5 Things: U.S. Open sectional qualifier, Vero Beach
VERO BEACH, Fla. – The U.S. Open Sectional Qualifier at Quail Valley provided a handful of firsts Monday, as all four players who have advanced to next week's U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 will be making their debuts in America's national championship.
But that doesn't mean any of their stories followed the same script.
Here are 5 Things to take away from Monday's action in Florida:
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1. FEELING DREAMY: Staring at a 10-footer for par on the ninth hole, Nicholas Lindheim got some encouraging words from his goofball caddie, Carter "Hurricane" Hennessey.
"You know those 10-footers for the U.S. Open that you dream about as a kid? Well, this is your moment. This is your putt."
"He's always trying to keep me loose," said Lindheim after rounds of 66 and 71 that gave him the second qualifying spot.
And now not only will the U.S. Open be the California native's first major, it will act as his first PGA Tour start as well.
PHOTOS: U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying (Vero Beach, Fla.)
Check out images from Quail Valley during the U.S. Open Sectional Qualifier in Vero Beach, Fla.
"It hasn't set in yet," said Lindheim, who has played in two Web.com Tour events this season, missing a cut and finishing T-27 at the South Georgia Classic.
With the winds whipping around Quail Valley at 20 mph, Hennessey says that it is the reason Lindheim was able to lap the field Monday.
"It's the reason why he has qualified," said Hennessey. "We play at a club that has no trees, so we are always playing in the wind. He knows how to flight his ball low. So many guys out there today were getting it up into the wind, but Nick kept it down and the scores came."
Lindheim has struggled since turning pro in 2005, choosing to skip the college game and prove his worth on the mini-tours.
"He didn't go to college, and when those players don't have a lot of immediate success, they get scarred early," said Hennessey. "And Nick has plenty of scars. But now it is his time. He has the game to play with the big boys. There is no reason he can't go to Pinehurst and win. I see his growth every day."
The U.S. Open berth wasn't the only good news Lindheim got Monday, as he also got into the Web.com Tour's tournament in Cleveland this week. And despite the opportunity to go play Pinehurst No. 2 all week, Lindheim will make the trip to Ohio at 5:15 a.m. Tuesday morning.
"I play golf every day. I play golf for a living," said Lindheim.
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2. DANIEL THE DOMINANT: Andres Echavarria didn't mince words when describing Daniel Berger's round.
"One of the best I have ever seen," said Echavarria, describing Berger's 10-under performance that earned him medalist honors.
Berger put himself in great position for his first U.S. Open appearance with a 6-under 66 in the morning round and then blitzed his back nine in the afternoon, including three birdies and an eagle, to run away from the field.
"It's been a long year and a half to get here, but I feel like things are coming around," said Berger, who is 11th on the Web.com Tour money list with three top-10 finishes thus far this season.
Berger made the bold decision to leave Florida State after his sophomore campaign, choosing to test his talents in the professional ranks instead of chasing a national championship with the Seminoles.
"I felt like I was able to do what I am doing now," said Berger, who made a small putter adjustment and attributed his good rounds to dropping more putts. "There is a lot of season ahead of us, so I just have to keep playing well."
Berger has always been one to challenge himself, playing with Tour pros growing up in Jupiter, Fla.
"When you play with guys like Steve Marino, who has made $10 million on the PGA Tour, (and then you) play with these other guys, it just doesn't seem like they are that good," said Berger. "No offense to them. It's a good way to see where your game is at."
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3. DEJA VU: The rough to the left of the 18th green at Quail Valley had caused Andres Echavarria to lose some sleep in recent years.
The Florida product by way of Colombia had thrown away a chance at a U.S. Open berth on his 36th hole in 2011, picking up a double-bogey after missing the green wide to the left and failing to get up and down.
So wasn't it fitting that Echavarria would wind up in the same place in 2014 with yet another spot on the line?
The 26-year-old's maturity proved to be tougher than the course, as Echavarria hit a beautiful chip shot to 3 feet – "it definitely felt longer than 3 feet" – and holed the putt to card a 3-under 141 and earn the third qualifying spot.
"Coming back and getting that up and down … it was so satisfying," said Echavarria.
"Golf is kind of ironic. Glad he got up and down," said caddie Isabella Lendl, who tried to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open at Quail Valley on Friday, only to finish as the first alternate.
But irony aside, Echavarria came to Vero Beach prepared, using a new wedge in his bag for that type of shot, using a 62.5-degree wedge after seeing Camilo Villegas use it with success.
"It launches the ball way up high and it just lands on its spot," said Echavarria.
Echavarria had his younger brother, Nicolas, behind the 18th green to root him on, checking scoring updates and offering words in their native tongue as Echavarria approached his chip shot.
Nicolas, who plays for the University of Arkansas, had a rough day with rounds of 80-74.
"It's good to spend time with him. I played a practice round with him and he was just striping it. I was like, 'Man, he has a better chance of qualifying for the Open than I do,' " said Echavarria. "But, you know experience helps."
And, on Monday, experience paid major dividends.
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4. NEEDS SOME HELP: Sam Horsfield sat eight shots back of the leaders after 18 holes Monday, but his 74 was only three worse than the most important position: fourth place.
The 17-year-old returned to the course in the afternoon and fired a 3-under 69 to get into the clubhouse at 1 under – and then had to wait to see if he'd be playing off for first or second alternate, knowing that 1 under wouldn't get him an automatic berth.
After Landon Michelson was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard, Horsfield went back out to the course and defeated Sebastian Maclean on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff to take first-alternate status.
Horsfield is good friends with Andy Zhang, the 14-year-old that received a spot in the 2012 U.S. Open as the first alternate out of the Florida sectional.
"It was tough out there today," said Horsfield. "I thought the first 18 played a bit harder. The wind was tough. The afternoon the greens slowed down a bit."
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5. SHORT SHOTS: PGA Tour winner Brian Gay missed out on Pinehurst behind rounds of 74-73 to finish T-16. … Chase Koepka, younger brother of European Tour winner Brooks Koepka, fired a 2-under 70 in the afternoon, but his opening 79 proved to be too much to overcome in finishing at 7 over. … Six players withdrew after the first round, including PGA Tour veteran Nick O'Hern, who shot 80 as the wind blew more than 20 mph. … Thomas Stankowski had the shot of the day, holing out for eagle on the difficult par-4 18th en route to an afternoon 72. He finished 2 over for the 36 holes. … LSU's Curtis Thompson battled back from an opening 4-over 76 with a 4-under 68, settling for T-7 at even par.