Texas-bound Hall storms his way to Merion
PURCHASE, N.Y. – For most of Monday, the Metropolitan Golf Association's U.S. Open Sectional Qualifier, held at Old Oaks Country Club and Century Country Club, was a somber, soggy affair. But in the last 45 minutes, as the clouds parted in the late afternoon and the sun peeked out, the event burst to life.
After a morning that was marked by intermittent rain, Gavin Hall – an amateur who enrolled briefly at UCLA last year but will be competing this fall for Texas – birdied his final four holes to race up the leaderboard and grab a share of medalist honors. Joining Hall at 4 under were Geoffrey Sisk and Jesse Smith.
Each of the three has a spot in next week's U.S. Open Championship at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. Joining them will be Jim Herman, who finished at 3 under.
"Playing my last nine holes, the lead was at 4 under," Hall said after signing his card at Century Country Club. "I figured that if I could get to 4 under I would have a pretty good shot. But if I didn't, then I was happy about the way that I grinded out the day and hung in there."
As impressive as his birdie run was, Hall's calm, methodical demeanor and ability to handle pressure down the stretch was equally notable.
He made a 15-foot birdie on the par-3 No. 7 hole (his 16th), then drained an 8-foot slider after escaping from the lip of a greenside bunker on No. 8 ("That was probably the best putt of the day.").
With a crowd of more than 100 encircling the ninth green, the Pittsford, N.Y., resident poured in a 10-foot birdie putt and gave a subtle, restrained fist pump. There was no yelling, no jumping, no histrionics. Hall, 18, who won the 2012 Ping Invitational and the 2011 AJGA Junior Players Championship, acted like a golfer who simply had set a goal and achieved it.
"I knew I had to make some putts," he said. "I knew I didn't really play too well this morning, so I was really happy to get out of Old Oaks at even par."
Being patient and surviving the rainy weather in the morning also was something that Herman said was a key.
"You just wanted to hang in there and shoot for the center of some greens and let some holes run out," said Herman, 35, a resident of Palm City, Fla., who has struggled this season on the PGA Tour, missing eight cuts in 10 starts. "I wanted to make some pars, maybe sneak in a birdie and see what happens."
A former assistant professional at Trump National Bedminster in New Jersey, Herman said that although he was disappointed with loose bogeys on the 17th and 18th holes at Century in the morning, he was pleased by the way he was able to get back on track at the conclusion of that round.
"I birded three of my last holes this morning, and that really kind of did it for me," said Herman, who drove from Maryland on Sunday night after finishing T-15 at the Web.com Tour's Mid-Atlantic Championship at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm.
Before he travels to Philadelphia, Herman has a plane to catch. Tuesday morning he will fly to Memphis to get ready for the PGA Tour's FedEx St. Jude Classic.
"It would be nice just to go to Philly, since my wife is there," he said. "But I've got to get starts under my belt."