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CORDOVA, Tenn. – They started at 7 a.m and finished just shy of 8:30 p.m. local time in near darkness. Golf’s longest day lived up to its billing at U.S. Open sectional qualifying at Colonial Country Club’s North and South courses.
In between, there was sunshine and rain, joy and anguish, and a five-for-two playoff.
PGA Tour rookie Hudson Swafford garnered medalist honors with a 10-under total of 133, one stroke better than J.B. Holmes. Swafford was the only player to break 70 on the tougher South course in the morning and followed it up with a 64 on the North in the afternoon.
“To be medalist gives me some added confidence,” said Swafford, who competed in the 2010 U.S. Open. “My swing changes are starting to pay off and it’s great to be in my national championship again.”
A cluster of Tour pros tied at 8-under 135, including former PGA champion David Toms, Joe Ogilvie, Kevin Kisner, 50-year-old Jeff Maggert, and 1999 U.S. Amateur champion David Gossett. The once can’t-miss-kid from Memphis is 0-for-9 in Monday Qualifying this year and is competing on the Adams Golf Pro Series. “I’m still chasing the dream,” he said.
Another Memphis product, Casey Wittenberg, torched the North course in 9-under 62 in the morning with his father on the bag and his grandparents in the gallery and finished tied for eighth at 136. Amateur Robby Shelton, a freshman on the NCAA men’s national champion University of Alabama team last week, fired 70-66 to make the U.S. Open field. His reaction to earning a spot in his first major: “When does it start?” he said.
Cody Gribble closed with 65 and Jason Millard shot a pair of 68s. That left five golfers at 137 with two spots available. Australian Brady Watt drilled a 7-iron to 15 feet on the first playoff – the 10th hole of the North course – and two-putted for birdie to advance. He had waited 2 hours for the playoff to begin. What did he do? “I walked around like a lost puppy,” he said.
Amateur Hunter Stewart of Vanderbilt locked up the final spot by sinking a 12-foot downhill birdie putt on the 11th hole in the gloaming and pumped his fist in celebration.
“It’s the putt you dream of,” he said. “You know, when you’re 7 or 8 years old and it’s dark and you’re telling yourself it’s to win (the U.S. Open) and fortunately I hit a great putt and rolled it in.”
Scott Langley, who rebounded from a Sunday 79 at The Memorial, had to settle for first alternate and amateur Sam Love second alternate. Amateur Sebastian Cappelen, who fell out of the playoff on the first extra hole, was the odd man out.
Leave it to Ogilvie, one of the Tour’s great deep thinkers to sum up what it feels like to make it through the “longest day in golf: “It feels good, and then you realize you’ve just earned the right to get kicked in the nuts for four days.”