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Armour: U.S. Open Golf as Equal an Opportunity as it Sounds

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Scott Harvey watches his tee shot on the eighth hole during a practice round ahead of the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills in Erin, Wis. on Monday, June 12, 2017. Photo: USGA/Jeff Haynes

The phone call, from someone complaining of water dripping from an air conditioning vent in the ceiling, was nothing unusual for Scott Harvey, a 39-year-old property manager.

What was unusual was Harvey’s location when he got it: playing a practice round at Erin Hills with major champions Jordan Spieth and Jim Furyk, and Wisconsin’s favorite son, Steve Stricker.

“I’m on the phone for three holes trying to call somebody and figure this out,” Harvey said Wednesday as he took a break from practice. “That’s my normal life. My normal life doesn’t stop just because I’m here.”

“Here” is the U.S. Open, the most democratic of major sporting events.

As its name implies, the Open is a tournament for the masses. With half of the spots in the 156-player field set aside for golfers who go through qualifying, your best friend, your neighbor, your co-worker – even you – could tee it up alongside Spieth, Sergio or Dustin Johnson.

You have to have a 1.4 handicap and go through qualifying, which is no small thing. But when the tournament begins Thursday morning, Harvey and all those other golfers who will be back at the local course next weekend will have the same chance to win a major title as the biggest stars on the PGA Tour.

“There’s a bunch of Tour guys sitting at home this week not playing, and then you’ve got guys like me and Daniel (Miernicki), amateurs that are teeing it up,” said Tyson Alexander, whose father, former Florida coach Buddy Alexander, and grandfather Skip Alexander, also played the Open.

“You’ve just got to play good in the qualifier and you’re in.”

Granted, the longest of the longshots have not fared particularly well at the U.S. Open. Orville Moody (1969)  was the last to win the title after going through both local (18 holes) and sectional (36 holes) qualifying. (Lucas Glover won in 2009 after going through qualifying, but he only played the sectional round.)

Not since John Goodman in 1933 has an amateur won.

But that doesn’t stop people from dreaming. More than 9,000 people across the globe entered qualifying for this year’s Open. Some were professionals; Stricker earned his spot at the first U.S. Open in his home state through qualifying, as did 2009 British Open champion Stewart Cink and 2011 PGA winner Keegan Bradley.

Some were celebrities. Recently retired Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo played in a local qualifier. New York Islanders goalie coach Mike Dunham reached the sectional round.

Most, however, were ordinary folks whose only chance of getting into a PGA tournament would be with a ticket.

“It makes it very unique,” Stricker said.  “It truly is an open tournament. If you can play well enough, you can make your way in.”

Most of the “regular golfers” who qualified are under no illusion about their chances. But that’s really not the point.

After that practice round with Spieth, Furyk and Stricker, Harvey played another one with Rickie Fowler. Sahith Theegala, who just finished his sophomore year at Pepperdine and qualified in Newport Beach, Calif., found himself playing alongside defending champion Dustin Johnson after he arrived at Erin Hills on Tuesday afternoon.

And Alexander and Miernicki thought they were in for a quiet nine holes Tuesday afternoon when Jason Day, ranked No. 3 in the world this week, approached and asked if he could tag along.

“He joined us! He could have easily just waited and gone after us but he’s like, `Yeah, I’ll join you if you’ll have me,’” Alexander said.

“Yeah, we’ll have you Jason,” Alexander cracked. “It’s all good. Just this once.”

While Harvey is looking forward to the tournament, he’s had just as much fun on the putting green and driving range, where he’s surrounded by the biggest names in the game.

He’ll be back to his real job of managing rental properties in Kernersville, N.C., soon enough. But for this week, he is one of them, another golfer trying to win a major.

“Standing on No. 9 tee box, you’re hitting a 9 iron and there are thousands of people around the green, that’s a dream to me, you know? A 39-year-old amateur out here, nobody knows who I am and they don’t even really care. But I do,” Harvey said. “It’s just awesome.”

The Open is more than the year’s second major. It’s the tournament where dreams come true, even if only for a few days.

By Nancy Armour

This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

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