Michael Brown wasn't sure what to expect in Monday's qualifying round for the U.S. Open at Whitford Country Club, especially playing in the windy and unseasonably cold conditions.
But the 40-year-old public-links player from Cheltenham had all facets of his game working for much of the day and earned medalist honors with a par 72, leading five qualifiers into next month's final stage for a chance to play in the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club.
With temperatures in the 50s and the wind blowing golf balls into Whitford's unforgiving rough, scores were high. Only 16 players in the field of 71 broke 80, and quite a few 90s were sprinkled in on the scoreboard at the Exton layout.
Brown, who has competed in five U.S. Golf Association championships but never a U.S. Open, said he went in with low expectations.
"There was no reason to think I was going to be around par, to be honest with you," he said. "This is my first stroke-play event where I hit the ball well and putted it well. I guess I just got up for the moment."
Brown said his driver was his key club. He managed to stay out the rough for much of his first 14 holes, which he played in 3-under par - four birdies and a bogey. He started hitting it crooked at No. 15, and bogeyed three of his last four to finish even.
"I drove the ball fairly straight, which is a little unusual," said Brown, the 2010 Golf Association of Philadelphia player of the year. "I'm usually not quite that consistent. It took a lot of pressure off the round because I hit the ball in the rough late in the round and I didn't realize how high it was, almost unplayable in spots."
Chris Baloga of Baltimore, the golf coach at Loyola (Md.), took second with a 73 despite never having played Whitford before. His hometown qualifier is Tuesday, the same day he and his team are traveling to Tallahassee, Fla., for the NCAA regionals.
"I didn't prepare well," he said. "Usually you play a practice round and get some rest, not sleep four hours and drive 100 miles and play it blind. But I hit the ball straight and kept it in front of me."
Also advancing were Whitford member David West; mini-tour pro John Ladow; and Blake Morris, who just finished his sophomore season at Mississippi.
a-Michael Brown, Cheltenham 33-39-72
a-Chris Baloga, Baltimore 37-36-73
John Ladow, Rockledge, Fla. 39-35-74
a-David West, Exton 37-37-74
a-Blake Morris, Waterbury, Conn. 36-40-76
a-Stephen Seiden, Chadds Ford 38-39-77
Michael Ladden, Exton 36-41-77