A pair of Hawaiians have big Open dreams in Ohio

Keegan Bradley hits a shot during the first round of The Memorial.

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COLUMBUS, Ohio – Given his number (a 6-over 78) and his standing (T-111 of 119 players), you might have been tempted to extend some sympathy toward Kris Kitt. His long shot bid to grab a spot into the U.S. Open had come up woefully short and the 18 holes in the afternoon weren’t going to change that reality.

But save your condolences, because it turns out Kitt has a precious commodity in his grasp.

It’s called perspective.

“I’m very lucky to have what I have had in life, the jobs and the places I’ve worked,” Kitt said.

Kitt is the director of golf at Hoakalei CC, the Ernie Els design on Oahu, and through the years he’s worked at a number of famed resorts in our 50th state, including Nanea Golf Club on the Big Island. He counts among his friends Gary Planos and Nancy Cross, the heart and soul of the PGA Tour’s opening-season tournament at Kapalua, and for a few years Kitt was recruited to work at Yoshi CC in Japan.

Impressive locales, nice gigs, and Kitt appreciates all of it. But the competitor in him couldn’t turn the chance to advance to the U.S. Open sectional as an alternate out of the local site in Hawaii. “It’s only my 10th round of the year, and that includes the practice rounds,” Kitt said. “But I couldn’t pass up an experience like this.”

Kitt’s presence in the 120-player field at this U.S. Open sectional hits at the flavor of our national championship. You think you’ve got the game? Give it a shot. It’s an enormous dream for many, and Kitt is no different. But while he left Hawaii at 4 p.m. Friday and didn’t get to Columbus until mid-day Saturday, it was worth every second of sleepless travel.

When he arrived Saturday, Kitt played Lakes Golf & CC; on Sunday he toured Brookside. Then he took a look at the pairings.

“I chuckled. Keegan (Bradley) isn’t a household name, maybe, but he will be. Playing with him made it more special,” Kitt said. “I’m 45, he’s 25 and has won a PGA Tour tournament. But he’s a gentleman and was a delight to be with him.”

While Bradley’s 70 left the PGA Tour rookie thinking he had to step on it during the afternoon session at the Lakes, Kitt was feeling OK about his 78.

“It’s not what I wanted, but I’ll take it,” Kitt said. “It could’ve been a lot worse. I’m one of those guys who bunts it out there. Keegan was 40 past me all day.”

Kitt hardly stood alone when it came to competitors who lent flavor to this qualifier. Later in the morning draw at Brookside, Kaikala Wilson, a cattle farmer on the Big Island where he has lived all his life, signed for an 85 and still managed a smile.

True, he had been originally penciled in to play alongside Vijay Singh and the three-time major champion didn’t show up, but Wilson still toured Brookside next to Steve Marino, “an awesome guy,” he said.

The golf? Not so awesome.

“I only hit three fairways,” Wilson said with a shrug.

He was a long shot equal to Kitt and a healthy list of other competitors, but that didn’t dissuade Wilson. He tries to play golf at least twice a week and this was the opportunity of a lifetime, no matter that, like Wilson, it took him so long to get here.

As Marino stopped to talk to longtime friend Marc Turnesa, who had played the Lakes Course in the morning, he shook his head and indicated his round of 76 was probably it for him. “I’m finished,” Marino said, as if he knew that it would take a round of 60 in the afternoon.

So at 4 over Marino seemed to be waving the white flag. At 13 over, Wilson appeared as if he couldn’t wait to play 18 more. Quirky and flavorful, this qualifying stuff, though Charles Howell III sees it from Marino’s vantage point, not Wilson’s, and so he offers an honest assessment when asked if he enjoyed it.

“No, these are not fun at all,” said Howell. “Then again, they’re good incentive to play well so you don’t have to do them.”

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