U.S. Open dreams: Chattanooga area golfers begin process with local qualifying

U.S. Open dreams: Chattanooga area golfers begin process with local qualifying

May 7th, 2014 by David Uchiyama in Sports - Golf

Steven Fox

Photo by Shawn Paik /Times Free Press.

The Chattanooga area is full of dreamers and golfers.

Today, and next week, the best players from our area will tee off with dreams of playing next month in the U.S. Open.

Steven Fox

Former UTC golfer

Steven Fox is very familiar with USGA events. He won the 2012 U.S. Amateur in a sudden-death playoff, which earned him an exemption into the U.S. Open last summer at Merion Golf Club near Philadelphia.

He wants to get back.

"There's no playing safe and there's no laying up," Fox said. "It's like Monday qualifiers. I go out there and fire at flagsticks, and it comes down to making putts.

"That's my game anyway."

Fox has spent the early part of 2014 playing on various mini tours as well as some Web.com Tour events. He'd like to earn full status there for the rest of the season.

But today is about advancing toward the U.S. Open for the second time in his young career.

"I'm used to the [Holston Hills] course. It's not overly difficult," he said Monday before playing at Council Fire. "If you play well you get through, you move on. And if you don't, you go home."

Henrik Simonsen

Head professional at The Honors Course

Henrik Simonsen went through his pre-tournament ritual Monday evening. He cleaned his clubs, stocked his bag with packets of almonds and added six new Titleist golf balls to his bag.

"Six is the number," he joked. "If I need more than six, I might as well go home."

Simonsen, at 46 years old, will be older than most competitors playing today at Holston Hills. But he shares the dream of the college players, recent college graduates and everybody else playing today -- to play in the U.S. Open.

He knows he's at a disadvantage off the tee compared to younger players. But his advantage is his experience of playing longer than college golfers have been alive.

"These kids it it so far with a ball flight that's so cool, and they're well-oiled machines," said Simonsen, who recently played with U.S. Amateur runner-up Oliver Goss, who plays for Tennessee. "But you don't have to play them. You have to play the course.

"Holston Hills is not long, so that plays into the hands of guys like me, and that evens the field a little bit."

Simonsen is the only area club professional attempting to qualify for our national championship.

"The idea of making it all the way is a wonderful thought, but frankly unlikely," said Simonsen, who had a practice round lined up with Luke List, Derek Rende and Bryce Ledford on Tuesday. "But the chance to compete and test your game in a competitive setting is fun.

"All club professionals are in the business because we enjoy the game."

Playing Pinehurst No. 2 in the U.S. Open would certainly be enjoyable.

Ryan Thornton

Ryan Thornton

Photo by Shawn Paik /Times Free Press.

Ryan Thornton

Former Baylor School golfer

Some friends call him "Thorny." It's an easy nickname taken from Ryan Thornton's last name -- not his personality, which is quite the opposite.

They may change that nickname to "Pinehurst" if the former Red Raider and Vanderbilt Commodore makes it through local and sectional qualifying and into the U.S. Open.

Actually, he wouldn't care what friends call him if that dream comes true.

"As a pro golfer, you want to be with the best players on the biggest stage," Thornton said. "It's the only major that you have the ability to play in as a normal pro who's not on the PGA Tour.

"Trying to qualify to get there is a no-brainer."

Thornton has played Holston Hills countless times. He knows the course. And he has a plan for today.

"You have to go out knowing that you have to shoot shoot 5 under or better," he said. "You have to play fearless and make as many birdies as you can."

David Noll Jr.

Dalton Golf & Country Club member

David Noll Jr. spent a handful of years in the 1990s as a professional with limited success. He regained his amateur status in 2002 and has won almost every Georgia State Golf Association title that he's eligible to win.

What he doesn't have is a USGA trophy.

"I want a USGA title," he said Monday during a break in practice. "It's really the only thing I don't have."

He's tried before. He's had some success. But he's never played in a U.S. Open -- his ultimate USGA championship.

"At the local qualifier I'm comfortable and I know I can compete," Noll said. "Then at sectional, you're competing against guys that you've seen on TV. In 2003 I won the local and was paired with [2001 Masters winner] Ian Woosnam in the sectional.

"I beat him, but neither of us advanced."

UTC golfer Davis Bunn

UTC golfer Davis Bunn

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

Davis Bunn

UTC senior

Davis Bunn heard all the stories from former teammate Steven Fox about the experiences of playing in a U.S. Open. He wants to tell his own stories.

Bunn, who grew up in the Knoxville area, wants a spot on the practice range at Pinehurst next to the best players in the game during the week of June 9 and a pairing -- no matter the grouping or tee time -- on June 12 at the famed course designed by Donald Ross.

"When you sit down in January and make your schedule, the local and sectionals are on your schedule," Bunn said. "The U.S. Open is a major, one of the biggest tournaments of the year.

"As a golfer, you dream about playing in it."

Derek Rende

Former UTC golfer

Derek Rende had heard almost all of the jokes about him being Mr. Brooke Pancake.

She's the star. She's the one on the LPGA Tour.

Rende could silence the jokes with two good days of golf in his U.S. Open qualifying tournaments.

"The allure is that it's a major championship and anybody can get in it," Rende said. "I tried it a couple times in college and I made it through to sectionals once. It's one day and you don't have time to make up for a mistake. If I play a solid round, then I'll be right there."