GLEN ROSE – For the next week and change, the eyes of the golfing world, or at least those around Somervell County, will be focused on Jordan – and no, it won’t be Spieth.
Austin Jordan, a 2011 Glen Rose High School graduate, fired a 7-under par 137 during the grueling 36-hole U.S. Open sectional qualifier held Monday, June 6 at Lakeside Country Club in Houston. His two-round total was matched atop the leaderboard by fellow qualifiers Kevin Tway and Derek Chang, as all three officially punched their tickets to the 116th United States Open Championship.
The U.S. Open, which is the second of four PGA Tour major championships, will be held June 13-19 at Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pennsylvania.
During his four-year career at University of Incarnate Word in San Antonio, the 22-year-old Rainbow native saw his scoring average drop from a 76.3 during 23 competitive rounds his freshman year to an impressive 71.9 over 20 rounds during his 2014-15 senior campaign.
Since graduation in May 2015 and after forgoing his amateur status, Jordan said his focus over the last year has been on getting his professional golfing career off the ground.
“I tried playing in a few Adams Pro Tour tournaments last summer, but with pretty limited success,” Jordan said. “Last year I was kind of struggling with my game over the summer, but it finally started to turn around this winter and I started shooting some good scores around here at home.
“I shot a couple of 62’s at Squaw Valley and set the new course record out there, so I knew that I was playing well heading into the qualifier for the Open and was just hopeful that my play would transfer to that. Thankfully, it did. That’s just how golf goes. You have periods where you don’t play well and your swing isn’t right. But you just have to practice and work your way through it.”
‘The longest day in golf’
The amateur woke up from his dreams to pursue his dream at approximately 5:15 a.m. on what is often considered the “longest day in golf.” Jordan said as he arrived to the practice area, he and his caddy, former UIW teammate Kevin Smith, had a little over two hours to prepare for his 7:40 a.m. tee time in round one.
Jordan carded a bogey-free opening round with a 5-under par 67. He was the low-man on the course, and, as such, was well positioned atop the leaderboard when he took to the first tee for the afternoon round.
“We were the second group off, so we moved along pretty good and pace of play wasn’t too bad. We got done [with the second round] around 5:30 or 5:45 p.m., so we were on the golf course for almost 12 hours.”
“It was hot,” he added on the playing conditions in Houston.
A bogey on the par-4 seventh – his first of the tournament – was sandwiched between birdies on No. 2 and 9. Jordan made the turn to the final nine of his 36-hole test at 1-under on the round and 6-under for the tournament.
Five consecutive pars kept the youngster well within the top-three players in the field. But, no good triumph story is complete without at least a smidgen of adversity.
His tee shot on the par-4 15th came to rest on the base of a tree after it rolled a few yards through the fairway.
“They don’t have leaderboards or anything so I didn’t ever really know where I stood,” Jordan said. “Kevin checked the leaderboards after the first round, but I didn’t pay any attention to it during the round.”
“I double-bogeyed No. 15, which I guess everyone knows by looking at the scorecard, but my ball kind of just rolled up against a tree off the tee and I had to take an unplayable lie.”
Jordan dropped his second shot, hit the third and tapped in for a double-bogey six. He dropped to fourth as Tway, Chang and Brandon Crick surged deeper into red figures during their seconds round. The three finished round two at 6-, 4- and 5-under par, respectively.
Jordan said he knew at that point his only option was to fire at the pin and birdie out.
Which he did.
Jordan birdied the two par-4s at 16 and 17, and with a steady hand knocked in a third consecutive birdie on the par-5 18th to finish in a three-way tie and two shots clear of Crick. After a fourth place finish, Crick will be an alternate in case a qualifier drops out.
“[…] I really had to kind of search deep and birdied the next three holes to cap it off, which was pretty gratifying," said Jordan of the finish.
“I’m a pretty laid back person to begin with, but after 36 holes I was tired and just wanted to sit in the air conditioning for a little while,” Jordan ribbed. “[…] We waited around over an hour after I finished on 18, because it looked like that if a couple of guys made a few birdies that we may have a playoff. It was official about an hour and a half after I finished.”
If his qualification for the U.S. Open was not official at the course, it definitely was after he received an invitation from Diana M. Murphy, president of the United State Golf Association.
“Congratulations on earning your distinguished place in the field of the 116th United States Open Championship,” the official invitation sent on behalf of Murphy reads. “The United States Golf Association welcomes you and wishes you all the best in your quest to become the next United States Open champion.”
What’s the scoop?
Austin Jordan was born June 17, 1993 to Gary and Phyllis Jordan of Rainbow, Texas. Which means, yes, he will celebrate his 23rd birthday prior to walking onto the first tee on Friday of the U.S. Open.
“It would be a good birthday present to have a good round that day,” Jordan said. “[Making the cut] isn’t something that I am going to try and think about when I am out there. To really play well you want to be thinking about trying to get as close to the top of the leaderboard as possible.”
Jordan’s mother currently serves as the GM and head golf pro at The Retreat in Cleburne after previously spending several years at Squaw Valley – a course Jordan has hacked his way around since he was eight years old.
“I’m sure his mother had as much to do with his development with the golf club as anything, but maybe we mentally matured him a little bit,” joked Steve Heppler, assistant golf pro at SVGC. “But he has always been a good kid. It’s pretty cool that we have a kid from Glen Rose in the Open. It’s already cool enough to have a guy from Texas playing, but one from your hometown is pretty amazing.”
It is also important to note that Kevin Smith, Jordan’s caddy during the qualifier, qualified for the Texas State Amateur to be held the same weekend as the U.S. Open. With his own opportunity to achieve, Smith will be unable to tote the sticks along the fairways of Oakmont. However, there will still be a familiar face on the bag in P.A.
Amy Fox, a 1999 LPGA Teacher of the Year and a 2010 Golf Digest top-50 Women Teachers recipient, has been Jordan’s golf coach for going on 10 years now. She will also be his caddy for, hopefully, seven days next week.
Put into play in 1903 by designer Henry Fownes, Oakmont carries a par of 71. It measures 7,255 yards from its furthest tees with a 76.9 course rating and 142-slope rating. In comparison, Lakeside Country Club, where Jordan most recently competed, measures 7,254 yards and carries a 75.3 course rating and 141-slope rating. Squaw Valley’s Comanche Lakes in Glen Rose tops out at 7,000 yards with a 73.9 and 132 course and slope ratings.
However, none of the above applies to the U.S. Open. Rest assured and safely place your bets that the slope will approach the 155 plateau and the greens will be running as slick as a freshly greased frying pan with pins tucked tightly behind 210 unnervingly deep bunkers.
“There is really no way to prepare for it around here,” Jordan said. “Both with the speed of the greens and the rough being a total different grass than what we have here. I’m going to get there early and get as much work in around the greens as I can.”
This will be the ninth U.S. Open Championship hosted by the USGA at Oakmont – with the others coming in 1927, 1935, 1953, 1962, 1973, 1983, 1994 and 2007. The course has also hosted eight United States Opens, five U.S. Amateurs, three PGA Championships, and two U.S. Women's Opens.
According to its website, the course “remains perhaps the most difficult course in North America, with 210 deep bunkers (personified by the Church Pews), hard and slick greens that slope away from the player, and tight fairways requiring the utmost precision. Oakmont was the site of 'the greatest round of the 20th century' - Johnny Miller's final round 63 at the 1973 U.S. Open.”
The US Open can be seen live, first on Fox Sports 1 from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 16 and Friday, June 17. The live telecast will then hand over to FOX proper for the final three hours of coverage from 5 – 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday rounds will be exclusive to FOX and FOX Deportes from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. on June 18-19. There is also an option to watch live holes and featured groups on www.usopen.com.
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith