OMAHA, Neb. – For more than three decades, Jeff Brehaut and Jeff Wilson have been inseparable.
Born just a day apart in 1963 – Brehaut on June 13 and Wilson on June 14 – the two Northern Californians first met in 1982 as freshmen on the University of the Pacific golf team and became instant pals. They pledged the same fraternity, Alpha Kappa Phi, and the friendship forged on the Stockton, Calif., campus has endured into their professional lives.
“We talk on the phone all the time,” said Brehaut prior to playing his first U.S. Senior Open practice round on Monday afternoon at Omaha Country Club. “He’s my best friend.”
When Green Valley (Calif.) Country Club was announced as a Senior Open sectional qualifying site, Brehaut, a Champions Tour rookie who has played only one event since turning 50 less than a month ago, knew exactly where to sign up. Green Valley is Wilson’s home club and Brehaut made about a dozen trips from his home in Los Altos, Calif., to play practice rounds with his buddy.
They competed against each other, but it was the conversation that made these outings special. The two often reminisced about their college days, when they drove Coach Glen Albaugh batty with their antics.
“We probably would have been better [as a team] if we hadn’t [messed around] so much,” said Wilson about their occasional tomfoolery. “Our poor coach. He was probably the greatest guy in the world, but we just tormented him.”
“They didn’t miss any social events that I remember,” Albaugh told the Stockton Record.
Brehaut and Wilson both were talented golfers; Brehaut has amassed more than $4 million in combined PGA and Web.com Tour earnings. Wilson played eight years as a professional, but gave it up in the middle of the 1994 Web.com Tour seasonto join his family’s automobile business. Today, he operates the family Toyota dealership in Vallejo, Calif., but still finds time to compete in elite amateur competitions after being reinstated in 1997.
A driving range is conveniently located a mile from the dealership and Wilson often sneaks away to hit balls.
Having just turned 50, Wilson decided to join Brehaut at the Green Valley, Calif., sectional. With two available qualifying spots, the two figured it was the perfect opportunity to make the Senior Open field together.
As fate would have it, both shot 3-under 69s to garner the spots.
“When I saw he got a spot and I saw I got a spot, I turned to him and said, ‘The plan worked,’” said Brehaut.
Now that they have qualified, each has different goals for the week. Brehaut is trying to play catch-up on the Champions Tour money list. Because he just turned 50, he has played in one event, the Encompass Championship in suburban Chicago, where he tied for 59th. After finishing second at the Qualifying School last fall – the top five earned full Champions Tour status – Brehaut must finish among the top 30 in 2013 to avoid going back to Q-School.
During his eight years on the PGA Tour, Brehaut posted 12 top-10 finishes in 228 starts, including a third at The International in 2005 and a tie for fourth at the Deutsche Bank the same year. He also owns two Web.com Tour victories: the 1995 Inland Empire Open and the 1997 Mississippi Gulf Coast Classic.
Meanwhile, Wilson is hoping to add to his impressive USGA championship resume. In 2000, he earned low-amateur honors at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links. He has also been stroke-play qualifying medalist twice at the U.S. Amateur – in 2010 he carded a 62 at The Home Course in Dupont, Wash. – and is a three-time U.S. Mid-Amateur medalist, having reached the semifinals of that championship in 2001 at San Joaquin Country Club in Fresno, Calif.
“He was always good,” said Brehaut. “He’s like a pro. He’s a pro. He’ll tell you he’s an amateur, but he’s a pro.”
The two have annually teamed up to play Pro-Scratch events, including the Tommy Bahama Desert Marlin Classic at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. During practice rounds, they often square off against the Pate brothers – Steve and John.
They were set for a rematch on Monday at Omaha Country Club – John Pate, an amateur, also qualified to join brother Steve, a longtime PGA Tour pro – until Brehaut’s flight was delayed..
“It will have to wait until [Tuesday],” said Brehaut.
Wilson was just hoping to play 18 holes pain-free. Bothered recently by back issues, Wilson recently withdrew from his U.S. Amateur sectional qualifier. He limits himself to just 25 to 30 balls on the practice range and was planning to see one of the Champions Tour trainers on Tuesday.
One thing that won’t bother him is the crowds. At the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, Wilson played two groups in front of the marquee pairing of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott. The noise and buzz were overwhelming, even for someone with Wilson’s USGA experience.
“There were so many people out there,” he said. “It’s five years later, but at least I’ve been exposed to it.”
He can always turn to Brehaut for support. The two have been giddy since qualifying together on June 24. And this week, they found out a third Tiger from that era had been added to the Senior Open field when Kevin Coombs got in as an alternate. That gives Pacific three players, the same as the University of Southern California and one less than UCLA.
Wilson turned professional in 1986 and played on the PGA Tour in 1990. He and Brehaut traveled together during their fledgling days as tour professionals until Wilson eventually tired of the lifestyle.
Yet every time he chats or plays with Brehaut, he fondly rekindles memories of his four years at Pacific. Over the next few days, more stories are likely to be retold.
“I am really looking forward to playing,” said Wilson of his first U.S. Senior Open. “I know it’s a little bittersweet. All of a sudden you’re a senior, but [at least] you get to play again.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.