Davan Leads Quartet of First-Time U.S. Open Qualifiers
By Bob Baptist
By his own count, Michael Davan has missed qualifying for Web.com Tour events by one stroke seven times over the past two years. He also missed qualifying for the John Deere Classic on the PGA Tour by one stroke last summer.
“I have zero status on any tour,” Davan said.
Next week, though, he will have the same status as some of the game’s greats.
Davan, 26, of Hoopeston, Ill., picked a fine time to play well in a Monday qualifier, finishing at 8-under-par 132 to earn medalist honors in the U.S. Open sectional qualifier at Springfield Country Club and earn a spot in next week’s U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.
“I knew my game was getting close,” Davan said. “It’s nice to finally break through and do something like this.”
Three other players earned their first trip to the U.S. Open: PGA Tour rookie Tony Finau (133), University of Illinois sophomore Nick Hardy (132) and Web.com Tour pro Stephan Jaeger (132).
Davan played the last nine holes of his first round in 5 under par, and four birdies on the first eight holes of the second round gave him something of a cushion down the stretch.
“I had a chance to win a mini-tour event a few weeks ago and just kind of stumbled a little bit down the stretch,” he said. “I’ve never won a bigger mini-tour event, I guess you could say, and I learned a lot about myself and how to control my emotions and keep calm and keep going, picking the right shots, don’t get stupid, things like that.”
Finau, 25, was coming off a tie for eighth in the Memorial Tournament on Sunday, his fourth top-10 of the season on the PGA Tour, and second in a row. He is currently 49th in the FedEx Cup standings.
A year after earning a promotion from the Web.com Tour, the PGA Tour’s first player of Samoan descent said he has earned enough money to retain his exempt status for next season. He was understandably confident teeing it up in the qualifier.
“The last time I saw this golf course was last year when I played here,” Finau said. “It was in similar condition to last year, so I think I was able to use some of the knowledge from last year and carry it over to this year.
“But I feel like a lot different player than I was just a year ago. I won quite a few mini-tour events but never gave myself an opportunity to play at the highest level. I never got through qualifying school, so I had to keep grinding and figure out a way. I was ecstatic when I got to final stage in 2013 because I had never gotten through second stage. That was my fifth or sixth try in a row, and I finally got through, so for me, I had a lot of weight lifted off my shoulders, just to say, ‘OK, you’ve got some status now on the Web.com Tour and that’s your ticket to the PGA Tour.’
“It’s been a great couple years for me, a huge confidence-booster.”
Hardy, 19, of Northbrook, Ill., has had a great couple of weeks. He finished his freshman year at Illinois last week by helping the Fighting Illini reach the NCAA semifinals with a 1-up win over UCLA in the quarterfinals. Coach Mike Small also put him in the anchor position in a semifinal loss to Southern California.
“It’s been a pretty crazy month for me,” Hardy said. “I know I’ve gotten better just being in the positions I have. I’ve learned a lot about myself and a lot about competition. I’ve really grown a lot. I was ready for this.”
He expects to be ready for the Open, too.
“I’m going to try to treat it like any other event and not focus on the things around me, just try to control what I can control. I think that’s going to help me not be so worked up,” Hardy said.
“It’s exciting going to the tournament; it’s the U.S. Open. But when Coach put me in the situation last week of the closer and going through that, I really learned a lot. I felt like I gained a ton of experience there. I feel much more comfortable in situations like this now. I just love it.”
For Jaeger, 26, a German-born player now living in Chattanooga, Tenn., qualifying was the highlight so far of a year that hasn’t had many. He has missed eight of 11 cuts on the Web.com Tour.
“But you never know what kick-starts something,” he said. “I’ve been working hard, but the golf courses we play are totally different than here. You’ve really got to plot your way around. It’s tough to play easier golf courses when you have to shoot for everything. I’ve always played better on harder golf courses. It’s just my game. I like to grind a little bit.”