The 123rd U.S. Open at the Los Angeles Country Club is a month away, but in the first stage of qualifying among 9,693 players at 109 sites, five current or former BYU players qualified, four of them earning medalist honors in their respective 18-hole tests around the Intermountain West.
”It’s exciting. On Tuesday you start wondering how your boys are doing and boom, boom, boom, you start getting reports on Instagram that they were successful and it was pretty neat. — BYU golf coach Bruce Brockbank Jr.
“I don’t know where to look, but I’ve never heard of that happening before,” said BYU director of golf Todd Miller on Thursday at the team’s practice facility in American Fork.
On April 26, former Cougar and Draper resident Rhett Rasmussen shot a 65 at Casa Blanca Golf Club in Mesquite, Nevada, to advance to the next stage. On May 2 at AK-Chin Southern Dunes in Arizona, current Cougar Brock Goyen won medalist honors with a 67. On May 9, defending WCC medalist Zac Jones shot 65 to advance at Missoula Country Club in Montana, while that same day, teammate Tyson Shelley’s 66 was the best at qualifying at Broadlands Golf Course in Broomfield, Colorado.
On May 10, at Riverton Country Club in Wyoming, Cougar Keanu Akina made an 18-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole to take the remaining slot out of that site, firing a 66.
“It’s kind of a bad time, but a good time for us,” said Miller, whose team is preparing to leave for the NCAA Regionals in California this weekend. “Usually, qualifying is the first Monday of May at Alpine Country Club locally, and this kind of thins it out for the qualifying from Utah because if you had us and Utah competing for spots, you’d have the best players in Utah against each other.”
“It’s exciting,” said head coach Bruce Brockbank Jr. “On Tuesday you start wondering how your boys are doing and boom, boom, boom, you start getting reports on Instagram that they were successful and it was pretty neat.”
Brockbank said he doesn’t keep track of it (BYU players qualifying for the Open) historically but called it exciting. “It’s a great time to be playing well, especially with the NCAA golf season, a win at the Cougar Classic, and the WCC. You just try to keep riding the wave. Hopefully, we can take some of this down to the regional.”
Shelley said everything went his way in Colorado. “I drove it well and made a lot of putts. There were 75 people in the field and a lot of players I recognized from the University of Colorado and Denver.” He felt his play at the WCC helped him. “It’s so cool to have so many Cougars go onto the next stage. It’s sick.”
Akina said he hit driver a lot and drove a lot of greens. “I hit it 400 yards off the tee at that elevation and just kept going for it.” On 18, he drove it into the greenside bunker and made bogey or he likely would have avoided a playoff hole.
Goyen said playing in his hometown in Arizona was fun. “The course is out in the middle of nowhere in Maricopa. It’s a phenomenal golf course. I think the biggest thing was just keeping the ball in play. Being a desert course it’s difficult to manage and you have to keep it out of the desert. I was 5-under and it made me feel really good. It was a solid round.”
Jones said the elevation in Montana is like Utah and so is the grass. “The course is tight with small greens. I decided to pretty much hit driver every time because if I was going to have to chip out, I might as well be chipping onto a green with a long drive.
“I hit it good and made some putts. ... I was 7-under through 14 holes and knew I was in good shape, but on the final hole I clipped a tree on my second shot and went out of bounds on a pretty easy par-5.
“I was thinking of making birdie and being qualified, but after going out of bounds the wind was picking up and the number to make it looked like 5-under and I was out of bounds. I tried to just make bogey and I hit a 3-iron on the green and two-putted for bogey and the 6-under was good enough.”
Rasmussen, the medalist in Mesquite, has moved on from college play to play as a professional while the other first-stage qualifiers await assignments for the second stage. The current BYU players spent Thursday morning at the school’s practice facility near Fox Hollow Golf Course, where PGA professional Daniel Summerhays was present and putting the team through drills.
The Cougars leave for NCAA regionals at the Institute Golf Club south of San Jose, California, on Friday. Competition begins Monday after a practice round on Saturday, The format calls for 18 holes each day Monday through Wednesday.
No. 43 BYU will join No. 6 Pepperdine, No. 7 Florida State, No. 18 Mississippi State, No. 19 Arizona, No. 30 Louisville, No. 31 Baylor, No. 42 Missouri, No. 49 Houston, No. 53 NC State, No. 55 California, No. 78 Charlotte, No. 112 Grand Canyon and No. 194 Northern Colorado in the 54-hole tournament.