LORTON, Va. – APL competitor Andy Drohen dropped his first-round match on Wednesday, but he can’t help but look forward.
After all, Monday awaits. That’s when Drohen, 44, a Granville, Mass., resident, will compete in U.S. Amateur Championship qualifying at Vesper Country Club in Tyngsboro, Mass. Should he advance through the qualifier, he’ll be ticketed for a place in the U.S. Amateur, the oldest golf championship in the country, set for The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., Aug. 12-18.
This year’s U.S. Amateur site holds special significance for Drohen. He won his first and only Massachusetts Golf Association Amateur Championship at the renowned club 10 years ago. There are other connections that drive Drohen’s pursuit of a spot in the field. This is the 100th anniversary of amateur Francis Ouimet’s historic U.S. Open win over Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, in which the 20-year-old defeated the heavily-favored Britons in a playoff.
Also, Drohen and his three brothers, John, Mike and Bill, all graduated from Northeastern University in Boston and received support from the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund, which helps qualified individuals defray the costs of college. He also caddied at The Country Club.
We actually couldn’t have graduated and got through college without the scholarship, Drohen said.
Drohen dropped 25 pounds over the winter and spring to help him handle the rigors of the 36-hole qualifying. The summer has been spent playing in a host of events, including the APL, where he carded rounds of 69-74 to reach match play before he was eliminated by 19-year-old Southern Methodist University junior Austin Smotherman, 6 and 4, in humid conditions.
One of the few mid-amateurs to make match play in the APL, simply competing in the event has been part of a larger goal for Drohen.
The whole summer has been spent gearing up for the U.S. Amateur, said Drohen, who is also battling a torn meniscus. The only good thing about going out early is I get some rest from the heat. I want to qualify just to be there, experience the whole thing and who knows what’s going to happen?
Drohen is something of a trendsetter when it comes to competitive golf. He won the Massachusetts Golf Association Public Links Championship last August to become the first golfer to win all four major non-senior amateur championships conducted by the MGA. In addition to claiming the association’s State Amateur, he has also registered victories at the Mid-Amateur and Four-Ball (with his brother, Bill).
In 2005, he became the first American amateur to travel overseas to compete in sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open. Drohen earned low-amateur honors at the qualifier, which was conducted at Walton Heath Golf Club in Surrey, England, but his 36-hole score wasn’t good enough to make the championship. An alternate in U.S. Open local qualifying, he remembers how things unfolded prior to his trip across the pond.
The USGA called and said, ‘Hey, we have good news and we have some bad news. The good news is we have a spot for you. The bad news is that it’s over in England,’ Drohen recalled with a laugh. It’s one of the best golf trips I’ve ever had.
For Drohen, sheer fate made the journey possible. After playing in the 2005 U.S. Amateur at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., Drohen underwent a swing change. A player who hits a natural draw, he wanted to learn to work the ball left to right, so he took lessons with a singular focus – to learn how to hit a fade.
The result? While working on his mechanics, he went through the equivalent of golf purgatory for 2½ years.
I got to a point where I stood on the tee and had no idea what I was going to try and hit, a fade or a draw, he said. I didn’t know where it was going and it was awful. You talk about the demons – they were bad.
The salvation for his swing meant reverting to the motion he was accustomed to while growing up and playing golf with his brothers. Drohen’s results have improved markedly over the past couple of years – he has relearned how to get out of his own way.
I figured that I’ve been playing for so long with my brothers that if I can’t figure it out now by myself, it’s not meant to be, Drohen said.
While qualifying for the U.S. Amateur remains Drohen’s top priority for the time being, his long-term goal is to play in the Masters Tournament.
It’s every amateur’s dream to play in the Masters, he said. He knows his best chance of earning an invitation to Augusta is by winning the APL or the U.S. Mid-Amateur in October, though he would also be invited if he were to win the U.S. Amateur.
For the time being, he’s enjoyed having the company of his family – his wife, Donalee, and his daughters Becca, 12, and Maggie, 13, at the APL. Becca was pushing the bag in his match and offered encouraging words and a little dose of caddie humor along the way. With Drohen obstructed by trees at the par-4 12th, Becca offered the only words one can provide in such a situation: Good luck, she said quietly.
To his girls, Drohen’s not a golf pioneer; he’s their dad. For his part, Drohen won’t soon forget his first start in the APL.
It’s a great experience. I started playing at that age and now I have my own kids. To come here and be a part of it is a lot of fun, he said.
Andrew Blair is director of communications for the Virginia State Golf Association. He is assisting the USGA this week at the APL.