Just qualifying for Open is big achievement

U.S. Open play continues today as the second round unfolds at historic Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina. Pinehurst has hosted two previous Opens – in 1999 and 2005 – but this year the course ‘look’ is markedly different.

A few years ago, the owners of Pinehurst decided to restore the course to its original condition. To do the work, club officials hired the successful course design team of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Cooke. The two men quickly set out to restore the course to the way it played a century ago – shortly after golf course architect Donald Ross finished the layout.

At the heart of this restoration was the removal of 40 acres of turf that had been planted as ‘rough’ in recent decades. The thick grass was replaced by a combination of sand, wire grass and pine straw, giving the course a much more natural look.

Course restoration, however, did not alter Pinehurst’s famous putting surfaces. They remain large and concave some of the most difficult to putting greens in the world. In addition to the greens, the closely-mown chipping areas remain, only adding to the particular difficulty of this course.

Several new tees have also been added, stretching this course to a lengthy 7,562 yard, par-70 layout. By the end of this weekend, the golfer who can overcome all of this and shoot the lowest score will be a worthy champion.

For some, though, just qualifying for a U.S. Open is a lifetime achievement. The USGA’s national championship is ‘open’ because any golfer with a handicap index of 1.4 or less can attempt to qualify for the event. This year more than 10,000 golfers filled out the required entry form and began by participating in local qualifying at one of the many designated sites across the country. The small percentage of golfers who advanced through first-stage qualifying moved on to sectional qualifying for the final 78 spots into this year’s U.S. Open (Hollidaysburg native Anthony DeGol advanced through local qualifying this year before being eliminated at sectional qualifying).

Over the years, there have been a handful of golfers with local ties who have been fortunate enough to qualify for the U.S. Open.

In 1983, St. Francis graduate Alan Rosensteel qualified for the U.S. Open held at Oakmont Country Club near Pittsburgh. At the time, Rosensteel was working as Red Flash golf coach Bob Hahn’s assistant. Though he missed the cut that year, Rosensteel, who currently works at the Golf Academy of America in South Carolina, still has fond memories of his experience.

Other local golfers who played in our national championship include Frank Kiraly, Johnny Felus.

Kiraly, originally from Cambria county, played in five U.S. Opens during the 1950’s when he was active on the pro golf tour. Kiraly would later serve as head pro at the Blairmont Club and Scotch Valley Country Club.

Gallitzin native Johnny Felus was a struggling young tour player when he qualified for the 1968 U.S. Open at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York. The diminutive, 5’3″ pro caused a stir on the first day of play as he held the outright lead after 16 holes. Felus bogeyed his last two holes to shoot 70 that day, good enough for third place. A difficult second day, however, saw Felus shoot 79, which missed the cut by one shot.

Finally, the two best U.S. Open performances turned in by local men were accomplished by Chad Garlena and William “Red” Frances.

Garlena, also a Gallitzin native, played in the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club. The former head pro of Summit and Iron Masters Country Clubs played extremely well for the first two days of this event – he was actually in a tie for 17th place after two rounds. Unfortunately, Garlena faded on the weekend with score of 82 and 81.

The only other local man to play all four rounds in a U.S. Open was former Blairmont club pro Red Francis. The tall, lanky Francis played in several tour events before qualifying for the 1939 championship held at the Philadelphia Country Club. Francis recorded scores of 78-74-74-74 to finish in a tie for 42nd. Just a few years later he would lose his life as one of the first soldiers to land at Normandy Beach during the D-Day invasion of World War II.

Although, there are no local men to root for this weekend, the new course setup and difficult U.S Open conditions at Pinehurst No.2 should still allow for a dramatic competition.