Michael Quagliano U.S. Open Diary
My Week at the U.S. Open
By Michael Quagliano as told to Dan Berger
Editor’s note: Michael Quagliano, 21, of Ardsley, N.Y., is one of eight amateurs competing in the 108th U.S. Open Championship at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, California. Quagliano is the captain of the golf team at Duke University in Durham, N.C., and has several local victories to his credit, including the 2003 Met Junior and 2002 MGA/MetLife Boys Championship, as well as the 2007 Westchester Amateur.
Quagliano was the first alternate in U.S. Open local qualifying held at Manhattan Woods Golf Club in West Nyack, N.Y., and received a call from the USGA on Thursday, May 29, with the news that he had made the sectional qualifying field in Memphis, Tennessee on Monday, June 2. Quagliano shot 68-64 in Memphis, the second-best score of a field loaded with PGA Tour players, and punched his ticket to the U.S. Open. This is his first major championship, and he’ll be checking in for a blog on mgagolf.org.
Wednesday, June 11: The Great Dane
I arrived for my 7:11 a.m. practice round tee time yesterday expecting to play with Retief Goosen and Ben Crane. Retief was there and greeted me on the tee, but Crane did not show up, and in his place was 34-year-old Soren Hanson, a European Tour player from Denmark. Actually, he’s 28th on the European Tour Order of Merit this year, and has two career wins. Soren and I hit it off very well, especially since Retief was all business. He was very focused on his practice round and actually decided to stop after eight holes.
Soren and I carried on and played a full round, and I learned so much. Soren told me that the most pros don’t beat themselves up too much during practice rounds or even keep score…they just use practice to get a lay of the land. “Be loose, be relaxed and don’t beat your body up too much,” he said, and I followed his advice. I didn’t hit too many balls out of the rough, and generally I just dropped balls down in various spots that would give me an idea of how the course will play during the championship. It’s less about shotmaking and more about course strategy.
The crowds were much larger today. When we reached the par-five 18th hole, the grandstand was nearly full, and Soren challenged me to two contests. The first was that we would try to hit the 573-yard hole in two shots (which I don’t plan to do during the championship). From 275 yards out, I hit what I thought was a great shot. It landed on the green beyond the flagstick…but then, U.S. Open conditions showed their teeth. My ball came to a stop, then began to roll back from behind the pin all the way down and into the water!
The crowd applauded when we tried those shots. But what made them laugh, roar and cheer was the next contest: skipping a ball across the pond in front of the green. Soren went first and hit a ball that skipped all the way across the water to the left of the green, rolled up the embankment and then back down and into the water. The crowd was having a good time. Now it was my turn. Soren gave me a couple tips on how to hit the shot, and I gave it a rip. The ball skipped four times and looked like it might make the green, but just before it reached the far end of the pond, it lost steam and disappeared. Overall I had a terrific morning with Soren, and I hope both he and I play well this week and maybe get paired together again.
I was asked today if I thought my game belonged with the world’s best players. When I look around and see all the pros and how impressive they are, I believe that what separates me from them is experience. It was amazing that I was able to even qualify for the United States Open. I believe that if I continue to work hard and keep playing in events that allow me to challenge myself, I will be going down the correct path that will help me gain the experience I need so that some day, my play will enable me to belong. And I’ll definitely want another shot at skipping that ball across the pond!
Tuesday, June 10: The Crowds are Getting Bigger
Yesterday was the first day that Torrey Pines really felt like a U.S. Open site. I went out and played the back nine this morning, and the crowds were much larger than they were over the weekend, which of course means I get to sign more autographs! I signed somewhere between 50 and 100 today, and I really enjoy signing for kids. Security was also tightened up – my parents have to go through metal detectors to get on the grounds, and were told they can’t bring a backpack or mobile phone out on the course.
I saw Tiger off in the distance during my practice round…I hear he played with Jordan Cox, a Stanford alum, as well as his usual practice partner, Bubba Watson. There was a huge crowd of people watching Tiger and Hank Haney practice on the putting green.
As for me, I played alone the first seven holes until we bumped into Rob Rashell, a pro from Washington state. He had a group with him that consisted of his coach and his caddie, who all were affiliated with University of Washington. My current coach at Duke, O.D. Vincent, has ties to those guys and to the University of Washington, so it was fun to play a couple holes with them.
After the nine holes I headed over to the range to work on some shots. The range is actually made up of a couple holes from the Torrey Pines North Course – I think the normal range is being used as a parking lot this week. I was practicing right next to Retief Goosen and Mike Weir and not too far away were Henrik Stenson and his caddie, Fanny Sunneson (who caddied for Nick Faldo during his major-winning years). I also spent some time with fellow Dukie, Kevin Streelman and his caddie, who also played on the team at Duke.
Major development of the day: I’m thinking about playing with metal spikes for the first time. The reason is that the grass is cut so perfectly and I want to have as much stability and traction as possible. I’m also learning that I definitely need to stay out of the greenside bunkers as much as possible. With all the new sand they put in, just about any ball that you hit into those bunkers ends up plugged.
Still no sign of Phil Mickelson…maybe he’s practicing at a secret location nearby, as he’s started to do in recent major championships. He lives about 20 minutes away so this is like a home game for him. And finally, I went back over to the registration area and looked at the practice round sheet to see which players signed up with me. I’m going to play with two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen and Ben Crane, who has won twice on Tour. It should be a blast on Tuesday!
Monday, June 9: Weekend Arrival and Practice
Hello from San Diego! My parents and I arrived on Saturday, June 7 after a long (and delayed) flight from JFK. On Saturday afternoon I decided to take it easy and just play nine holes at Torrey Pines. At about 3:30 PDT, with my dad on my bag, I walked out and hit my first tee shot (down the fairway, which was a nice relief). I ended up playing holes one through 8, then skipped over to finish up on the famed par-five 18th. I’m glad I did, since I birdied it to cap off a great first afternoon at Torrey. My first impression: The second-cut rough is as thick as any I’ve ever seen, and the course plays really long. It will play even longer if the wind comes up.
I woke up at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday and made my way over to the course by 9 a.m. to hit some balls on the range. Just like yesterday, the grounds were basically empty. Most of the pros are either still playing at the Stanford St. Jude or haven’t arrived yet, and no one asked me for any ID or USGA credentials. I am shocked at how easy it was to just walk on!
I’m trying to take it easy since this is a hard walking course and I know I have a long week ahead. This morning, I again play holes 1-8 and then 18 (parred it this time after just missing a 12-foot birdie putt). I mostly play one ball, but do take some practice shots every now and then. The fairways are very narrow, so it will be imperative to keep my shots in the fairways or at least the first cut. I am really just playing my normal game, which always focuses on accuracy. There was a group of people watching me putt out on the 18th hole and I could hear them trying to figure out who I was. One in the crowd said he saw my Duke-logoed golf bag…my mom was near them and told them I’ll be a senior next year. They asked me to sign a few autographs as I walked off 18.
Yesterday I saw Rocco Mediate at our hotel and Charles Howell III at the airport, and today 2007 Travelers Championship winner Hunter Mahan is playing in the group ahead of me, along with Michael Thompson. Thompson was the runner-up in last year’s U.S. Amateur and also played in this year’s Masters – something for me to aspire to! He’s turning pro in July.
It was now 11:40 a.m. and player registration was open. I received a registration packet full of everything that I needed to know for the week, two yardage books, and a bag tag and medal clip with my name on them. This was also where they have a sign-up sheet for practice rounds. If Tiger or Phil’s name were on the sheet and they had room, I could have signed into their group…not surprisingly, neither name was on the list! I did sign up to play a practice round with Rory Sabbatini, and I may also play with fellow Duke alums Joe Ogilvie and Kevin Streelman, both of whom texted and/or called me when I qualified last week.
As I was playing holes 9-17, I started seeing other players. I saw Tiger Woods playing a nearby hole. I also bumped into Dave Pelz and we had a short conversation. I mentioned that the rough was very high and he said I must absolutely stay out of the second cut, otherwise bogey or more is a very real possibility. So far I have played 27 practice holes and have scored no worse than a bogey, so I’m obviously listening to advice!
Sunday ended with a great dinner at a nearby sushi place, Sushi-ota, which my good friend from the Duke golf team, Jake Grodzinski, recommended. After we got back to the hotel, I ran into Sergio Garcia as he was checking in. I’m getting used to seeing the players we watch every week on TV, and am just trying to continue to prepare myself for the Open. I have spoken to my swing coach and original instructor, Jim O’Mara, many times over the past week and he has been very helpful. I’m also excited that GlenArbor teaching pro Dave Gagnon, who also helps me with my game, is due in Tuesday. Dave is going to be my coach and caddie during the championship. I’m looking forward to a great week and will be back with more reports from Torrey on Tuesday!