Column: 17-year-old makes most of his Open chance

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