Life's a Beach for Alternate Gagne at Oakland Hills
August 16, 2016 | Bloomfield Township, Mich.
By David Shefter, USGA
Last Friday, Luis Gagne was enjoying his final days of summer vacation relaxing in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., not far from his Orlando home. Golf was the furthest thing from his mind.
Gagne hadn’t touched a club since missing the 36-hole cut in the Western Amateur at The Knollwood Club in suburban Chicago a week earlier. But in 72 hours, Gagne was supposed to be on a flight to Baton Rouge, La., to start preparing for his sophomore year at Louisiana State University, where classes begin on Aug. 22.
One phone call turned those plans upside down. When 2015 U.S. Senior Amateur champion Chip Lutz became the lone amateur to make the cut in the U.S. Senior Open at Scioto Country Club, a spot in the 116th U.S. Amateur Championship at Oakland Hills Country Club became available. The USGA holds a place in the Amateur field for the low amateur at the Senior Open, but Lutz already was exempt.
Gagne, who shot 7-under 137 in his sectional qualifier at Willowbend Golf Club in Wichita, Kan., to miss the lone spot by one stroke, was next on the USGA’s allotment list.
“I had no idea at all,” said Gagne on where he stood in the alternate pecking order. “[Playing in the U.S. Amateur] didn’t cross my mind at all. Then I got the call. I woke up early Saturday, practiced and got on a plane at 5 o’clock. I played a practice round on Sunday [on the South Course].”
Armed with a new putter and few expectations, Gagne, who was grouped with LSU teammate Sam Burns and William Deck, posted 3-under 137, including a 1-under 69 on the more challenging South Course on Tuesday, to qualify for match play. He made six birdies and three bogeys over 36 holes of stroke play.
“I think it helped us both a lot,” said Gagne of playing with Burns. “We were both really super comfortable out there. It was like we were back at school playing a qualifying round.”
Gagne, who turns 19 in 11 days, is no stranger to taking advantage of second chances. His freshman season at LSU got off to a rocky start last fall. He played poorly in the team’s opening tournament, and then a wrist injury sidelined him for the remainder of the fall campaign.
Trying to crack a lineup on a team that won the 2015 NCAA title wasn’t easy, but his break came in March at the Valspar Collegiate at The Floridian, about a 90-minute drive from Orlando in Palm City, where he tied for third. The good results didn’t end there. He shared medalist honors with teammates Zach Wright and Eric Ricard in the Tiger Classic, and tied for fourth in the Aggie Invitational to earn a spot in the postseason. LSU lost to eventual-champion Oregon in the quarterfinals of the NCAAs at Eugene (Ore.) Country Club, but Gagne, who tied for 13th in the stroke-play portion of the competition, halved his match with Thomas Lim.
This summer, his right wrist occasionally bothers him – Gagne had it wrapped on Tuesday – but not enough to prevent him from contending in his first U.S. Amateur appearance.
“I’ve tried four years [to qualify], and three of the four I missed by one [stroke],” said Gagne, who was born in Costa Rica, but moved to the U.S. when he was 4 and now holds dual citizenship. “I’m really glad I got to play in [the U.S. Amateur]. It’s a great tournament.
“I just hope I keep doing what I’ve been doing [the first two days]. It’s a lot better than being home.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.