Bob Rittberger looks on from the course during the second...

Bob Rittberger looks on from the course during the second round of the New York State Open Golf Championship at Bethpage State Park - Black Course on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The beauty of the U.S. Open is in the difficulty of becoming part of it. Thousands took up the struggle to play their way in again this year, capped by a grueling 36-hole qualifier Monday. Whether or not they made the field that will play at Oakmont Thursday, they insist it was worth the try.

“It’s such a fun day to be out here and have this opportunity and this experience,” said Garden City Golf Club head pro Bob Rittberger, whose 1-under finish at Canoe Brook in New Jersey Monday led the Long Island contingent. “It’s hard just to get here to this point. I played as hard as I could, did the best I could and ended up being a few shots short.”

Rob Oppenheim, a PGA Tour player who did make it at 7 under, said the U.S. Open’s openness stands out in American sports: “You can’t go and play against LeBron James.”

Justin Hicks, who also qualified at Canoe Brook, was hooked by the atmosphere at his first Open, at Shinnecock Hills in 2004. “I was a minitour player at the time,” the current PGA Tour member said, adding that he was stunned when Davis Love III, Fred Couples and David Duval asked to join him during a practice round. “I still have pictures of that. My parents have a poster of it, believe it or not.”

They formed a foursome on the par-3 seventh hole, which would become infamous by Sunday because of its harsh putting surface. “Davis and I both hit shot into the green that bounced over,” Hicks said. “He looked at me like, ‘What are you going to do?’ Fred gets in there and hits this towering slice that dropped right there and stopped in its tracks. I’m like, ‘I don’t have that shot.’ ”

Poetic justice would have been served had Rittberger made it. The last time the Open was held at Oakmont, in 2007, he spent all day Thursday on the practice putting green as an alternate, waiting in vain for someone to withdraw. He had missed being an entrant by a stroke because of a hideously unlucky bounce at the sectional qualifier. As an alternate, he was not allowed even to practice on the Oakmont course. He still has never played it. “Maybe,” he said, “one of these days . . . ”

Pregnant advice on the swing

Liz Caron, director of instruction at Mill River Club in Oyster Bay, gave a unique lesson on Golf Channel this week at the KPMG Women’s PGA at the Sahalee Golf Club in Washington. The theme: How to adjust your swing while you are pregnant (you can find it at Caron and her husband Jason, Mill River’s head pro, are only two months away from welcoming their second child. That didn’t stop her from playing in the major championship.

Park has a strong finish

Annie Park of Levittown last week had the best finish so far in her rookie year on the LPGA tour. She tied for sixth at the ShopRite LPGA Classic in New Jersey, earning $39,116 . . . Ina Kim of Manhattan, a summer member at Deepdale in Manhasset and former golfer for Northwestern, won the Women’s Met Amateur Championship Wednesday at Atlantic Golf Club in Bridgehampton. She shot 1-over-par 73 despite the afternoon storm. “I thought if I could play a little bit of target golf before the weather came in, then see what happens, that would be a good plan,” she said.


Former Hofstra and Fordham basketball coach Tom Pecora will be the honoree at the Saints Joachim and Anne Golf Outing June 27 at Rockville Links. Call (718) 465-2230 . . . Hall of Famer and St. John’s coach Chris Mullin will be the honoree at the 27th Annual Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation Golf Outing June 29 at Sands Point Golf Club, Port Washington. Visit . . . Tee Off 4 Autism will sponsor a Golf Clinic, featuring instruction from pros Mark Brown and Anthony Cancro at Tam O’Shanter Club, Brookville, at 3 p.m. on Saturday. Visit