As golfers perfected their putts on the practice green Wednesday, a few of the bags scattered about weren’t quite like the others.
They weren’t the 50-pound leather bags covered with sponsor’s logos – the ones used by professionals. Rather, they were the nylon and canvas bags common on municipal courses, with their pop-out support legs and college markings. There were two crimson Alabama bags, a black and gold Vanderbilt and another with an unmistakable Oregon O.
These were the bags belonging to a few of the 11 amateurs in the U.S. Open field. They range in age from 17 (Will Grimmer) to 22 (Cory Whitsett, owner of one of the Alabama bags). Matthew Fitzpatrick has played in the most professional tournaments (four). Two of them have finished as the low amateur in previous majors (Fitzpatrick at the 2013 British Open and Oliver Goss at the 2014 Masters). Seven of them will be teeing it up with the pros for the first time. And three made the field as alternates, turning just-misses into just-makes. Brandon McIver, a rising junior and owner of the Orgeon bag, learned he was in the field while on a plane Sunday, flying from Los Angeles to Raleigh.
As the first alternate, he had privileges to the practice areas at Pinehurst, so he boarded the flight from LAX to RDU with Oregon assistant coach Van Williams. In true 2014 fashion, he found out he was in via a text message from the USGA.
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“I was using the WiFi, and I didn’t know that iMessage worked with WiFi while in the air, so, I got the message, and it was all surreal,” McIver said. “I tried to hold my excitement in, but as soon as I found out, I unbuckled my seat belt and went back to my assistant coach, who was there, and told him.”
His first look at the course came on Monday, with Jim Furyk. Tuesday, he played with Brandt Snedeker and Bill Haas.
“Playing with those guys and seeing them in person when I’m so used to watching them on TV is pretty amazing,” he said.
Snedeker and Haas also helped break in another amateur on Monday. Hunter Stewart, a rising senior at Vanderbilt, walked up to the first tee with the two former FedEx Cup winners – a bit nerve-wracking, he said – and yanked a 4-iron. He settled in from there.
It wasn’t his first trip to Pinehurst No. 2 – Stewart was on hand in 2005, as Michael Campbell made his improbable run to victory.
“I was 12 years old,” Stewart said. “A family friend has a house here, and we went to the Open. He said maybe one day you can play here, and, sure enough, here I am.”
Robby Shelton, the NCAA freshman golfer of the year for national champion Alabama, partnered with Whitsett, his college teammate, and turned their Tuesday practice round into an informal SEC match against professionals Harris English and Hudson Swafford, two Georgia grads. The amateurs said they won – not a feat that occurs often, in any capacity, at the U.S. Open (John Goodman was the last amateur to win the championship, in 1933).