On a roll, Whitsett medals at Houston qualifier

Cory Whitsett, a member of Alabama's 2013 and 2014 NCAA Championship team, during the U.S. Open Sectional Qualifier at Lakeside Country Club in Houston.

Final scores

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For now, the lower-case “a” will remain by his name, but make no mistake about it: Cory Whitsett has got the professional game.

Less than a week removed from helping his Alabama Crimson Tide roll to a second straight NCAA title, the big-hitting left-hander put on a clinic at his home course, Lakeside Country Club in Houston, to emphatically seize a spot in the upcoming U.S. Open field, where he will play as an amateur, then turn professional.

“My putter got hot, and on a day when so much can go by the wayside, it was nice,” Whitsett said after posting matching 66s to romp to medalist honors. At 12 under he was five clear of the runner-up, PGA Tour member Bobby Gates (70-67), though the prize was the same: Each earns a spot into the field at Pinehurst No. 2.

So, too, did Anthony Broussard (71-68 for 5 under 139), who defeated William Kropp (69-70) in a playoff for the third and final spot in the 56-player field.

Kropp will be the first alternate, and Bronson Burgoon (67-73) the second alternate.

No one’s spot came easier than Whisett’s – and for that he credits positive momentum carried over from last week’s NCAA Championship conquest for his Alabama Crimson Tide.

“It was just an awesome way to go out (two straight titles),” he said. “But it’s all been such a whirlwind, a blur. It was a quick turnaround, but (the U.S. Open qualifier) came at a good time. I’ve been playing a lot better, I just had my best college year, and there were a lot of good vibes.”

Rarely has the phrase “home cooking” been more fitting than with what Whitsett did at Lakeside, a course he has played since he was 7 or 8. Though he felt a little pressure with so many family members, friends, and club members watching, Whitsett hardly let it seep into his performance. He made seven birdies and a bogey in the morning, but refused to think he could toss it into cruise control.

Instead, “I told myself to go as low as I could in the afternoon.”

Again, he made seven birdies and a bogey, and though he conceded he hit some loose shots in the afternoon when fatigue set in, “my putter kept me in there.”

He has gone lower at Lakeside, but never has he played better with so much on the line. Whitsett birdied nine different holes and clearly he used his great length to birdie three of the par 5s both times – the third, 13th and 18th. He also birdied a pair of par 4s, 11 and 16, twice.

“I’ve been rounding into form at the right time,” he said.

Most satisfying is the fact Whitsett took advantage of the exemption he had through local qualifying, based on his Walker Cup appearance last September. But because he accepted that exemption, Whitsett must remain an amateur for the U.S. Open, but that doesn’t bother him at all.

He received word earlier in the day that he had an exemption into an upcoming Web.com Tour stop in Wichita, Kan., as the former Alabama standout has decided on pursuing that route to possibly get into the Web.com Tour Finals.

But while the pro world certainly waits, Whitsett has been provided several reminders that he’s still an amateur. One is his upcoming berth in Pinehurst where the “a” will be attached, and another is the call he got from his landlord for the apartment he rents back near the University of Alabama.

“He told us he was selling the apartment and if we could move out by the end of June, we wouldn’t have to pay the July rent,” he said. Saving $700 is a no-brainer, especially because he's not quite reaping any financial rewards from golf, so having breezed at Lakeside, Whitsett is headed back to Tuscaloosa. Nothing like moving out of an apartment to get ready for the U.S. Open, eh?

“The whirlwind continues,” he said, laughing.

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Short shots: Burgoon is likely bemoaning the double bogey that he made at the par-5 third in the afternoon. Had he made par or birdie, as he had done in the morning, he would have secured one of the three spots without needing a playoff. . . . Scott Verplank, who’ll turn 50 Sept. 9, failed to make a birdie in an opening 76, came back with 71, but did not make it through. . . . Other notables who failed to qualify included Duffy Waldorf (72-71), former Open Championship winner Todd Hamilton (70-74), and former U.S. Amateur champ Kelly Kraft (70-76), whose fate was sealed when he shot 42 on the front nine in the afternoon. . . . Kris Blanks was 1 over with nine holes to play when he withdrew. . . . Whitsett said it’s been too much travel (Kansas to Alabama to Houston, now back to Alabama) in the last week, so the back-to-back national titles hasn’t truly registered. “But I think in the next few days it will sink in, and it’s something to be proud of.”

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