5 Things: Koepka gets redemption at Open qualifier

Brooks Koepka (second from left) hugs his younger brother, Chase, after Brooks birdied the par-5 18th hole in a sudden-death playoff against Andy Zhang, far right, for the final qualifying spot at the 2012 U.S. Open sectional at Black Diamond Ranch in Lecanto, Fla.

Brooks Koepka (second from left) hugs his younger brother, Chase, after Brooks birdied the par-5 18th hole in a sudden-death playoff against Andy Zhang, far right, for the final qualifying spot at the 2012 U.S. Open sectional at Black Diamond Ranch in Lecanto, Fla.

For full recaps of all the sectional qualifiers, click here.

• • •

LECANTO, Fla. - Brooks Koepka nearly threw his phone after reading a text message from his father, Bob, at the end of a grueling 36-hole stretch Monday afternoon at Black Diamond Ranch.

The elder Koepka wanted to know why his son, who recently completed his career at Florida State, would have gone for the green in two at the par-5 18th hole with a spot in the 2012 U.S. Open on the line.

Brooks Koepka was so mad that he wouldn't take a call from his father, instead having his younger brother and caddie, Chase, handle the inquiry.

"He was 220 out. What did you want him to do, Dad?" Chase asked his father.

The gamble had led to bogey and dropped Koepka, of Wellington, Fla., to 2 under (72-70) with plenty of golfers left on the picturesque Quarry Course near Florida's west-central coast.

Koepka sat around for 30 minutes, hanging out at a table with playing competitor Sam Osborne - who had virtually clinched a spot for next week at The Olympic Club in San Francisco with a 3-under 141.

And then 14-year-old Andy Zhang made a 5-foot birdie putt on No. 9 to also get into the clubhouse at 2 under.

A playoff. And guess where it was headed? No. 18.

Both players took driver off the tee, with Koepka poking his more than 330 yards down the left side and into the rough. Zhang - who would be the youngest qualifier in U.S. Open history with a win in the playoff - pushed his drive right and into a bunker. Advantage, Koepka.

Zhang got out of the bunker fine, but hit the very top of a tree and came to rest in the fairway, but about 110 yards out. Meanwhile, Koepka went for the green again. In two. He narrowly missed, his ball coming to rest in the fringe, just below the hole. Advantage, Koepka.

Zhang would put pressure on Koepka - who ended his collegiate career last week at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., after a playoff loss to Kent State for the final spot in match play - with a nice shot to about 18 feet behind the hole, causing Koepka to take his time with his eagle attempt from the fringe.

Putting has been something Koepka has worked hard on, so this up-and-down was important.

"The putt was basically the same one that Sam (Osborne) had on 18 before, so I had a good read on it," said Koepka.

Koepka ran his eagle attempt to about 2 feet, forcing Zhang to drain his long birdie attempt. He didn't, and the 22-year-old Koepka secured his trip to San Francisco with a 2-footer.

"I'm going to the U.S. Open, that's all I know," Koepka said of his father's earlier inquiry.

Now Brooks' dad is faced with a bigger decision: stay on the bag for son Chase at the Sunnehanna Amateur or make the trip to California to caddie for Brooks. (Fittingly, the U.S. Open ends on Father's Day.)

"He can stick with the plan," said a laughing Brooks.

On Monday, Brooks stuck to his own plan and booked his second trip to California in two weeks in the process.

• • •

2. GOOD LUCK CHARM? Craig Bellamy had never caddied before. Sam Osborne had never played in the U.S. Open. A perfect match, right?

Bellamy saw an ad in a local newspaper about caddies potentially being needed for the Open sectional, so he made a call to the Black Diamond pro shop. They took his name and number.

Within three hours, Osborne called Bellamy, who simply told him the truth: "I've never caddied. But I know golf." That was enough for Osborne.

The Englishman - who spent time on the European Challenge Tour and attempts to Monday qualify here in the States - fired rounds of 71-70 to take runner-up status and land a spot in his first major.

Where will he go for advice? Jack Fleck, who upset Ben Hogan in the 1955 U.S. Open at Olympic, might be able to help.

"We play at the same club," said Osborne, who birdied Nos. 14-16 to get to 3 under. "He is always telling me stories about the Open. Now I am going to have to find a way to get in touch with him; he is back in Arkansas for the summer. This is unreal. I am going to the U.S. Open."

Osborne played with Koepka for the 36 holes, and credited Koepka's front-nine score on the second 18 for spurring him into contention.

"Had I played with two guys that shot 80, I don't know what would have happened," said Osborne, 30. "Brooks turned in (4-under) 32, and that really got me going. I knew I needed to get some birdies and did it at 14-15-16."

• • •

3. BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: Scott Langley had a distinct advantage Monday at Black Diamond: He already has played - and succeeded - in a U.S. Open.

The co-low amateur at the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach - he finished T-16 - Langley shook off an opening 1-over 73 with a blistering 6-under 66 (the round of the day) to take medalist honors.

"I knew I wasn't out of it after that 73," said Langley, the 2010 NCAA champion at Illinois and member of the 2010 U.S. Palmer Cup and World Amateur squads. "I think that is where I had an advantage today. I do have a lot of experience for someone my age (23), and I think that worked for me today."

Langley already has walked the first seven holes of Olympic on a mini-vacation about two weeks ago.

"If you keep it in the fairway, it will all come down to putting," he said.

• • •

4. ALMOST HISTORIC: Andy Zhang nearly made history at Lecanto, missing a 30-foot eagle putt at No. 9 to eliminate Koepka, but instead making a 5-footer for birdie to get into the playoff.

Zhang, 14, would have been the youngest qualifier in U.S. Open history.

"I was a bit nervous (on the tee at the 18th)," said Zhang, who lives in Kissimmee, Fla., and plays out of Reunion Resort. "So much was on the line for me. I had birdied the 18th before, but I just went right with my tee shot, and that made it difficult."

• • •

5. SHORT SHOTS: Sam Saunders, grandson of legendary Arnold Palmer, carried his own bag and carded a 5-over 149 after struggling to a 77 in the afternoon. . . . Auburn star Blayne Barber was in contention after the morning 18, sitting four back of leader Daniel Berger, but closed with 77 to finish T-13. . . . Berger, who recently completed his freshman season at Florida State, had a two-shot lead after the morning round (4-under 68), but closed with a 3-over 75 to slip to 1 under, good enough to get into a playoff for the second alternate spot. But he already had left, leaving Sam Ryder and Brett Stegmaier in the playoff, which Ryder won. . . . Golfweek's top-ranked junior, Shun Yat Hak, finished 27th after rounds of 77-75. . . . Florida star Andres Echavarria opened with 4-over 76 and withdrew.

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