Early exits won't ruin qualifiers' Open experience

Amateur Gavin Hall watches his tee shot on the fifth hole during the second round of the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club.

— John Nieporte lives and breathes golf, spending his days as the head pro at Trump International in West Palm Beach, Fla.

But his four daughters know very little of what daddy does for a living.

So he sat down last week with a scorecard to explain what a birdie, par and bogey are, catching them up on the basics before they attended their first professional golf tournament.

You know, that little tournament called the U.S. Open.

While Nieporte, 48, provided Golf 101 lessons, it was he and a slew of other amateurs and unknown qualifiers who garnered the most knowledge, even if they won't be hanging around for the final two rounds at Merion.

"(This teaches) everyone to just keep plugging along," said Nieporte, who secured the final sectional spot in Florida in a three-hole, sudden-death playoff. "Golf is a funny game. You never know when the ball is going to go in the hole. You just have to keep trying to put it in there."

Nieporte didn't find the cup quickly enough in firing 14-over 154 during the first two rounds, including a 14-over 84 Friday afternoon. Yet, he was smiling. His daughters gave him the thumbs-up sign throughout the round from outside the ropes.

"Their first real tournament was the U.S. Open, and they got to see their daddy play in it. That's pretty special," Nieporte said.

The sentiment was a popular one near the scoring trailers, as Max Homa was still soaking it all in even after his first U.S. Open was cut short by rounds of 73-78.

"It's everything it is cracked up to be," said Homa, the 2013 NCAA individual champion from Cal. "It was just fun. It stinks that it has to come to an end. Hopefully more to come down the road."

Homa showed plenty of game in battling back during the morning round, including an improbable chip-in for birdie on the long par-3 17th.

"My caddie said, 'That was the best moment of my life.' And I said, 'No, that was the best moment of my life," said Homa, who tossed golf balls to fans on the ninth green, becoming an instant fan favorite.

"This motivates me so much. It is so much fun out there. It's what I want to do with the rest of my life. Test my game against Tiger (Woods), Phil (Mickelson) and all those guys. I now know I can play with them. My game is there, now I just have to get there mentally."

Homa wasn't the only amateur to hear the roars of the crowd, as 18-year-old Gavin Hall got the crowd revved up with an eagle-2 at the par-4 eighth. He also had a hole-in-one during a practice round Sunday.

Needless to say, those two balls are in his possession. Not many 18-year-olds can put two trophies like that in their case.

"That was the loudest roar I've ever had," said Hall, who fired rounds of 74-77 after picking up two birdies in his first five holes of the first round to sit on the leaderboard overnight. "Just another memory from this week. This is a special place, special tournament. For me to play in it at such a young age, it's a great learning experience. I've gotten exposed to a lot of things.

"If I clean up some things, then I'll know I belong out here."

Most of the amateurs and qualifiers had to incite roars via their play, but Steven Fox had the advantage of being paired with defending U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson and Ernie Els during the first two rounds. So he got a bit of attention by association, and he was fairly happy with his 10-over 150 through 36 holes – including birdies to start the first round and to end the second round.

"(Simpson and Els) took me under their wing and looked out for me out there," said Fox. "This is my foot in the door. It's cool to be a part of that Tour group as an amateur. It's all about learning."

For Michael Weaver, he continues to learn from his heartbreaking loss in the finals of the U.S. Amateur in 2012, firing consecutive 74s to have an outside chance of making the cut at 8 over. Weaver, also a Cal product, says that adjusting to individual play after nine months of team play is fairly simple.

"I am calling all the shots out here. If I want to go for something, I can," said Weaver.

Words to live by for every amateur or want-to-be qualifier: Go for it.

Welcome to Golfweek.com's comments section.
Please review the posting guidlines here: Golfweek.com Community Guidelines.
All accounts must be verified using Disqus email verification