Notebook: O'Neal Makes Debut, Open Suits Gribble

After years of playing professional golf on tours all over the world, Tim O'Neal, 42, is finally teeing it up in the U.S. Open. (USGA/Simon Bruty)
After years of playing professional golf on tours all over the world, Tim O'Neal, 42, is finally teeing it up in the U.S. Open. (USGA/Simon Bruty)

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UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – The long wait finally ended for Tim O'Neal at 7:22 a.m. PDT on Thursday. And a little more than five hours later, the first U.S. Open round of his career remained a blur.

“Everything went by so fast,” said O’Neal after carding a 4-over 74 that included four three-putts. “I don’t remember some of the holes.”

The past week and a half certainly has been a whirlwind for the 42-year-old Savannah, Ga., native, since he holed a 12-foot birdie putt on the third playoff hole of his U.S. Open sectional qualifier at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Md., on June 8.

Few golfers could persevere through 17 years of competing on virtually every developmental and mini-tour circuit without waving the white flag. But O’Neal, the fourth African American to compete in a U.S. Open in the last decade, is a cross between Crash Davis (“Bull Durham”) and Roy McAvoy (“Tin Cup”). O’Neal’s victories have come in South America on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica in 2013, and he has twice missed earning a PGA Tour card by one stroke, including a double bogey on his final hole of Q-School 15 years ago.

When he called his mother after qualifying for the Open, both cried. His kids asked if he was going to play with Tiger Woods. He told them he was competing against him.

“I would have loved to have been here much earlier,” said O’Neal. “But one is better than none, right? To be able to play in my first one here, it’s been incredible.”

O’Neal had the obligatory first-tee nerves, but was happy not to “top it” with his opening drive. Getting comfortable on the greens was another matter. He hit 11 of 18 in regulation, but had 33 putts.

“It was just a matter of getting used to the speed,” said O’Neal. “You think they are going to be a lot faster than what they are, especially on the downhillers.

“You have to be patient. I can get mad and play worse. Everyone is going to hit it in trouble. Everyone is going to be missing putts, but hopefully you will make more birdies than bogeys.”

Asked if he thought playing this week might get him some sponsor invitations on the Tour, where he has conditional status for 2015 but has yet to get into an event, O’Neal replied: “Playing well takes care of a lot of things. Hopefully I can play well and see how it goes from here.”

Gribble Making Mark in Another Open

Cody Gribble has yet to find his footing on various professional golf tours in North America. But put him in the U.S. Open, and he becomes a different player.

Gribble, 24, of Dallas, showed that again Thursday with a 2-under-par 68 at Chambers Bay to hover near the top of the leader board. He trailed pacesetters Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson by three shots, but they are world top-10 players, while Gribble has struggled to post just one top-10 on the Tour this year.

Doesn’t seem like Gribble could compete. But he does. Quite well, in fact.

“Coming from Texas, you play in a lot of wind and a lot of different conditions,” Gribble explained. “You're used to very tough conditions. I guess it suits me a little bit, yeah.”

Just a little. Last year at Pinehurst No. 2, in his U.S. Open debut, Gribble advanced through both local and sectional qualifying to tie for 21st place. He closed with a 1-under 69 and 5-over 285 to earn nearly $100,000, more than he has made on all the other tours he’s played on combined.

Making the cut in the U.S. Open gave Gribble entry to the second stage of Q-School last fall, and he went on to earn his card. Though he hasn’t played up to his expectations, he knows it was at this time a year ago that his fortunes started turning around.

"I think the U.S. Open last year is really what has propelled me to this year, what I've done this year, getting into second stage of Q-School and making it on the Tour," he said. "It's given me all the confidence that I need and know that I can compete out here."

He already had an idea, though. He played on the same University of Texas team as Masters champion Jordan Spieth, which won the 2012 NCAA Division I national title.

“All the time. All the time,” Gribble said when asked if he has followed the progress of his fellow Longhorn.

Gribble is making progress, too, on his own schedule. “Everything is doing fine,” he assured. “Playing steady. I just need a couple more lower rounds, I’d say, on Saturday and Sunday.”

Like last year at Pinehurst.

Woodland Hospitalized for Dehydration

Gary Woodland was hospitalized Thursday morning after shooting a 4-over-par 74 in the opening round.

According to Woodland’s agent, Mark Steinberg, Woodland had been ill since Sunday and indicated that he was not 100 percent when he ventured out for his first round on a golf course that has dramatic elevation changes and is challenging to walk. He was taken to the hospital after the round.

“Gary has been under the weather since Sunday, and has been severely dehydrated,” Steinberg said in a statement. “While Gary felt he had turned the corner earlier this week, he experienced a significant relapse within the last 36 hours. He received IV fluids this morning, and was admitted to Tacoma General Hospital following his round for further testing. The hospital confirmed Gary has a virus. He is currently being treated with additional IV fluids and hopes to play tomorrow.”

Ranked 29th in the world, Woodland had six bogeys and two birdies in his round Thursday while playing in the same group with Victor Dubuisson and John Senden. He is competing in his sixth U.S. Open. His best finish is a tie for 23rd in 2011 at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work previously has appeared on USGA websites.