Just qualifying for the U.S. Open is a big deal. This year 8,300 tried nationwide, and only 156 will tee off in the first round on Thursday at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md.
One of them will be Bennett Blakeman, who isn't exactly a household name in golf circles yet -- but he is a U.S. Open veteran. He made it to last year's U.S. Open as well but finished dead last among those 156 who qualified to play at Pebble Beach in California.
On both occasions Blakeman, a former Illinois Wesleyan golfer from Burr Ridge, survived the rugged local and sectional eliminations to get to the big show. This time, though, it'll be a wiser and more experienced Blakeman who tees off Congressional's No. 10 tee at 2:41 p.m.
Last year Blakeman was an amateur finishing up coursework at Loyola University for a master's degree in business and health care management. For this U.S. Open Blakeman, 24, is a golf professional with a new caddie, a new swing instructor and more preparation time.
After finishing up at Loyola he moved into his family's vacation home in Scottsdale, Ariz., and spent the winter playing on the Gateway Tour, a longtime proving ground for PGA Tour hopefuls.
"The Gateway left a lot to be desired," said Blakeman, "but I also made a rather significant swing change and wanted to make a strong effort to keep things in perspective. It's all part of a process."
Dale Abraham was his swing coach in Arizona. Ryan Dorner, a teammate at Illinois Wesleyan, will be his caddie.
"I'll also have him for (PGA) Tour School and hopefully beyond," said Blakeman, whose brother Brenten was on his bag at Pebble Beach and his father Brad handled it for this year's Open qualifiers.
Blakeman arrived at Congressional on Sunday, a day earlier than he checked in at Pebble Beach.
"I felt I was a little late last year. This year I wanted to take care of all the administrative stuff right away," said Blakeman. "Last year I got a good taste of (the Open). Now I'll know a lot more in terms of the circus atmosphere surrounding it."
In addition to PGA Tour regulars Kevin Streelman, Mark Wilson and D.A. Points, other Illinois qualifiers in the field at Congressional include amateur Brad Benjamin, the former U.S. Amateur Public Links champion from Rockford and University of Illinois golfer Chris DeForest.
No title defense for India
Vince India, the University of Iowa star from Deerfield who won last year's Illinois Amateur by seven strokes with Bennett Blakeman a joint runner-up, won't defend his title at the tourney's 72-hole run Aug. 9-11 at Glen Oak in Glen Ellyn.
India, the Big Ten player-of-the-year in his senior season, will depart for China and the World Junior Championship while the state title is being decided at Glen Oak.
WGA begins its run
For the first time since 1928, the Chicago-based Western Golf Assn. will conduct all three of its championships in the Chicago area. First is the 94th Western Junior, which begins a five-day run at Beverly Country Club in Chicago on Monday.
In an interesting departure from tradition, Stanford freshman Patrick Rodgers opted out of his title defense, even though he's still 19 and eligible to play at Beverly. Rodgers decided to enter the Western Amateur, to be played Aug. 1-6 at North Shore in Glenview instead. Third of the WGA events is the BMW Championship, to be played at Cog Hill in Lemont in September.
The Junior, for players in the 16-19 age group, calls for 72 holes of stroke play competition.
Did you know?
Illinois coach Mike Small made his first cut of the year on the PGA Tour, finishing tied for 60th in the St. Jude Classic in Memphis. … The match play portion of the 78th Illinois Women's Amateur begins Wednesday at Kishwaukee in DeKalb with 32 survivors from Tuesday's 75-player qualifying round competing in the championship flight. The winner will be determined on Friday. … Ivanhoe Club's Jim Sobb of Palatine missed last week's Radix Cup matches following the death of his father. Sobb had pulled off an unprecedented sweep of the Illinois PGA's two match play titles and had planned to play in the Radix Cup for the 21st time. … The second of Emil Esposito's clinics at Libertyville Sports Complex will be on June 30. This one will focus on the short game. … Northwestern senior Kelsey Lindenschmidt has been named a third-team Academic all-American.
• Len Ziehm's column appears Wednesdays. To contact him, visit lenziehmongolf.com.