By Rob Oller
Springfield, Ohio – They had never laid eyes on the course before, and yet they still managed to find their way to the U.S. Open.
Nationwide Tour player Brice Garnett, of Gallatin, Mo., and 2011 NCAA Division I champion John Peterson, of Fort Worth, Texas, both showed up Monday morning at Springfield Country Club “site unseen,” having never visited the course. But you would never have known it as the pair finished 1-2 to secure the two available spots in the 44-player U.S. Open sectional qualifier.
Chris Devlin, of Panama City, Fla., was first alternate and amateur Joe Kastelic, of Cincinnati, tied PGA Tour pro Seung-Yul Noh, of Korea for second alternate; no playoff was necessary because Noh chose to leave the grounds before play had ended.
Both Garnett, 28, and Peterson, 23, flew into Columbus late Sunday night after completing 18 holes earlier in the day, arriving at the 6,657-yard Donald Ross-designed course without having had a chance to practice.
No problem. Garnett shot 9-under-par 131 (66-65) and Peterson shot 132 (64-68) to each earn their first-ever appearance in a major championship.
“I told my caddie last week that sometimes I play my best golf on blind courses,” said Garnett, who was in the second group to tee off in ideal weather. “I don’t know where the trouble is, so I’m just hitting golf shots. I found out real quick, on the first hole, that you can’t be above the hole on this course. On all Donald Ross courses, you have to put it in play and stay below the hole.”
Garnett followed that strategy to near perfection on the par-70 layout, carding 10 birdies against one bogey.
He now returns to the San Francisco Bay area, where in April he “caught the first flight out of there,” after going eight over through the first eight holes of the Nationwide Tour’s TPC Stonebrae Championship in Hayward.
This time, he figures he’ll catch the first flight into the Bay Area, where the U.S. Open will be held June 14-17 at The Olympic Club.
“I don’t know if I want to play that one blind,” he said, smiling. “This is my very first PGA Tour [-sanctioned] event. You hear everything about how tough the U.S. Opens are. I’m just going to go, have fun, smile as much as I can and enjoy it.”
Peterson arrived at the 36th hole needing at least a par to avoid a playoff with Devlin. He birdied instead, hitting a 7-iron 172 yards from the rough to 6 feet to set up a birdie.
It was quite an ending to an amazing weekend for the Louisiana State University All-American. A day earlier, he qualified for this week’s PGA Tour event in Memphis, Tenn. – the FedEx St. Jude Classic – then hopped a plane to the sectional qualifier.
"I came out here cold turkey,” he said. “It worked out well.”
Did it ever. Peterson, who carded 10 birdies on the day to go with a double bogey and bogey, will play consecutive weeks with PGA Tour pros.
“What I’m most excited about is having two weeks on tour back-to-back: Memphis and then the Open,” he said. “I get to get my feet wet and learn a lot from the guys out there. You get to pick their brain all day long.”
Peterson and Garnett are linked by more than just qualifying for the U.S. Open. In March, Peterson defeated Garnett in a mini-tour event in Louisiana.
“So he got me back this time,” Peterson said, laughing.
Olleris a sports reporter for The Columbus Dispatch.