They were born almost exactly 37 years apart but veteran PGA/Champions Tour player Jay Haas and Canadian rookie pro Mackenzie Hughes
now share an odd connection.
Haas pulled out of a U.S. Open qualifier in St. Louis on Monday, opening a spot for Hughes, the 22-year-old from Dundas, Ont., who has won the past two Canadian Amateur titles.
Hughes made the most of the opportunity by progressing through a playoff to earn a spot in the field slated for next week at the iconic Merion Golf Club near Philadelphia.
Haas informed the USGA
he wouldn't be taking his spot while playing in the Champions Tour event last week not far away in Iowa.
Located much further away, and completely unaware, Haas's decision opened the door for Hughes.
"I was on the putting green practising at my course in Charlotte and my phone rang," said Hughes, who is based in the North Carolina city after graduating from Kent State last year. "I didn't recognize the number and thought to myself 'should I take this?' It turned out it was the USGA.
"It was a good thing I did."Fortuitous turn
The fortuitous turn for Hughes was actually his second piece of good fortune that contributed to him getting into the U.S. Open. The first came a few weeks earlier during local qualifying in South Carolina.
Hughes failed to move on automatically to sectionals (the second of two qualifying stages) but was good enough to make the alternates list. When the time came to decide the order of those alternates, the other golfers who he was tied with had already left the course and so Hughes was awarded the first spot by default.
When Haas ultimately withdrew, holding that first spot made all the difference for Hughes getting into the field at Old Warson Country Club in St. Louis and not.
Good luck aside, it was good playing and a solid bounce-back that ultimately earned Hughes his ticket to Merion.
For those that are unaware, sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open is one of the most intense days on the golf calendar every season. It's now dubbed the sport's "longest day," given how 36 holes drag on across 11 sites with just under 60 spots up for grabs among the 10,000 or so golfers who start the process at local qualifying.
Hughes's day became even longer when he bogeyed the final hole to fall out of what turned out to be the last of two automatic spots available. Forced to wait for close to two hours, Hughes cited the white-knuckle time as helpful because he was able to expunge the bad memory of almost letting it slip away.
"At that point my only hope was a playoff," said Hughes. "But [the break] also gave me time to shake [the frustration] off."
Finally, Hughes was drawn into a playoff with Travis Johns, for the last spot. When Johns got in trouble off the tee and failed to make a long par-saving putt, it gave Hughes two putts to secure qualification.
"The hardest putt I've had," said of the 15-footer knowing that he didn't need to make it, but merely get close and tap-in.Hughes showing promise
Hughes's U.S. Open qualification was one of the back stories on Wednesday at Golf Canada's national team media day at Bond Head just north of Toronto. Hughes is less than a year removed from the program and is the latest example of one of the country's best young players showing signs of promise in the hardscrabble world of professional golf.
"Tremendously gratifying," said Team Canada men's head coach Derek Ingram, who spent 85 days working with Hughes and his teammates in 2012.
"To spend so much time with Mac and to see him [rewarded], the U.S. Open is the hardest one to qualify for...it's all very gratifying."
There are many variables that go into playing and scoring well at a PGA Tour event, much less a major, but Ingram says that Hughes has the type of game to play well at Merion.
Possessed with decent length and precision accuracy off the tee, those qualities combined with Hughes's stellar putting, suggest that he could realistically make the cut at Merion.
"He'll just tire the course out," said Ingram.
For his part, Hughes was simply trying to take it all in while travelling from the American heartland to Victoria for this weekend's PGA Tour Canada opener. Reached late Tuesday while connecting through Calgary and on to Victoria, Hughes hadn't yet booked a flight to Philadelphia for early next week.
"Just trying to figure it all out right now," he said of his travel plans that will see him play in three cities and travel through at least another three more before the U.S. Open tees off next Thursday.
"I'm just a first-year pro."
But not playing like one, apparently.Other Canadian qualifiers
Hughes will be joined by two other Canadians at Merion who also qualified on Monday. PGA Tour veteran David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., made it through at a qualifier in Columbus , Ohio while Web.com Tour player Adam Hadwin of Abbottsford, B.C., got through another in Maryland.
Mike Weir, who has been showing flashes of playing better in the past few months on the PGA Tour after three years of mostly struggles, made it into an 11-man playoff at the Columbus qualifier but ultimately fell short. Weir did manage to secure the first alternate spot and has a realistic chance at getting into the final field.
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