NEWPORT BEACH, Ca. — Fred Couples’ attempt to qualify for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay was thwarted Monday by a bad back, according to a statement released by the USGA.
Couples withdrew from the 36-hole sectional qualifier in Newport Beach, California, shortly before his 7:20 a.m. tee time. Brennan Amirkhizi took his place, according to a tweet from the Southern California Golf Association.
Couples, 55, whose best finish at the U.S. Open was a tie for third in 1991, had said he wanted to play this year because the course is near Seattle, where he grew up. His last U.S. Open appearance was in 2006.
He has struggled with back issues for much of the later part of his career, but qualifying in Newport Beach seemed like a possibility because he has won twice at Newport Country Club on the Champions Tour and is a member of Big Canyon Country Club, the locations of Monday’s Southern California sectional.
Hundreds of golfers are competing Monday at 10 locations in the country for 60 spots in the U.S. Open, which begins next week.
Davis Love III and Justin Leonard also withdrew from their qualifiers.
Two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen was the medalist at his sectional qualifier, making the field Monday for the year’s second major at Chambers Bay starting June 18.
The 50-year-old Janzen, who won in 1993 at Baltusrol and 1998 at the Olympic Club, hasn’t played his national championship since 2008. He teed it up at his first U.S. Open in 1985. PGA Tour pro Jamie Lovemark, Pat Wilson and Rich Berberian Jr. also qualified out of the New York sectional location.
In the Jupiter, Florida, qualifier at The Bears Club, former world No. 1 Luke Donald shared the low round with Andrew Pope and amateur Jack Maguire. Sam Horsfield defeated fellow amateur Cristobal Del Solar for the final spot in a playoff. Donald did have an inside edge as he is a member at the course.
In Ball Ground, Georgia, it was a split decision for the Castro family. Roberto Castro, who has made nearly $3.6 million in his PGA Tour career, edged out brother Franco by a shot to claim the third and final spot in their qualifier. Amateurs Matthew NeSmith and Lee McCoy finished first and second, respectively.
At Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Maryland, Tim O’Neal birdied the third playoff hole against Joshua Persons to claim the third and final spot in their sectional. PGA Tour pro and U.S. Naval Academy graduate Billy Hurley shared medalist honors with amateur Denny McCarthy for the other two available places in the field.
Tony Finau, coming off his second straight top-10 finish on the PGA Tour last week at the Memorial Tournament, will play his first major championship after claiming the second of four spots in the Springfield, Ohio sectional. Also making it to Chambers Bay next week from the same location are Michael Davan, amateur Nick Hardy and Stephan Jaeger.
The last player to win the U.S. Open who had to go through sectional qualifying was Lucas Glover in 2009 at Bethpage Black.
In Cle Elum, Wa., Cheng-Tsung Pan of Bellevue shot rounds of 69-69 to earn medalist honors at Tumble Creek Club.
His 2-under par finish over 36 holes on the par-70 layout was one shot better than Troy Kelly of Lakewood, Wash. and Richard Lee of Scottsdale, Ariz.
All three qualifiers are former players of the University of Washington men’s golf team. Pan, a native of Taipei, Taiwan, just graduated this spring, while Kelly graduated in 2003 and Lee in 2010.
This is the third U.S. Open that Pan has qualified for, having played in the championship in 2011 and 2013, when he also qualified at Tumble Creek.
Under sunny, warm and windy conditions, Pan continued to make the shots when it counted most. In the morning round, he aced the 227-yard par-3 seventh hole, his 16th hole of the morning round. In the afternoon round, he birdied three of the last four holes to take the medalist honors, with his final birdie coming on the tough 485-yard par-4 18th, where from 149 yards out he put his second shot to three feet and sank the putt, which put him at the top of the leaderboard. He sank a 15-footer for birdie on 15, then chipped in from 25 feet on the par-4 16th.
When asked if this U.S. Open means more to him than the previous two he’s played in, Pan said, “Yes, this means more to me. I’m now playing as a professional, so there was more at stake. I love this course, and having qualified here before (in 2013), I feel really good here. I felt like I had some magic today.”
Pan, a former No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, was also the medalist at the U.S. Open local qualifier, held at The Home Course in DuPont, Wash. on May 11. He then finished runner-up at the NCAA Division I Championship the following week, after which he turned professional.
Here are the ins and some of the outs among the U.S. Open qualifiers: