 entrants for qualifying into this year’s Open, set for mid-June at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island. About 8,500 compete in 112 18-hole local qualifiers in 45 states and Canada. Some 500 pros are exempt into sectionals. Up next, almost 1,000 golfers will play a grueling 36 holes — known as the longest day in golf — in the U.S., Japan, and England with the hope of advancing.
“That’s why it’s my favorite tournament,” said Jack Bozcar, a freshman on the University of Toledo golf team who shot a 77.
Forty-two participants played at Catawba Island. None left the Lake Erie shore more disappointed than Mike Stone.
The 46-year-old head professional at Belmont qualified for the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst and is a frequent sectional qualifying contestant. Stone was cruising through 14 holes, starting his round on the back nine, at 2-under, with only a string of birdies and 36 holes separating him from another Open appearance. Then golf happened.
Bogeys on three of his final four holes, including back-to-back three putts on Nos. 8 and 9, left Stone gutted, an opportunity thrown away.
“Pretty disappointed,” a dismayed Stone said outside the clubhouse. “I played really well today and got nothing out of it. I hit a lot of good shots. To bogey three out of the last four, you just can’t do that. I missed some short ones, too, for birdie. But that’s the way it goes. The score just doesn’t reflect how solid I hit today, which is a shame.”
Nerves always are part of the equation, according to Stone. But he felt calm and steely coming down the stretch. But in golf, the smallest miscalculation can be costly.
“I left four or five shots out there,” Stone said. “That’s what’s so frustrating. This will bother me all week. I played too good today to shoot that number.”
A slew of golfers from northwest Ohio were in the field. Lourdes graduate Brandon Hoelzer shot a 74; Northview’s Jack Kunkel, who will play collegiately at Cincinnati, shot a 76; Joey Bussdieker, assistant pro at Highland Meadows, and St. Francis and Lourdes graduate Ben Torchia shot 77s; St. John’s graduate Erin Mancinotti shot a 78; St. John’s Jesuit graduate Tommy Sullinger, who’s on the University of Cincinnati golf team, had a 79; Ryan Fries, a senior at Southview, carded an 81; and Alex Morrison, a St. John’s graduate who attends Colgate, finished with an 85.
Last year, 21 players advanced to the U.S. Open through local qualifying. Three made the cut.
History isn’t on their side — the last time a local qualifier won the U.S. Open was Orville Moody in 1969 — but that doesn’t stop the fanciful thoughts from dancing in their brains.
Said Gligic: “It’s a dream for everyone regardless of where you’re from in the world.”
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