When it comes to U.S. Open, qualifying is half the battle
Nobody is going to pick Andy Pope, Dylan Frittelli or Dylan Meyer to win the 121st U.S. Open when it tees off Thursday at Torrey Pines in California. Still, all three have tee times and high hopes.
All survived what has been dubbed "Golf's Longest Day," when nine 36-hole qualifiers played across the country determine the last of the 156 qualifiers for the Open proper.
For Pope, from Glen Ellyn, being ready for the U.S. Open is nothing new. The 37-year old Korn Ferry Tour veteran didn't have much momentum going into last week's sectional qualifier, having missed three straight cuts and a tie for 66th on the Korn Ferry Tour.
What happened? Pope shot 67-70 and finished third in a qualifier that had four spots for Torrey Pines. Pope has had limited success on the Korn Ferry Tour but he's been consistent at U.S. Open time.
With entries worldwide annually in the 10,000 range Pope has made it into the 156 starters in five of the last six U.S. Opens -- including this week's -- that included qualifying (the 2020 pandemic-impacted tourney was all invitees). Pope made the cut in two of the four Opens he played in.
Frittelli is the South African-born reigning champion of the John Deere Classic. His chances for playing in the U.S. Open weren't promising before his sectional qualifier in Columbus, Ohio. With his title defense in the JDC next month Frittelli had missed the cut in four straight PGA Tour stops before his qualifier.
So what happened? Playing in a field that featured a big contingent of PGA Tour players who had not met U.S. Open qualifications, Frittelli got hot in his afternoon round, shooting a 65. That put him at 8-under 136 for his 36 holes and in a tie for sixth place. Sixteen spots at Torrey Pines were available in Columbus.
"It was a long day, and my first time in Columbus," Frittelli said in a media session last week designed to preview the 50th anniversary celebration of the July 8-11 John Deere Classic in Silvis, Ill. "I made two eagles in the afternoon round and was in the last group to finish before sunset. It was a magical day."
Unlike most every player in this week's field, Frittelli has a victory on the Torrey Pines course. He won the 2007 World Junior title there -- and by a 5-stroke margin, no less.
"I went there to get the attention of college coaches," said Frittelli, who went on to play on an NCAA championship team at Texas. "That golf course has changed a little since then."
Meyer was also an unlikely qualifier in that he has no pro tour membership and has had trouble getting into tournaments. He qualified in a sectional in Springfield, Ohio.
Meyer made his pro debut in the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in New York and tied for 20th.
JDC exemptions: Michael Feagles of Illinois and David Perkins of Illinois State headed six collegiate players awarded sponsor exemptions into next month's John Deere Classic. Others were Tripp Kinney of Iowa State, Alex Schaake of Iowa, Luke Kluger of Kansas and Willie Mack of Bethune-Cookman.
Meanwhile, Illinois alums Nick Hardy and Brian Campbell had Top-10 finishes in the BMW Charity Championship on the Korn Ferry Tour, and Illini coach Mike Small, making a rare appearance on PGA Tour Champions, tied for 37th in the American Family Insurance Championship in Wisconsin.
Bits and pieces: Team USA took a 33-17 victory over the International team in last weekend's Arnold Palmer Cup matches at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove. ... Mark Hensby, a past champion in the Illinois State Amateur, Illinois Open and John Deere Classic, trying to make his first cut on the PGA Tour in five years at the Palmetto Championship, withdrew after getting 10 penalty strokes for playing the wrong ball in the first round. ... The 59th Radix Cup matches between the top players in the Illinois PGA and Chicago District Golf Association is on tap for Thursday at Oak Park Country Club. ... The 88th Illinois Women's State Amateur completes its three-day run on Thursday at Pine Meadow, in Mundelein.
• Illinois Golf Hall of Famer Len Ziehm is on the "Golfers on Golf Radio 820" show at 4 p.m. Saturdays. He co-hosts the "Ziehm & Spears Golf Podcast Series" on social media. Past columns are at lenziehmongolf.com.