Two-Time Champion Goosen Qualifies for U.S. Open
By James Dent
Retief Goosen was winning golf championships before Davis Riley was born.
But the 46-year-old Goosen and the 18-year-old Riley came together near the top of the leader board in Monday’s U.S. Open sectional qualifier near Memphis, earning both trips to next week's U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.
Goosen and Riley both finished at 6-under–par 136, but took divergent routes in punching their tickets to Chambers Bay. While Goosen blazed his way through a morning round of 64 at Germantown Country Club before settling for a 1-over 72 during a brutally hot afternoon at nearby Ridgeway Country Club, Riley heated up with the temperature. Following a 2-under 69 at Germantown, Riley made the 5½-mile trek to Ridgeway knowing he needed to post a low score. Birdies on 14 and 16 got Riley to 6 under and he made par on the last two holes to clinch his first U.S. Open trip.
“It's nice to know all the hard work pays off,” said Riley. “I struck it really well here at Germantown. I just told myself to be patient. I just had to see those putts going in on the back nine.”
Riley, of Hattiesburg, Miss., brings plenty of positive USGA experience to Chambers Bay. He finished runner-up in the 2013 and 2014 U.S. Junior Amateurs, earning plaudits for calling a penalty on himself in the 2013 final.
Riley, who plans to play golf at the University of Alabama, is eager to see what he can do next week.
“It really hasn’t sunk in yet, but I want to get up there and soak in all the experiences I can,” he said.
Goosen did it the hard way. The 2001 and 2004 U.S. Open champion’s 10-year exemption ran out last year and the South Africa native had to qualify for the first time in at least 15 years.
“It was pretty tough out there, especially the last nine holes,” he said. “My legs were pretty tired and I feel drained right now. This morning was the first time I had played this golf course, so I was playing it blind.
“I got off to a good start, and other than one silly bogey, I played solid on this course [Germantown]. Then I went to the other course [Ridgeway] and hit a few loose shots, but managed to squeeze into the last spot. So, overall, I feel happy.”
Not only did a heat index of 97 degrees wear on Goosen, a busy travel schedule took its toll. Goosen got into town Sunday night after tying for 31st at the Memorial Tournament and was anxious to get back to the hotel for some rest before this week’s FedEx St. Jude’s Classic in Memphis.
“I was sad my exemption ran out, but am happy that I have another crack at it,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting out there and getting a look at the course, and hopefully playing four good rounds.”
Blayne Barber, Tyler Duncan and Brad Elder shared medalist honors, each finishing at 9 under par. Barber, a member of the 2011 USA Walker Cup Team, and Duncan played steadier, going 66-67 and 67-66, respectively, while Elder built his cushion in the morning by shooting an 8-under-par 63 at Ridgeway, bagging eight birdies and an eagle on the par-5 seventh hole.
“I hit it really well on the first 18 and really close, and I made some putts,” Elder said after sealing his first U.S. Open trip since 2003. “It’s been a while, and it will be different. It will be fun and I’m excited for my caddie, who’s been with me a while.”
Elder overcame a travel nightmare to qualify, not arriving in Memphis until 2:30 a.m. after weather delayed his Sunday flight out of Dallas. He woke up at 5:30 and was at Ridgeway for his 8:30 tee time.
“I grinded it out,” he said. “I didn’t have much sleep, and [Germantown] was trickier. I hadn’t seen this course before. I was lucky enough to make three birdies in a row on the back nine and cruise in from there.”
Tom Hoge and Brandon Hagy tied for fourth at 8 under par, both shooting 65 at Germantown. Charlie Beljan and Brian Harman carded 7-under 135s to wind up in a sixth-place tie.
Andres Romero duplicated Riley's path to qualifying, following a morning 69 with an afternoon 67 that included a dramatic eagle at 18 that took him from elimination to Chambers Bay.
Jimmy Gunn beat J.J. Henry in a four-hole playoff for the first-alternate spot, winning it with a birdie.
Major champions David Toms, Trevor Immelman and David Duval failed to qualify. 2001 PGA champion Toms’ second-round 65 at Ridgeway left him two strokes behind Romero, Riley and Goosen. Immelman (72) and Duval (75) withdrew after one round.