2005: U.S. Open - Open qualifier news runs the gamut

U.S. Open qualifying always offers an interesting variety of stories, and last week’s sectionals were no exception. Among the highlights were a 59 in Maryland, a slow-play controversy in Texas, and the end of an era when Tom Kite failed to advance.

Kite, 55, will miss his first U.S. Open since 1973 after shooting 73-67 and failing to make it through sectional qualifying June 7 in Rockville, Md. The 1992 Open champion, who earned a spot at Shinnecock Hills a year ago through 36-hole qualifying, had played 31 consecutive Opens. His 140 total was five shots too high.

At the TPC at Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas, Trip Kuehne, Kyle Willmann and Andrew Tredway were penalized one shot apiece for slow play in the first round. What made the case unusual is that despite the penalty, Kuehne and Willmann earned the two available spots to Pinehurst (N.C.) No. 2.

Kuehne shot 68-68 and was medalist. It was a little more tense for Willmann, who had to edge Bronson Burgoon in a playoff for the other spot.

According to Tredway, the trio waited on every shot the first 14 holes. When the group ahead of them sped up the last two holes to beat the 4-hour, 30-minute playing time allotted by the U.S. Golf Association – Tredway said the group ahead literally was running, though a rules official said that wasn’t the case – the Kuehne-Willmann-Tredway threesome appeared out of position. They missed their 18-hole time by 2 minutes and finished more than 13 minutes behind the group ahead, and were penalized one stroke apiece.

“It wasn’t right,” Tredway said. “For 14 holes, we waited on every shot. Then they speeded up. I guess the officials got on them, but nobody told us what was happening. Finally, after our tee shots on 17 (a par 3), we were informed we were a little behind. At that point, we had only 600 more yards of catching up that we could do (the 18th hole was a par 5). It was like playing against an invisible shot clock.”

At Woodmont Country Club in Maryland, Olin Browne considered withdrawing after an opening 73, but played on and finished birdie-eagle-eagle for a second-round 59 and a spot in this week’s Open. Browne’s round came at the same site where Shigeki Maruyama shot 58 in Open qualifying in 2000.

“I thought it was for 58,” Browne said after his last putt. “I’ve always had trouble with math.”

Lee Williams added more fireworks at Woodmont. Needing a birdie on the final hole to get into a playoff, the former Auburn All-American went one better: Williams holed a 9-iron from 125 yards for eagle-2 and earned a spot into the Open.

Williams, who will be playing his first Open, avoided a nine-person playoff for five spots.

Other U.S. Open news:

Darren Clarke withdrew from the U.S. Open to be with his wife, Heather, who is undergoing cancer treatment. Clarke was replaced by Stanford men’s coach Conrad Ray, the first alternate from Tarzana, Calif.

Two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer was one of the 20 qualifiers in Columbus, Ohio. Tour players Geoff Ogilvy, Bob Tway, Ted Purdy, Bob Estes, Frank Lickliter II and Steve Lowery also advanced. Missing out: Former major champions Jose Maria Olazabal and Paul Azinger.

NCAA individual champion James Lepp traveled from the NCAAs in Baltimore back to Washington state and failed to qualify. Lepp was first alternate after finishing six shots behind lone qualifier Troy Kelly.

Former U.S. Amateur champion Matt Kuchar won a three-man playoff to earn the sixth and final spot in Atlanta. Casey Wittenberg, who tied for 33rd at the Masters and played last year’s Open as an amateur, also qualified.

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