One might say that Justin Thompson, director of golf at The Wanderers Club in Wellington, made the most of his home-course advantage to move within one step of qualifying for the U.S. Open set for June 13-16.
Now the rest is up to him: Make it through Monday’s 36-hole sectional qualifier at the Ritz-Carlton Members Club in Bradenton to achieve his dream of playing in the Open at Merion Golf Club outside Philadelphia, a 10-minute drive from where he grew up.
“We’ve done a fair amount of hosting things for the USGA, so I put in the request to have the local qualifying here at Wanderers,” said Thompson, 34. “That gave me an advantage in that I know the course, but it can also work against you with all the responsibilities that come with hosting.”
Using former Wanderers club champion Gary Schurr as his caddie, Thompson put together what he called “one of the best putting rounds I’ve ever had.” He needed only 23 putts for a 3-under-par 69 that qualified him for the sectional.
Now comes the hard part: He’ll be in a field of 56, eight of whom hail from Palm Beach and the Treasure Coast, vying for three spots.
Merion hasn’t hosted an Open since 1981 and the vast majority of PGA Tour pros have never played a competitive round there. Should he make it, Thompson has some inside knowledge there as well.
“I’ve played it quite a bit,” said Thompson, who worked at nearby Pine Valley Golf Club. “We had a lot of members who overlapped, and we’d have staff matches with their pros. One year they put in new tees when they were hosting a U.S. Amateur and I got to play from them.
“It gets a rap as being a shorter course, but it has plenty of length.”
Thompson, the New England NCAA Division I Player of the Year in 1999 while at Rhode Island, has already lined up the services of his father Ray to caddy if he qualifies. Ray played in two Opens in the ’70s, missing the cut by one shot at Atlanta in 1976.
And if Thompson doesn’t qualify? “I’m going up either way, and the two of us will spend Father’s Day at the Open,” Thompson said.
Thompson feels his biggest accomplishment in golf has been getting The Wanderers Club up and running over the past six years after the former Wellington Golf Club went out of business. But he also knows he can at least approach that by playing well Monday.
“I’m taking the same attitude I had in the local qualifier: I’m capable, I just hope I can have a good day,” he said.
One threesome of area players — Nyasha Mauchaza of Port St. Lucie, Matthew Springer of Stuart and John Nieporte of Boca Raton — will be in the same group in Bradenton. Also competing are Michael Kartrude of Boca Raton, Tim Turpen and Benjamin Hartman of West Palm Beach and Zachary Oakley of Palm City.
Summer reading: The heat, humidity and storms of a South Florida summer can keep golfers off the course. If that’s the case, it might be a good time to read a couple of golf books.
“Bury Me In a Pot Bunker,” the autobiography of legendary Delray Beach course designer Pete Dye, has just been re-released. It features hundreds of stories and anecdotes about the 87-year-old icon who, along with wife Alice, has designed more than 90 courses, including Hilton Head, the Players Stadium Course and Old Marsh in Palm Beach Gardens, which is the focus of an entire chapter.
Dye returns again and again to both his enduring relationship with Jack Nicklaus and his fondness for Seminole Golf Club in North Palm Beach, a Donald Ross design that he once played with Ben Hogan.
“King of Clubs,” by Jim Ducibella, recounts how amateur J. Smith Ferebee in 1938 made the impossible bet that he could play 600 holes of golf while traveling across the country in just four days, meaning Ferebee not only had to average 150 holes per day but cover 3,000 miles in the process.
Ducibella’s research is impressive and the read is just as fast as the ground covered by Ferebee, who also had to break 100 in every 18-hold round to win the bet.
Donald at home: PGA Tour star Luke Donald is featured in a story in the latest Town & Country magazine, accompanied by photos featuring Donald, his wife Diane and their two daughters at their home at The Bear’s Club in Jupiter.