Column: 17-year-old makes most of his Open chance
SAN FRANCISCO (AP)
The kid came into the U.S. Open hoping to finish as low amateur and maybe even shake hands with his hero, Phil Mickelson. Modest goals, maybe, but Beau Hossler wasn't even the best player in his state high school tournament a few weeks ago.
So what would he think if someone told the 17-year-old he would be leading Tiger Woods and everyone else deep into the second round Friday?
''I would probably tell them they're nuts,'' Hossler said.
This was already shaping up as a great month for the Southern California teen. His braces are coming off in a week, he qualified for the Open for a second straight year, and he found out when he got here that all players get free dry cleaning.
Oh, yeah, he got to play with Mickelson in a practice round and even took a few bucks off of Lefty.
Still, the most adult thing he had done recently was ask his mother for a cup of coffee to help him study for his junior year finals. And suddenly he was standing on the second tee at Olympic Club leading the Open.
There it was, right there on the leaderboard. Hossler in big letters, just above Woods and Furyk.
Sure, the tiny bag of clubs a family friend was carrying had the initials of his high school on it. He was playing big boy golf on a big boy course, and having fun doing it.
''I was pretty excited about it, but then again I had another 40 holes at least to be playing in the tournament,'' Hossler said. ''You got a long way to go and you can't get too wrapped up on where you're at. You got to keep focused and try to go out there and salvage some pars on the first six holes, which is pretty difficult to do.''
Too difficult for Hossler, it turned out. He hit a tree with one drive and would go on to play his last seven holes at 5 over as his name slipped down the leaderboard until a final-hole bogey left him tied for ninth place.
Still low amateur, at least for now. But no longer top dog.
''Let's be honest,'' said his father, the elder Beau Hossler. ''I'm sure he got caught up a bit in the moment.''
Hossler, who played under a big University of Texas - his destination after next year - visor, is still right in the mix heading into Saturday's third round, sitting only four shots back of Woods, Furyk and David Toms at 3 over. He doesn't get to play with Mickelson, but he will be playing a lot later than him.
Pretty heady stuff for any player, though Hossler seems to take it all in stride.
''I just felt pretty comfortable out there,'' he said. ''Pretty nervous starting the round. Just like any other event I'm normally pretty nervous on the first tee. But once I got through the middle of the round I found out I had the lead.''
The lead, of course, can do things to even the most seasoned veterans. It wasn't going to leave Hossler unscathed, though he did chip in on his next-to-last hole for a birdie that helped ease the sting of things.
''He had to be nervous,'' said caddie Bill Schellenberg, a family friend. ''Yesterday it was like a qualifier. We had a fun day, loose as can be. He played well, laughed, just had nothing but fun. We were on the same path today and then he birdies No. 17 then we're off to 18 and all of a sudden there's cameras and stuff all over us. I don't know about him, but I started to get nervous at that point.''
Nothing for Hossler to hang his head about. He admits he's not a student of golf history, but there was a 20-year-old amateur named Tiger Woods tied for the lead at 3 under in the first round of the 1996 Open at Oakland Hills, only to give away nine shots coming in.
''I kind of experienced that actually myself at Oakland Hills, same deal, first round, made a few mistakes after that,'' Woods said. ''I think he's kind of made a few mistakes as well.''
Hossler's story is a familiar one in golf. He would tag along with his father when he was little, playing a few holes at a time, until he finally got serious about the game around the age of eight. By the time he was 12 he was winning tournaments, and he qualified for the U.S. Amateur at the age of 14. After a growth spurt that helped his driving distance, he qualified for the Open at Congressional, missing the cut after rounds of 76-77.
''He has the ability, I think, to stay calm in uncalm situations,'' Hossler's father said. ''In Little League he was always calm, too. He doesn't get too high or too low, he just rolls with the punches.''
That kind of attitude got him to the top of the Open leaderboard, even if it was short-lived. It got him some television time, and some reporters who wanted to ask him questions afterward.
He's not going to win the Open, something he seems to realize. His goal is still to be low amateur, and he's got a five-shot lead over the other two amateurs to make the cut, Patrick Cantlay, who used to beat him regularly in the Los Angeles area, and Jordan Spieth.
And, of course, there are the Open perks that will continue through the weekend.
''I find this kind of weird, but the free dry cleaning in there, that's pretty sweet,'' he said.
Add a few more shirts to the next order. Because Hossler is playing the weekend in the U.S. Open.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org