SO WHY DID Mikel Martinson play in yesterday's U.S. Open local qualifier at Paoli's Waynesborough Country Club, when there were 110 other sites he could have chosen?
Well . . .
"My two roommates, they live in Leesburg, Va.," said Martinson, who's from Throckmorton, a small town near Lubbock, Texas, and now lives 8 months a year in Charlotte, N.C., while he plays the eGolf professional mini tour. "They're doing the one in Maryland [Worthington Manor Golf Club in Urbana], and it's actually full. His bachelor party is in Atlantic City this weekend, so it kind of worked out perfect. I'm going to Philadelphia to spend the night and I'm meeting him there in the morning and play some golf. It's kind of a perfect scenario."
Especially when you go out on a course that was playing really tough at more than 7,000 yards - or slightly longer than Merion, which will host the national championship for the first time in 32 years June 13-16 - and shoot an even-par 71 to tie for medalist honors with amateur Oliver White, a Lower Gwynedd native who just finished his junior season at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa.
They advanced to one of the 11 36-hole sectionals on June 3, one step away from a spot in the 156-man Open field, along with five others. Only two players - Ken Venturi in 1964 and Orville Moody 5 years later - have won the title by going through two levels of qualifiers. Two of the remaining local rounds are next week in this area: Monday at Whitford C.C. in Exton and Thursday at Malvern's Applebrook G.C.
There were 122 players entered in this one. One didn't show up and another withdrew during the round due to injury. Merion member Buddy Marucci withdrew the day before so he could attend the funeral of Ernie Ransome, former president of both Pine Valley G.C. and the Golf Association of Philadelphia.
Braden Shattuck, who just finished his freshman year at Delaware, advanced with a 72 despite bogeying four of the last six holes. So did Travis Howe (Charlotte) and Jeffrey Osberg, whose father Rick was the head pro at Waynesborough when he was learning how to play the game in the 1990s. Mark Summerville (Jupiter, Fla.) was next, at 73.
The 28-year-old Osberg, who now lives in Manayunk since he got married, had back surgery in November. A CPA, he doesn't play much until after tax season anyway. His father was with him every step of the way.
"I love Waynesborough," he said. "I don't know if it's an advantage, but whenever you go to a place that you have good memories . . . it's a comfort level to have here. I was excited to see it here. It knew it was going to be challenging.
"I've only tried qualifying twice. With my work schedule, typically I don't really play that well in May. I think the last time was maybe 5-6 years ago, and I made it through at Glen Mills. I tried the next year and I lost in a playoff and that's when I stopped. But with the tournament being at Merion, I kind of have to play."
Speaking of extra holes, Chris Gallagher (Huntersville, N.C.) got the last spot by making a 10-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole (No. 10, a 458-yard par 4) to beat six others. The two alternate slots went to (in order) Yardley's Chris Ault and Michael Kania, who just finished his senior season at Villanova. Kania double bogeyed his final hole, the 450-yard ninth. Ouch. Most alternates don't get called to fill an opening in the sectionals, but you never know.
Martinson, whose group received a slow-play warning on No. 9, had never seen the course before.
"I've been starting to swing really good and just trusted myself today," said Martinson, who like Osberg went out in the morning. "I had a lot of good yardages and I hit a lot of really good approach shots to make my putts a lot better. If I missed, I'd just tap in for pars."
He played 2 years at New Mexico Junior College, then 2 more at Wayland Baptist, an NAIA school. He finished in the top 25 in eGolf last year, and has made five of six cuts this season. He says his biggest accomplishment so far has been winning the 2009 Texas Open.
His first name, by the way, is pronounced Michael.
"I don't know what my parents were thinking," he said.
It happens. Enjoy the casinos.