Mike Dunham finished with four birdies over his last five holes on Wednesday at Crumpin-Fox Club in Bernardston, Mass., but it wasn’t quite enough to get the former NHL goaltender into the sectional phase of U.S. Open qualifying.
The 38-year-old Dunham, who won an NCAA Division I title at the University of Maine in 1993 and helped the USA claim a silver medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics, carded a 2-over-par 74 to get into a 4-for-1 playoff for the final spot at the local qualifier.
Dunham settled for first-alternate honors after getting edged by Brent Paladino of Kensington, Conn., on the second playoff hole. Dunham missed a downhill 5-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole that would have earned him the spot. At the second hole, he three-putted for bogey and Paladino converted a short par putt.
“I just enjoy playing these [qualifiers] just for the competitiveness,” said Dunham, who is the goalie coach for the New York Islanders. “I play a big amateur schedule during the summer and this kind of kicks it off. For me, it gets the rust off and having to hole all those 3- and 4-footers when it matters.”
Amateur Hunter Stone of Sunderland, Mass., a former Crumpin-Fox member, was the medalist at 3-under 69, one shot ahead of professional Shawn Warren of Windham, Maine.
Dunham, who carries a +1.2 USGA Handicap Index, was one of nine current or former athletes from another sport to enter U.S. Open qualifying in 2011. His 74 tied future Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz and current Jacksonville Jaguars pitcher Josh Scobee for the lowest score among that group, although the latter two missed getting in playoffs for the final spots by two strokes at their respective qualifying sites. Scobee played Monday in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and Smoltz competed Tuesday in Suwanee, Ga.
Playing a 7,000-yard course that was wet from all the recent rain, Dunham struggled at the outset, registering a trio of three-putt bogeys over his first 10 holes. Then at the par-4 12th, his tee shot hit a tree and ricocheted 40 yards into the woods. After taking a drop for an unplayable lie, it took Dunham two more shots to reach the fairway. A triple-bogey 7 left him six over par for the round.
With the pressure seemingly off, a more relaxed Dunham suddenly found his rhythm. He holed a 10-footer for birdie at the par-5 14th and knocked his tee shot at the par-3 15th to 3 feet for another birdie. He closed by rolling in 30-foot birdies at Nos. 16 and 18.
“I made a run at it,” he said. “I obviously dug myself a hole. I didn’t know [the 74] was going to be enough. But it was close.”
Dunham still has an outside chance of playing in one of the 11 U.S. sectional qualifiers. Should any of the qualifiers from his local site withdraw, he would get in. Also, if a locally exempt golfer withdraws or becomes exempt into the U.S. Open field via the Top 50 on the Official World Golf Ranking or PGA Tour money list prior to June 6, the USGA would then contact alternates through the allotment list from the 111 local qualifying sites to fill the sectional qualifying spots. In 2000, former PGA Tour player Bobby Clampett qualified for the Open at Pebble Beach after being an alternate out of local qualifying.
“You just never know in this game,” said Dunham, who qualified for the 2007 U.S. Mid-Amateur at Bandon Dunes. “If I get in, I’ll enjoy it and if I don’t, it was another great experience for me.”
Unlike Dunham, Smoltz was in position to qualify through 16 holes until he found the water with his approach to the par-4 eighth hole (his 17th of the round) at The River Club, resulting in a double-bogey 6. He bogeyed his last hole for a 3-over total of 74. It was a far cry from his performance two weeks earlier at a Nationwide Tour event in Georgia, where he shot 84-87 and missed the cut by 27 strokes.
“I’m very pleased with my performance today,” Smoltz told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after shaving four strokes from his 2010 U.S. Open qualifying result.
Smoltz said the Nationwide Tour experience helped prepare him for the Open qualifier. On Tuesday, he made two birdies, three bogeys and one costly double bogey when a gust of wind sent his 140-yard 8-iron approach into a pond fronting the green.
“Once the wind got it, it was finished,” said the 44-year-old Smoltz, who has aspirations of playing the Champions Tour in six years. Smoltz hit eight of 13 fairways and 13 of 18 greens. “I’m super pleased with the adjustments I made from the last tournament in this wind.”
Scobee also made a major improvement over last year, when he shot an 81 at Timuquana C.C. in Jacksonville. The 28-year-old Texas native made a pair of birdies in his round of 74 at Sawgrass Country Club (East/West Nines), which is across the street from the TPC at Sawgrass, site of the annual Players Championship.
“I hit the ball pretty well all day,” Scobee told the Jacksonville Times-Union. “There are a couple of holes I’d like to have back and I didn’t make the putts I thought I should have made. But I competed on a difficult course, in a lot of wind, and I’m happy with the way I hung in there.”
Four golfers advanced from the Sawgrass C.C. qualifier, including 2003 U.S. Junior Amateur champion and two-time Walker Cup participant Brian Harman of St. Simons Island, Ga. Kevin Phelan of Ireland, who qualified for the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links and hopes to play on the Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup Team this September, also advanced.
Last year, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo advanced to sectional qualifying, but in 2011, he carded a disappointing 81. Former big-league pitcher Erik Hanson, who also has reached the sectional qualifying stage in the past and has played in the U.S. Mid-Amateur, shot a 75 last week at Tumble Creek Club in Cle Elum, Wash.
Also failing to advance last week were ex-NFL quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver, tennis Hall of Famer Ivan Lendl (84 at Newport Country Club in Rhode Island) and actor Lucas Black (81 at Persimmon Woods C.C. in St. Louis).
This week, Hall of Fame goalie Grant Fuhr shot a 77 at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Golf Club and ex-NFL kicker Al Del Greco matched that score at Pine Tree C.C. in Birmingham, Ala. His son, Trey, a member of the Vanderbilt University golf team, fired a 73.
David Shefter is the USGA’s senior staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.