Wednesday, June 3, 2009
It is a dream he can nurture beneath a midnight sun, against a backdrop of breathtaking nature, and far from a sporting spotlight that shines on major cities.
None of that makes it any less passionate to Billy Bomar.
On the contrary, his pursuit is what makes the U.S. Open the great piece of American sports theater that it is.
“It’s the ultimate in golf. As a kid when you’re on a putting green, you’re trying to win the U.S. Open,” Bomar said. “It’s why it’s our biggest tournament.”
And thanks to a flavor that is nowhere else in sports, Bomar is part of it.
“We’re going to fly nine hours to Chicago, then drive five hours to Dayton (Ohio) and have some fun,” he said, referring to his traveling companion, daughter Brittany, a future University of Hawaii golfer and two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship participant.
“We’re going to give it our best try.”
Having shot 71 to win a local qualifier at Settlers Bay GC in Wasilla, Alaska, Bomar at the age of 46 has made it into the sectional phase of the process for the first time. He’ll tee it up June 8 at NCR Country Club for a chance to make the field at Bethpage Black. If ever there’d be a fitting entrant for the playing of our national open on a pure public course, it would be Bomar.
Why is that?
Because far from pristine fairways, manicured bunkers, and the country-club landscape that many wrongly feel represents golf in our country, Bomar is part of an endeavor that is crucial to the future of this game. He is involved with the First Tee program in Anchorage.
That’s right, Alaska. But before you make jokes about igloos and ice and ask if the Iditarod lasts longer than the golf season, consider that in the short time the First Tee chapter has been up and running in Anchorage, “we have put 4,000 kids through the program,” Bomar said.
He was on his cell phone at one end of the range as a handful of his students hit balls. It was 6:30 at night, the sun was shining, and would be for another six-plus hours.
“We play a lot of golf after midnight,” Bomar said, pleased that he is involved in providing the means to interested youngsters. “We’re using golf to teach the kids life skills. These kids have talent and ability.”
So, too, does Bomar, which is why he’s taking on the U.S. Open sectional qualifying challenge. But unlike the great majority of players who’ll also be involved in qualifiers Monday, Bomar did not go into this test with a great deal of prep work.
How about four competitive rounds? Not a lot of time to shake off the rust, but remember, it’s Alaska.
“I think our greens are still rolling 4 on the Stimpmeter,” Bomar said, laughing. “We do have a decent golf season, but the golf courses are in good shape for just a short time.”
Still, 18 players showed up for the U.S. Open local qualifier.
“We don’t have a lot of amateurs eligible (handicap-wise), but we rallied up the pros,” Bomar said. “The USGA is very supportive to give us a local qualifier.”
In past years, Bomar was too busy and passed on the qualifier. He nearly did so again this year. That’s because he got word the night before the qualifier that his father had died at home in Arizona.
“I was going to withdraw and fly to Phoenix,” Bomar said, “but then I thought about it. I think my father would have wanted me to play. He was a big part of me playing golf, and I used that as a little extra incentive.”
It would be impossible not to draw inspiration from the memory of Jack Bomar, a true life hero. The man dedicated a good chunk of his life to his country; he was a POW in Vietnam from 1967 to ’73, confined in a room next to John McCain, and Billy Bomar can only imagine the strength his father possessed.
With thoughts of his father, Billy Bomar prevailed by one to earn the lone spot out of Settlers Bay. Though he’s been a pro since he was 19 and at various times played the Hogan/Nike/buy.com/Nationwide Tours, the closing holes in the U.S. Open local qualifier was the most adrenaline he felt in golf since that 1996 Compaq World Putting Championship.
“I should’ve won that,” Bomar said. “But as the thoughts of $250,000 appeared, the hole got smaller.”
He was seventh in a competition that attracted the likes of Payne Stewart, Steve Scott, Tom Kite, Bob Murphy and Len Mattiace, the eventual winner. Good names, rich purse, but this time around, the names will be bigger, the financial stakes so much higher.
The odds against him are long. So is the distance he must travel. But what he brings to the game is priceless.