Open qualifiers reach for the stars

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Keith Dicciani from White Plains at the Long Keith Dicciani from White Plains at the Long Island qualifying tournament for the U.S. Open held at Wheatley Hills Golf Club in East Williston. (May 7, 2012) Photo Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

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Mark Herrmann Newsday columnist Mark Herrmann

Herrmann has covered the Mets and Yankees since 1988, and has been Newsday’s national golf writer since

The one thing that pretty much everyone had in common at Long Island's U.S. Open local qualifier Monday -- the nine who advanced and the 127 who didn't -- was that they are pretty sure they will try again next year. The unspoken rule among golfers is, if you're good enough to try for the Open, you try.

"If I didn't get any better, I would stop going. But the U.S. Open is the pot of gold, it's the end of every golfer's rainbow," said Joe Horowitz, a pro from Long Beach who did qualify for the sectional in Summit, N.J. June 4 by shooting 1-under-par 71 at Wheatley Hills yesterday.

"Whether it's a monetary pot or whatever you want to call it, it's your one chance. It's golf's version of American Idol, or any one of those shows," said Horowitz, who is a musician and composer as well as a former Canadian Tour player. "If you put three good rounds together, you get on the biggest stage in the world. For me, it would be crazy not to do it."

The Open is an invitation to dream, which is why 9,006 entered nationally this year.

"You never know what might happen," said Keith Dicciani, assistant pro at Fresh Meadow and the 2010 New York State Open champion, who shot 72 Monday and is an alternate for the two-round sectional at Canoe Brook.

Horowitz, 32, sees it as a rung on the ladder. The 2002 Richardson Memorial champion has renewed hope of getting a tour career after having won the Goslings Invitational in Bermuda this past December. "A lot of the friends I played with on the Canadian Tour are winning on the PGA Tour," he said. "In golf, all you need is six or seven hot weeks and it keeps you going."

For others, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opening. "I think everybody's dream is to play in a U.S. Open," said Kirk Satterfield, assistant pro at the Golf Club of Purchase, who qualified at Wheatley Hills, four days after winning the Westchester PGA. "The nice thing about the USGA is that they legitimately give you a shot. If somebody can string together three great rounds, they can play in the U.S. Open. It doesn't matter who you are. It's just fun to compete."

These days, pros are competing with college and high school players, who won six of the nine berths at Wheatley. Officials, caddies and other observers attributed that to the talent of young players, their fearlessness on Wheatley's fast greens (12 ½ on the Stimpmeter), fitness, new equipment and the fact young guys have a lot of time to play. Piping Rock pro Sean Quinlivan, in contrast, did 11 hours of teaching on the eve of the qualifier and figured he had no chance (he was wrong, he qualified with a 70).

It's all worth it, even if you experience the heartache of watching a nine-foot downhill putt do a horseshoe circuit at the hole, defy gravity and spin back uphill to cost you a playoff for the last spot -- which is what happened to Dicciani.

"I don't play much over the winter, so this is still early for me. If I come out and play well, great," he said, adding that he wouldn't miss shooting for the Open. "If you meet the requirements, you should do it. You've got to do it."

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