No one ever claims that the U.S. Open starts on the back nine on Sunday. Golfers know that the Open really begins a month before the first shot. It starts at dozens of places such as North Shore Country Club in Glen Head, where the fairways are open for dreams.
The local Long Island qualifying round Tuesday drew 144 players shooting for eight spots in the sectionals June 5 in Summit, N.J. The day belonged to Garden City Golf Club pro Bob Rittberger and former Sayville high star Michael Furci, co-medalists at 3-under par 68, as well as the six other qualifiers. It also belonged to dreamers of all types.
“Anybody can qualify. There’s something very exciting about that,” said Dylan Crowley, the former St. John’s University standout who advanced by shooting 69. He is a pro who plays minitour events throughout the country and supplements his income by caddying at North Shore. “A lot of good memories here. I’ve played here, I’m going to say, 500 times. I’ve done a lot of things well here.”
Local knowledge helped in what he admitted was not his best round. What also helped was the motivation of having a shot at the Open. He was there as a spectator last year with his coach Jeff Smith and watched his fellow Smith student, Scott Piercy, tie for second. “You get a feel and a sense of how things go and a sense almost of belonging,” Crowley said. “Certain years it’s a little more of a dream. This year, it’s a little more of something I feel I can do.”
Paul Dickinson of Montauk, an assistant pro at Atlantic Golf Club in Bridgehampton, hit balls in indoor simulators all winter in preparation for this past Tuesday. He also qualified at 2 under. “I think for all of us, it’s exciting. It’s up to you to qualify. There’s nobody in the way of you doing it,” he said, having tied with Todd Greene, a pro from Melville, as well as Juan Alvarez of Uruguay and Westchester Country Club pro Paul Selvaggio.
In an 18-hole qualifier, the intensity does not let up, even for one shot. Eric Rheem of Whitestone, the operations manager at Harbor Links in Port Washington, regretted bogeys on the final two holes that caused him to miss a playoff for the final spot (won by Tyler Jaramillo of Manhattan with a chip-in eagle on the second sudden-death hole). “It was still fun. I had a good round,” Rheem said.
Jack Casler of Garden City, a freshman at Cornell, correctly predicted that he needed the 10-footer for birdie on No. 18. It lipped out and his 71 missed by a shot. Still, it was better than the 88 he shot in his debut last year. “I still dream about making a putt to get through the qualifiers,” he said. “It’s cool to think I have a chance to play in the U.S. Open. It’s a long shot, but you never know what can happen.”
The lure of the Open explains why Shinnecock Hills head pro Jack Druga, 57, was happy to wait around past 7 p.m. for the playoff, despite having begun his round at 8:50 a.m.
“I think you’ve just got to try,” said the man who played in the 1990 U.S. Open. “If you still have any kind of belief in your game you have to try.”
Having finished Tuesday evening as second alternate, he will try again next year, when the Open comes to Shinnecock (as host pro, he gets an exemption into the sectional). “This was a one-day shootout,” he said. “The next round would have been tougher. But I think you’ve got to try. You catch lightning in a bottle for one day and you never know.”
Southold American Legion Post 803 will holds its 24th annual golf outing June 5 at Islands End Golf & Country Club, Greenport. Call 631-765-1166 . . . The Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League will hold its golf outing June 19 at Noyac Golf Club. Visit Hamptonsbaseball.org.
Steve Keller, North Shore CC, fifth hole, 191 yards, 5-iron
Cathy Cervelli, Huntington Crescent Club, sixth hole, 130 yards, 3-wood
Jim Maggio, Huntington Crescent Club, third hole, 138 yards, 8-iron
Don Sterling, Cantiague Park, third hole, 150 yards, 7-wood
Brian Duignan Sr., Bethpage Green, third hole, 133 yards, 8-iron
Mike Conti, Eisenhower White, fifth hole, 183 yards, 4-hybrid
Neil Bernstein, Brentwood CC, 14th hole, 158 yards, 4-hybrid
Anthony Fabrizio, Mill Pond GC, 10th hole, 178 yards, 4-iron
David Werfel, Cold Spring CC, third hole, 141 yards, 9-iron
Scott Whitman, Heatherwood GC, 15th hole, 135 yards, 8-iron
James Wandel, Heatherwood GC, ninth hole, 138 yards, 6-iron