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Promise of youth in U.S. Open qualifier

Smithtown's Jim Liu, 14, tees off on the

Smithtown's Jim Liu, 14, tees off on the 11th hole at the Noyac Golf Club during the first round of qualifying for the US Open in Pebble Beach next month. (May 19, 2010) Credit: Photo by Joseph D. Sullivan

By definition, a local qualifying tournament for the U.S. Open looks ahead.

For a professional such as Paul Dickinson, the medalist yesterday at Noyac Golf Club, it means anticipating sectional qualifying June 7 and the Open at Pebble Beach a week later.

This event, though, offered a view deeper into the future. Looking at teenagers such as Smithtown's Jim Liu, a golf observer could see Open qualifiers and possibly Opens for years to come. Liu missed being an alternate by four strokes, but the 14-year-old learned a lot.

"I hoped that I could have finished better, but that's the way it goes sometimes," said the student at the Knox School. "Every round I play, I always take something that I learn from."

Wednesday, he learned that you can't miss 4- to 6-footers and compete with pros. Liu was 1 over par through much of his first nine before he let chances slip away on the fast greens. Still, it was a respectable finish for someone who last year missed by only six months being the youngest 2009 U.S. Open applicant. That distinction went to Matt Lowe of Farmingdale, who received major media attention for it.

Lowe, now 14 and six inches taller, didn't get the same treatment Wednesday as he shot 79. "I couldn't handle the quiet," he said, tongue in cheek. "I learned you've got to hit the fairways. I hit the ball well, I just didn't capitalize on any of the good opportunities I had."

The eighth grader did believe the experience will help at the Nassau County varsity championships next week.

A comparative graybeard, Mark Reilly of Babylon, who is 15, shot 74, just missing a shot at being an alternate at Canoe Brook in New Jersey. "I go to Peninsula Golf Club at 5:30 every day and chip for two hours," said Reilly, whose father, Mike, gives lessons at Peninsula in Massapequa and SkyDrive in Farmingdale.

Among the teen set, the year has belonged to Liu. He won the Junior Verizon Heritage in Hilton Head, S.C., in February, which earned him exemptions to a half-dozen other national tournaments. He is 11th nationally in Golfweek magazine's junior rankings and is No. 1 in his age group.

Liu started playing when he was 6, just after his family moved from Little Neck to a development near the Stonebridge Golf Links. Six months later, he won a tournament. Within a year, he had won nine of the 10 tournaments he entered. "You start young, it's easier," said his father and caddie Yiming.

The younger Liu impressed everyone in and around his threesome, including Tony Marr, the caddie for playing partner Anthony Pupplo. "The kid is a player," said Marr, whose father, Dave, won the 1965 PGA Championship.

Dickinson, the assistant pro at Montauk Downs, played Noyac at 16 in a U.S. Amateur qualifier. He shot 31 on the front for a 5-under-par 67. Other qualifiers were Atlantic head pro Rick Hartmann (who shot 68), Nassau Country Club assistant Mike Meehan (70), Shinnecock Hills head pro Jack Druga (72) and mini-tour players Adam Fuchs and Jamie Miller (both 71) and Jimmy Hazen and Joseph Horowitz (72).

Scott Osler, an amateur from Cutchogue, also shot 72 but had to settle for an alternate spot rather than stay for the playoff for the final automatic slot. He and his father run a business selling railroad equipment and had an important meeting in Boston. "I have a 3 o'clock ferry," he said.

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