Levin's bumpy ride somehow leads to U.S. Open

Spencer Levin

The last week certainly has been a rollercoaster ride for Spencer Levin, culminating with an invitation into the U.S. Open next week at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. If you want to call it a homecoming of sorts, go ahead, because Levin grew up in Elk Grove, just 75 miles from San Francisco and he said last week, “(this) U.S. Open I want to get into more than any other one I’ve tried for.”

Of course, his attempts kept coming up short.

On Sunday, June 3, Levin held the lead entering the final 18 holes of the Memorial Tournament in Columbus, Ohio, but a final-round 75 dropped him into a tie for fourth.

The Memorial result, his second-best of 2012 (he was third at the Waste Management Phoenix Open after a final-round 75), vaulted Levin from 77th to 61st in the Official World Golf Ranking. However, the Californian needed to jump one more spot, into the top 60, to be exempt into the upcoming U.S. Open.

Levin then tried to qualify on Monday at the U.S. Open sectional qualifier in Columbus, but with rounds of 72-74, he was five shots out of a playoff for the final spots.

A trip to Memphis, Tenn., this week didn’t help, either, as Levin shot 71-72, again not recording a round under par on the par 70 TPC at Southwind course, and missed the cut by one shot.

Improbably, when the world ranking came out after Dustin Johnson’s victory in Memphis, Levin had moved up one spot and gained an invitation to the U.S. Open. That after playing his past five rounds in 11 over par.

Unconventional? No question, but Levin surely won’t be rejecting his invitation. Instead, he’ll take on the challenge of a course he considers to be one of the world’s best.

“Just because it’s close to my home and in my mind, it might be the best golf course in the world,” he said.

The good news regarding last-minute U.S. Open spots wasn’t relegated to Levin. Though it had already been all but assured, South African Branden Grace, a three-time winner of the European PGA Tour this year, was officially notified of his spot, by virtue of his spot at 54 in the world order.

Since the USGA had set aside five spots for last-day movement inside the top 60 and only Grace and Levin got them, three were kicked back to players on the re-allotment list. Thus, Justin Hicks, Kyle Thompson, and Colt Knost are now officially entered into the party at the Olympic Club.

Hicks and Knost were the first two alternates out of the jam-packed Columbus, Ohio, site, while Thompson was first alternate out of the site in Memphis.

Hicks had been squeezed out in a four-way playoff for the final three spots in Columbus, but that’s not important now that he’s made it into his fourth U.S. Open. You might recall him as the guy who jumped onto the leaderboard early at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

Thompson failed to make it through a three-for-two playoff in Memphis. A South Carolinian, Thompson will be making his major championship debut.

Knost is perhaps the most intriguing story because as a second alternate he actually got move ahead of those who were first alternates at their sites. Curious? Not if you look closely, because the USGA gave tremendous weight to the fact that the Columbus site had the feel of a PGA Tour event, and in their judgement, the re-allotment process is about reassessing the landscape once all factors are considered. Columbus ended up getting 18 spots, which is reasonable considering the number of PGA Tour players in the 132-player field.

But the flavor of Knost is this: In 2007 he won the U.S. Public Links Championship and the U.S. Amateur, prestigious titles that would have earned him invites to the 2008 Masters and U.S. Open. Only Knost turned professional and forfeited those spots.

Four seasons of professional golf came and went and Knost never did earn the right to make it into a major - until now. And what better place to make his major championship debut than The Olympic Club, which is where he captured the U.S. Amateur five years ago.

When it all shook out, who got left standing in the on deck circle? That would collegiate phenom Jordan Spieth, the first alternate out of the Houston site who is now No. 1 alternate – but only should an exempt player withdrew. (If a qualifier withdraws, he would be replaced by an alternate from whichever site is in question.)

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