PURCHASE, N.Y. - There were many other things Lee Janzen could have been doing all day Monday, just as there were other things he could have done for a living when he was slumping in his 40s. "It turns out," he said, "I'm a golfer." And yesterday, he was the best one.
Janzen, 50, was first through 36 daunting, pressure-packed holes in a U.S. Open sectional qualifier at Old Oaks and Century Country Clubs. The two-time Open champion has been trying to get back into the national championship since his 10-year exemption ran out in 2008 and finally did it, shooting 4 under par.
Thirty years after he first qualified, he is back in his favorite tournament for a 20th time, having earned his way to Chambers Bay outside Seattle next week. He was pleased when he was presented a medal, looking at the silver medallion and saying, "Another USGA win."
It was worth the two rounds in one day, which can be brutal on a Champions Tour player's bones. "You can't play if you don't try," he said. "If I didn't try to qualify, I wouldn't be going to Seattle to play, would I? The only chance I have of playing in it is this."
For him, the Open still is the draw it was when he won a playoff to get in for the first time in 1985. "It's a great challenge. It's just unique because it's our national open," he said.
Among those he congratulated was Pat Wilson, 24, the former St. John's golfer who qualified for the first time, finishing at 1 under. "I can't even think straight right now. It's kind of overwhelming. It will probably sink in a little bit later," Wilson said, admitting he was a bit surprised to learn the Open is next week.
He had not dared to think about it too much. "Look at how many good players are here. It's a good thing to have to change my plans because this was my goal for the summer," he said, having been joined as a qualifier by tour player Jamie Lovemark (2 under) and New Hampshire club pro Rich Berberian Jr. (1 under).
Janzen was the headliner, though, in every way. He maintained his strength with energy bars and his comfort by wearing shorts (forbidden in tour events). A winner on the Champions Tour this season, he sharpened his game and fed his spirit with five days of golf last week at Baltusrol, site of his 1993 Open victory. He stayed sharply focused Monday right through his final wedge shot on the last hole, which landed inches from the flagstick.
Afterward, he explained that he always has been focused on golf, even during career doldrums. "I thought there might be something better to do," he said, "but I couldn't find anything better to do."