PGA Tour course adds intrigue to U.S. Open qualifier

This morning, 78 golfers with a vision of winning the U.S. Open are scheduled to tee it up in the local qualifier at TPC Summerlin, the host course of the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open PGA Tour event.

Only four players from this first stage will move on to sectional qualifying, heightening the intensity of the event.

“Everything is turned up a notch and the players feel as if it is Sunday at the U.S. Open Championship even though this is just the start of chasing that dream,” said Tanner Bown, director of competition for the Southern Nevada Golf Association. “It is exciting from a staff or volunteer standpoint to see these players so focused on a goal. Every year on the second Monday in May, thousands of players have dreams of winning the national championship. This is where it all starts.”

The field includes players with PGA Tour experience, current and former UNLV players, lifelong amateurs, members of the Las Vegas Golf Hall of Fame, a few high school players and also eight members of TPC Summerlin. Those members will enjoy a home course advantage but everyone in the field should know the layout because they have seen it on television during the Shriners event in the fall.

“It’s been very interesting for us to host this local qualifier and also the PGA Tour event in the fall,” said Lee Smith, TPC Summerlin general manager. “As compared to some of the other local qualifying venues, I think the players in our field should all have a little more familiarity with the course. A lot of them have played qualifiers here or other tournaments, but they all have had the benefit of watching the Shriners tournament on television so that certainly helps players gain a perspective and to know what to expect on the course.”

While the players will have some knowledge of the holes, the typical May weather can make the conditions much different from the fall Tour event.

“The Shriners tournament is known for low scores and near-perfect conditions, but having this qualifier for the last few years in the spring has brought the wind into play and that typically has firmed up the greens,” said Smith. “Players who’ve broken par have moved on and the course has played more difficult from that standpoint.”

Edward Fryatt, a former UNLV All-American who also played on the PGA Tour for a few years before earning his amateur status back, remembers how successfully qualifying for the U.S. Open and participating in the whole process boosted his confidence as a young player. Fryatt played in the 1997, 1998 and 2000 U.S. Open tournaments.

“Playing in the U.S. Open was a validation for me and gave me confidence that I was on the right path,” said Fryatt, who finished tied for 24th in 1997. “It was a defining moment and it made me feel like I belonged with the best players in the world.”

Notables in the qualifier field include Brady Exber, a member of the Las Vegas Golf Hall of Fame and winner of the 2014 British Senior Amateur, and current Rebels Redford Bobbitt, Ben Davis, Taylor Montgomery and Zane Thomas.

Former Rebels scheduled to play are Fryatt, Mitch Carlson, Dave Johnson, Karl Johnson and Monte Montgomery. Also scheduled to play is former Coronado golfer and current San Jose State player Bradley Keyer in addition to current Palo Verde golfer Cameron Meeks. Kenny Ebalo, the 2014 Southern Nevada Golf Association Player of the Year, is also in the field.

Freelance writer Brian Hurlburt is a two-time author who has covered golf in Las Vegas for more than two decades. He can be reached at bhurlburt5@gmail.com or @LVGolfInsider

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