ERIN, Wis. – When Tyler Light rolled in a 10-foot birdie putt to get to 4 under in Round 1 of the U.S. Open, he looked over at his former college teammate/caddie as the crowd roared.
“This is awesome,” Light told Garrison Myles.
Not bad for a guy who was working night shifts at a UPS distribution center in Canton, Ohio, a couple of months ago. Before that, the 26-year-old supported his golf dream by sorting logs at his uncle’s sawmill.
Light made it look easy early on at Erin Hills, but this being the U.S. Open, it didn’t last. He played his final seven holes in 5 over to post a 1-over 73 in his major debut.
For Mike Emery, Light’s swing coach the past 10 months, the U.S. Open marked the first time he’s been able to watch his pupil compete. Emery, a 1994 U.S. Open participant at Oakmont, knows firsthand what this ultimate test feels like.
“The emotions from excitement to confidence to panic, you’re going to feel it all on something this challenging,” Emery said.
Light got his first set of clubs from his father, Tim, at age 4.
“He told his fifth-grade teacher that he was going to be a pro someday,” Tim said.
The teacher told Light that was unrealistic.
Light went on to play college golf at Malone University, a small Christian Division II school in Canton, Ohio. Last year former Malone teammate Richie Schembechler qualified for the U.S. Open at Oakmont. Emery also works with Schembechler and caddied for him on the familiar track.
Light’s high school coach, Jeff Jackson, was on hand at Erin Hills and his college coach is expected to arrive on Friday.
“I told (my wife) Amy if he gets to the U.S. Open we’re going,” said Jackson, who graduated from Malone in 2003. “I don’t care where it is or what we need to do, we’ll be there.”
Off to the side of the par-4 fifth hole Thursday, a portion of Light’s gallery gathered in front of a scoreboard to commemorate his hot start. Light had actually fallen to 3 under at that point, but was in fine company on that leaderboard.
“There’s a sentence I’ve never said before,” Tim said. “Westwood, Fowler, Light … it’s crazy.”
Dad has teared up twice so far.
It wasn’t too long ago that Light wasn’t sure if golf was the right path for him. After graduating from Malone with a degree in Business Administration, Light moved to Myrtle Beach, S.C., where he earned full status on the PGA Tour Canada for 2015. He made only three cuts in 11 starts.
He couldn’t sleep in Canada. Couldn’t shut off his mind.
“The secret everyone always told me was to play as if golf didn’t matter,” Light said. “Golf was taking over my life.”
More than anything, he wasn’t having fun.
When Light came to Emery, they decided he should quit playing in Canada and retool his golf swing. Stay home, play some events close by and “see if you like golf.”
“I think he likes it now,” Emery said, laughing.
Emery once clocked Light’s swing speed at 134 mph. A big course like Erin Hills suits Light’s power game. Early on Thursday, he led the field in total driving distance.
“It looks effortless,” Emery said.
Light didn’t play much golf at all last summer. He met a girl, Rachel Rufener, in Canton, got back in the church and shifted his priorities. He can sleep at night now.
“My girlfriend told me to write down all my goals at the beginning of the year,” Light said. “One of those goals was to qualify for U.S. Open.
“Here I am.”
Beats the heck out of flipping baggies on the UPS belt.