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Tiger Woods had withdrawn from the U.S. Open.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withdrawn from the Open – that was the implication, at least.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
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
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
”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.