McMinnville's Patterson on national stage

McMinnville's Patterson on national stage

June 15th, 2011 by David Uchiyama in Sports - Golf

Brett Patterson of McMinnville, Tenn., qualified for the U.S. Open. This will be his first USGA tournament. Staff photo by David Uchiyama

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Brett Patterson is about to have the experience and education of a lifetime.

He is playing in the U.S. Open this week at Congressional Golf Club against the best golfers in the world.

Patterson, a 19-year-old from McMinnville who plays college golf for Middle Tennessee State, qualified for one of golf's four majors on June 6 at Hawks Ridge Golf Club in Ball Ground, Ga.

He did so by setting a course record of 10-under-par 62 on his second 18 holes, putting him at 12 under for the day.

"It's a dream that is just out there, playing in this and also winning it," Patterson said. "I may not be coolest kid at Middle, but I've never had so many Facebook 'Friend Requests.' And by that I mean I've had more since [last] Monday than I'd had before in three years. Even if I don't know people, I'll press 'Confirm.'

"It's been crazy."

Patterson qualified for the U.S. Open with Ryan Nelson, who also shot 12 under, and University of Georgia golfer Russell Henley, who advanced in a playoff.

Patterson's biggest accomplishment in golf is winning last year's Spirit of America, a tournament with some of the best amateurs in the country. His only major golf experience is attending a practice round at the Masters in 2009 and watching the 2010 final round in person.

The leap he's made could be bigger than a Single-A baseball player getting called up to start in the major leagues.

Patterson played a practice round Tuesday with two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen, who won in 2001 at Southern Hills Country Club and in 2004 at Shinnecock Hills.

"He's doing great," MTSU coach Whit Turnbow said from Congressional. "Today was as good as he's played since he got here. He's going to do a little driver work with Titleist in the morning, then play nine holes at 1:45 on Wednesday."

Patterson has been on Congressional's practice range with the likes of Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Dustin Johnson, Luke Donald, Bubba Watson and others of the world's top golfers.

For 51 weeks a year, they are Patterson's superiors in golfing. This week, at Congressional Golf Club, he is one of them - one of 155 guys they need to beat to claim a major title.

"It's easy to be a little star-struck in this situation, but he's mature beyond his years," Turnbow said. "He's handled the circus, which is a major championship, very well for a rising sophomore."

One of the first moves Patterson made to help him this week was to hire a local caddie who's worked at Congressional. He loves the friends and family who have carried his bag before, but in this instance, previous course experience is paramount.

"They know the course really well," said Patterson, who had high school friend Matt Stephens caddie for him in the qualifier. "It's good to get on up there, and it's almost like you know the course already because your caddie does."

After a few days of practice, Patterson will begin his competition Thursday at 2:41 p.m. off No. 10 tee with professionals Bennett Blakeman and Brian Locke. His second round will begin at 9:01 a.m. Friday off the first tee.

If he makes the cut, he'll play Saturday and Sunday as well.

It can be done. Henley and NCAA tournament medalist Scott Langley tied for 16th place last year, with Henley memorably encouraging the crowd as he walked to the 18th green at Pebble Beach.

"I'll try to keep it even-keel and not get too high or too low with what's going on," Patterson said Friday while practicing with Paul Apyan and Bryce Ledford at the UTC and First Tee Player Development Complex. "But I will give a fist-pump if I make a birdie. A baby one, for sure - nothing like Tiger would do."

The more fist-pumps he has, the better his score in the biggest tournament of his life. But it's not the only big tournament he'll play in this summer.

By virtue of qualifying for the U.S. Open, Patterson is exempt into the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Public Links Championship. Those tournaments graduate champions to the Masters. But spending a week in the Crow's Nest at Augusta National Golf Club is a distant thought in Patterson's mind.

Playing in the U.S. Open is hard enough to comprehend. It's not the Sun Belt Conference championship. It's the national championship, and not just for college golfers but for amateurs, the best professionals in America and the top guys who play overseas.

"What he's going to experience in the next few weeks is going to be pretty special because he goes from the Open to the Northeast Am then the Publinks and then the Am," Turnbow said. "This first week is going to be very special.

"And I can assure you he's not trying to figure out how he's going to make the cut. I can assure you he's trying to figure out how he can win the U.S. Open."