College teammates join forces at U.S. Open

USGA

College teammates join forces at U.S. Open

PGA Tour

College teammates join forces at U.S. Open

ERIN, Wis. – If Maverick McNealy could have Viraat Badhwar hit a few putts for him this week at the U.S. Open, he would. Instead, he’ll just have to settle for his former Stanford teammate reading them.

“I’ve got the best green reader in the world,” McNealy said of Badhwar, who will caddie for McNealy at Erin Hills.

Said Badhwar: “I don’t what I’ve done to earn that title to be honest. … He won’t need my help (on the greens), but hopefully I’ll be there for him if he does.”

The Cardinal pair isn’t alone at Erin Hills. There are several current, former or future tandems of college teammates at this year’s U.S. Open. Incoming South Florida freshman Joaquin Niemann will have future Bulls teammate and fellow Chilean Claudio Correa on his bag. Pepperdine’s Roy Cootes will loop for current teammate Sahith Theegala.

Correa and Niemann made a deal that if Correa caddied during Niemann’s sectional qualifier and Niemann advanced, he’d get to carry Niemann’s bag at Erin Hills. Cootes and Theegala had a similar agreement.

“Going into it, I was like, ‘If we make it, you gotta take me here,’” Cootes said. “And now we’re here.”

Cootes and Theegala, both rising juniors, have known each other since junior golf. They’ve spent the last two years as roommates and are moving into a house with two other friends for their final two years at Pepperdine.

For Theegala, having a familiar face on the bag helps ease the pressure that comes with playing in his first major championship.

“It doesn’t really feel like I’m at a major championship, and it’s because of Roy,” Theegala said.

Cootes said he’s noticed Theegala’s game take off this year. Theegala qualified for and made the cut at the Genesis Open last February, then ended up in a tie for 49th.

“It’s some of the best golf I’ve ever seen him play,” Cootes said.

Niemann, 18, is also playing some of the best golf of his young career. He’s won six straight tournaments, including most recently the Mexican Amateur, and last month supplanted McNealy as the world’s top amateur.

While playing with Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia on Wednesday, Niemann’s game caught the eyes of the major winners.

“They like my low driver,” said a grinning Niemann, referencing his straight and piercing ball flight off the tee.

Correa, a rising senior at South Florida, has long been impressed with Niemann and can’t wait to get him to Tampa, Fla., this fall.

“He’s playing so great right now,” Correa said. “He’s going to be a great addition to the team. This week is great because I’m going to learn even more about his game and I can teach him some things that I’ve learned in college so that he’s even more prepared when he gets to campus.”

McNealy and Badhwar have spent more time together than either of the other teammate tandems this week. They’ve been teammates for four years and even partnered for the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball two years ago. This is the first time, though, that Badhwar has caddied for McNealy.

“It’s so fun on so many levels,” McNealy said. “Viraat has been my roommate, teammate and best friend for the last four years. It’s been great to get to know him. If anyone understands my golf game well it’s him. He’s played so many rounds with me. He’s been so helpful with me in terms of helping me with my game and improving. He’s the best putter I know, and I think that’s the big difference between me four years ago and me now is my putting.”

McNealy and Badhwar are so much in sync that “he’s just been handing me clubs and they’ve been correct,” McNealy said.

McNealy and Badhwar are set to walk at graduation this Sunday. McNealy had to finish his last exam on Wednesday morning while Badhwar stopped at the turn during McNealy’s Tuesday practice round to take his final two exams “in a barn.” Literally, it was a barn.

Asked if he’d have to leave McNealy on Sunday should McNealy make the cut, Badhwar quickly responded.

“I really hope I’m not there for graduation,” Badhwar said. “Who wants to sit through that when you could be walking through this?”

Cootes, however, said he’d have to leave Theegala if they make it to Sunday in order to make it back to California for the Cal State Amateur. But what if Theegala is in contention?

“If he’s in the top 10, I might have to stick around, so we’ll see how it goes,” Cootes said. “You know, it’s not the golf course that fits his game the best, but we’re going to love it either way and have so much fun doing it.”

Nothing like experiencing your first U.S. Open with your best ‘mate.

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