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LI golf pros battled emotions to play in U.S. Open

Their hearts and minds race, their knees shake, their palms become sweaty and there is nowhere on Earth they would rather be. The U.S. Open is everything it is made out to be, daunting and thrilling, even for people who have make a living at golf.

When the Open comes to Bethpage next week, 13 Long Island club pros will reflect on an experience that most people can only imagine.

Here are their stories:

DARRELL KESTNER, Director of golf, Deepdale Golf Club

A veteran of eight Opens, Kestner never lost an ounce of awe for the event. At Shinnecock Hills in 1995 and Bethpage in 2002, he was Long Island's standard bearer and received huge ovations on the first tee. What his fellow Long Islanders couldn't see was that the first tee on Thursday was the toughest moment of the week, every time.

"I was more nervous than I've ever been in my entire life," he said. "My hands would be shaking so much I could barely put the ball on the tee. On the first green, my hands would be shaking so much I didn't want to put the putter down, I had so much fear of moving the ball. But after that, I was OK."

TOM JOYCE, Director of golf, Glen Oaks Club

"My best memory? Making the cut at Oakmont," Joyce said, thinking back to 1973 and recalling that a sprinkler snafu left the greens soft and accessible to Johnny Miller's 63 on Sunday.

Joyce's Open career had a tough start, with the airline losing his clubs on the way to Pebble Beach in 1972. Luckily, the Wilson company gave him a replacement set for practice rounds until his bag materialized. Giants tight end Bob Tucker caddied for him in the withering heat of Southern Hills in 1977, when he played with Julius Boros. "It was so hot, he said, 'This is my last Open,' " Joyce said, adding that putting on slick Open greens "is like trying to putt on the hood of a Volkswagen Beetle."

JACK DRUGA, Head pro, Shinnecock Hills Golf Club

"Disappointed" does not describe how Druga felt in 1983, when he was an assistant pro at Oakmont and missed qualifying for the Open there by one shot. The consolation prize was practicing with Jack Nicklaus a week before the Open, establishing a long friendship. When Druga qualified in 1990, he found a note in his locker, from Nicklaus: "Jack, nice playing, you made the Open. Good luck this week. Jack."

An even greater thrill occurred that Thursday at Medinah. Druga was 1 under par through four and on the fifth fairway, he saw Nicklaus walking down No. 12. He also saw a leaderboard: "It had 'Nicklaus' with a red '1' and 'Druga' with a red '1,' " he said. "Of course, nobody had a camera. But that hit me in the face: I am in the U.S. Open."

JON KUDYSCH, Head pro, Woodcrest Club

"The airline lost my clubs," Kuysch said, thinking back to 1987 to San Francisco's Olympic Club. Not to worry. The bag arrived Monday and he got to play with Fred Funk, then a college golf coach. Kudysch shot a respectable second-round 72. "It's definitely something you can always say that you did once," he said. "I was never really too nervous playing golf after that."

CHARLIE BOLLING, Head pro, Fresh Meadow Country Club

A tour pro with four career top 10 finishes, Bolling played the second of his four Opens in 1984 at Winged Foot. Unwittingly, his best friend scheduled his wedding for Saturday of that weekend and wanted Bolling to be the best man. The wedding was in Chicago. "These guys flip on the TV on Thursday and see that I'm leading the tournament," Bolling said.

He shot 72 that day, but had 79 on Friday and just missed the cut. He caught the first plane to Chicago Saturday morning and made it to the wedding. The groom, Roland Morris, is a good friend to this day. And Bolling is just as high on the Open. "I'm 51 now," he said, "but it compelled me to continue to try to qualify."

AUSTIN STRAUB, Co-head professional, Cold Spring Country Club

"If you weren't a tour player, to play in the Open was different. You'd go in the locker room and they'd have food for you, drinks. They had courtesy cars to take you around," Straub said. "They had people working on your equipment for you before you play. So you're in awe of everything."

Straub wasn't too awestruck, though, to make the cut at Pebble Beach in 1972, the second of his four Opens. He outdid his playing partner, tour veteran Bob Murphy, who missed. "I remember birdieing the last hole at Pebble Beach. For 87," Straub said. "The last day, the wind had switched and I shot 47 on the back nine."

MAL GALLETTA JR., Teaching professional, Engineers Country Club

"When I first got there, everything was fine. But when I got to the first tee on the first day, all the people were right on top of you. There was no room out there," he said, recalling Atlanta Athletic Club in 1976. "All I could think was that I could kill somebody if I pulled it a little. I got the shot off, but it wasn't fun. I felt like I was hitting out of a chute, and there were no trees around. But it helped me a lot at the PGA. I made the cut twice there."

MARK MIELKE, Head pro, Mill River Country Club

"You can't believe how exciting it is. You've got to try to keep your emotions in check," Mielke said, recalling his first of his four Opens at Brookline, Mass., in 1988. "I was in the group right behind Davis Love, I watched him tee off and my nerves were unbelievable. I had a hard time teeing the ball up in that one. It's almost like you're a part of this whole circus. I don't think you could ever get bored playing in a U.S. Open."

It sure isn't boring when you birdie the final two holes on Friday, as Mielke did in 1993 at Baltusrol. He appeared certain to make the cut, but watched from the hospitality tent as Lee Janzen finished with a record 134 and knocked out Mielke - and defending champion Tom Kite and Masters champion Bernhard Langer.

BOB MENNE, Teaching pro, Fresh Meadow Country Club

Menne made 227 starts on the PGA Tour and won the 1974 Kemper Open. Still, his two Opens were special. "The one I enjoyed the most was Oakmont [1973], except I had to withdraw in the second round because I had a torn muscle in my hip," he said. Four years later, in 1977, he was back in the Open at Southern Hills. He did fine with an early tee time Friday, prompting the scorekeeper to say, " 'Go home, take a rest. You're in like Flynn.' But in the late afternoon, I came out to hit a few balls and all of a sudden it's getting close. Then one guy makes a 12-footer and knocks a bunch of us out."

ROBERT DeRUNTZ, Teaching pro, Engineers Country Club

"Well, that week I got phone calls from friends I hadn't heard from in years," he said of his appearance at the Olympic Club in 1998. DeRuntz was playing a practice-round match with Vijay Singh, Frank Nobilo and Phil Tataurangi. "Phil hit a pretty poor drive on the first hole, but everybody thought it was great. I figured out all you had to do was hit the ball loud," said DeRuntz, who birdied his first official Open hole.

P.J. COWAN, Teaching professional, Eisenhower Park

As first alternate in 1995, Cowan stood by the first tee at Shinnecock Hills in 1995 in case someone withdrew. They didn't. But he did make it into the field at Congressional in 1997. "My first major was my dream come true," he said, recalling he had been thinking of making the cut until he plugged in a fairway bunker on 15. He was disappointed he didn't qualify this year, having won three New York State Opens at Bethpage Black. "I played there close to 1,000 times," he said.

RICK HARTMANN, Head pro, Atlantic Golf Club

"Pebble Beach is my favorite spot, and to play a U.S. Open there is just amazing. To play as a club pro is amazing," said Hartmann, who did something more amazing in 2000 - he made the cut. He played with Steve Jones and Michael Campbell, now both Open champions. "You're so far out of your depth as a club pro, you're so much out of your element. I decided that I was going to enjoy that Open. Darrell Kestner was out hitting balls all night, I was on the patio. I think I made $8,000 that week, but I spent $8,000."

MIKE GILMORE, Head pro, Piping Rock Club

Striking Pacific views stayed with Gilmore from Pebble Beach (1992) and Torrey Pines (last year). At the latter, he played a practice round with Vijay Singh and Sergio Garcia. "Here I am, playing with two top-fives in the world and I'm a nervous wreck," Gilmore said. "Vijay is like, 'Stop steering that thing, just hit it, man.'

"It has always been a goal of mine. It's too bad they were 16 years apart."


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