Fifteen Earn Spots in Columbus, Ohio Qualifier
By Dave Shedloski
For nearly four years, Michael Putnam had been pointing toward this day, toward this U.S. Open sectional qualifier. And he had been trying with all his might to avoid it.
“I told myself that if I could get into the top 60 [in the world ranking] I wouldn’t have to qualify. That’s what I wanted,” Putnam said. “Especially this year, I couldn’t go a couple of days without someone asking: ‘Hey are you playing? Are you qualified yet? If you win [a PGA Tour event] are you in?’ … Basically asking me every question in the book. Today, I answered those questions.”
Yes, he did. Emphatically.
On one of the most important days of his golf career, Putnam performed superbly on Monday, earning co-medalist honors in the Columbus sectional qualifier to earn a coveted spot in the 115th U.S. Open next week at Chambers Bay, the relatively unknown course in University Place, Wash., not far from where Putnam grew up.
With a 12-under 132 total at Brookside Golf & Country Club and The Lakes Golf & Country Club, Putnam shared the top spot with one of his fellow competitors, Sam Saunders of Fort Collins, Colo. Saunders, a PGA Tour rookie, shot a pair of 66s after borrowing a set of irons from his caddie.
Amateur Bryson DeChambeau, of Clovis, Calif., coming off his individual victory in the Division I NCAA Championship, led for most of the day before tying for third with PGA Tour veteran David Hearn, of Canada, at 11-under 133. DeChambeau, 21, a senior at Southern Methodist University, enjoyed a bit of a home advantage. His caddie, former SMU player Brooks Price, grew up playing Brookside. They stayed together at the home of Price’s parents. So did another former SMU player, 2011 U.S. Amateur champion Kelly Kraft, who failed to qualify.
“It’s something I’ve dreamed about for a long time and I finally got to do it,” said DeChambeau, who has played in four U.S. Amateurs and two U.S. Amateur Public Links Championships, advancing to match play in each. “I got off to a hot start, 5 under through six, and that propelled me to where I believed I could do it.”
Putnam, 32, who played the first official round at Chambers Bay when it opened in 2007 – “I held the course record  for a day,” he said with a grin – certainly had doubts about his ability to rise to the occasion. His missed cut the past week at the Memorial Tournament in nearby Dublin, Ohio, was his fifth in his last seven starts. He has managed only three top-25 finishes this season, his second on the PGA Tour.
“This is pretty special,” said Putnam, who shot an afternoon 8-under 64 at The Lakes to surge to the top of the 120-player field and qualify for his fourth U.S. Open, and first since 2011. “We watched the course [Chambers Bay] being built. It’s the biggest tournament that we’re ever going to host up there in our little town of University Place. Obviously, there was a lot of pressure out there trying to get into the tournament, but I had a great day.
“This has got to rank up there with one of the coolest things that will ever happen in my life.”
Saunders, the grandson of 1960 U.S. Open champion Arnold Palmer, is going to his second U.S. Open. Like Putnam, he missed the cut at the Memorial. But he made a swing change over the weekend, and then he decided to borrow his caddie’s clubs, a set of Callaway Apex irons, which was the model he used to play. Saunders joked that his bag carrier, Travis McCallister, wasn’t getting the clubs returned.
"It was a great day out there. Very happy,” said Saunders. “Michael and I, we had a great time out there. We both had our families with us, we both missed the cut at the Memorial. We were staying in the same hotel. There was a good vibe out there for us. Obviously, we both played well. I'm happy for him. I knew he wanted to get in the Open pretty badly."
Several veterans of significance failed to earn one of the 15 available U.S. Open berths, most notably Stewart Cink. The 2009 British Open winner had not missed the U.S. Open since 1995. He was among the numerous players who withdrew after a weather delay of 1 hour, 37 minutes when it appeared he could not advance. Also missing was three-time major winner Vijay Singh and former world No. 2 Steve Stricker.
A 5-for-3 playoff among five PGA Tour players settled the final spots and alternate positions. Robert Streb, D.A. Points and Danny Lee, the 2008 U.S. Amateur champion, advanced with pars on each of the three extra holes. Kevin Chappell, who has a home in Kirkland, Wash., was relegated to first alternate when he three-putted the third hole for bogey in virtual darkness. Alex Cejka was eliminated on the first playoff hole after taking five strokes to reach the green and didn’t finish.