Rice graduate takes Woods’ spot in US Open

Michael Whitehead was still getting over the sting of losing out

on his shot to play in the U.S. Open when his phone rang Tuesday in

Texas with news that took a little while to digest.

Tiger Woods had withdrawn from the U.S. Open.

Would he like to play?

”It’s kind of surreal,” Whitehead said ”I just got a phone

call from the USGA asking if I wanted to play in the U.S. Open

because a spot had come open. I said, ‘Um, yes.’ She said Tiger had

withdrawn from the Open – that was the implication, at least. So,

‘Thanks, Tiger.’ I guess I’m glad he was listening to his

doctors.”

Woods decided not to play, saying his left knee and Achilles

have not fully recovered and he didn’t want to risk further injury.

It’s the first time Woods will not be at the U.S. Open since

1994.

Whitehead, who just graduated from Rice with a degree in sports

management, barely made it through a playoff in the first stage of

18-hole local qualifying and had signed up for the 36-hole

qualifier in Ohio, figuring there would be more spots available

because of all the PGA Tour players at that site.

Instead, he was moved to Dallas Athletic Club. He wound up in a

three-man playoff for the final two spots with tour players

Harrison Frazar and Greg Chalmers, but on the first extra hole,

Whitehead nearly hit his approach into a hazard and had to scramble

for a bogey. He was eliminated and had to settle for being first

alternate, with no idea how high up on the alternate list he would

be.

”It didn’t feel very good,” he said. ”To have come so far and

almost have it, and then not have a very good hole. Praise God it

turned out the way it did.”

Whitehead was busy making travel arrangements to get to

Congressional on Monday. The biggest tournament he ever played

before this was the U.S. Amateur last summer at Chambers Bay, where

he failed to qualify for match play.

Next week, he’ll be alongside Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald and

defending champion Graeme McDowell on one of the biggest stages in

golf. His hope for a practice round is Ben Crane, whom he has met

in the College Golf Fellowship program.

It’s almost happening more quickly than he can imagine.

First came the close call at local qualifying. Whitehead then

turned pro, graduated from college and now is on his way to the

U.S. Open. After that? He is getting married in July, then playing

mini-tours to get ready for PGA Tour qualifying in the fall.

”It’s a good start to the summer,” he said.