Six advance from local U.S. Open qualifier

It’s not supposed to be easy to qualify for the U.S. Open golf tournament, and the hard, fast greens and swirling winds at DragonRidge Country Club on Tuesday ensured that nobody had a smooth path to Pebble Beach.

Only five players broke par 72, and several golfers were assessed a stroke or more for slow play, adding to the frustration level.

Six golfers advanced to sectional play June 7 with a chance to qualify for the June 17 to 20 Open at Pebble Beach: Las Vegans Joel Kijowski, Jake Ellison, Cole Nondorf and Mike Ruiz, Henderson’s Travis Long and Californian Brian Thompson, who all shot par or better.

"I knew it was going to be tough out there, so I played it real conservative," said Kijowski, who works at Southern Highlands and along with Ellison and Nondorf had the day’s low round of 2-under-par 70. "I hit it great, and I was able to hit it to the right spots on the green. I had a lot of tap-ins."

Ellison, an assistant boys golf coach at Centennial High School, said putting was the key to his round.

"I really wanted to make sure I had the speed down," he said. "The greens were really fast, and I spent a lot of time on the speed."

Nondorf, who competes on the Canadian pro tour, said: "I’ve played here (at DragonRidge) many times and I’ve had success. I knew where to hit it; more important, I knew where not to hit it. That was probably the key to my round."

Ruiz, a former UNLV player who shot 71, said patience was critical to being successful Tuesday.

"You couldn’t fire at the pins because the greens were so hard," he said. "The wind was tough to gauge because it was constantly changing."

By mid-afternoon, the winds had died down, and Thompson took advantage. The Pebble Beach resident finished with a flourish, making eagle at the par-5, 553-yard 18th, to card a 71.

"Last year, I was in the same situation on the last hole and I wound up making bogey," said Thompson, who hit his second shot 15 feet short of the hole, then made the eagle putt. "It’s a little redemption for me."

For several golfers who didn’t advance, Tuesday was an unpleasant experience. Play was slow, and a few who were penalized for holding things up claimed they were unfairly singled out by marshals.

Southern Nevada Golf Association officials, who were in charge of enforcing the United States Golf Association’s rules, had lengthy discussions with the penalized golfers late Tuesday afternoon, but the results stood as played.

The six golfers advancing out of the DragonRidge qualifier must win or place high at one of the 13 36-hole sectional tournaments to make it to the Open. The number of qualifying spots varies from site to site.

Ruiz, who qualified in 2005 and played in the Open at Pinehurst, will play in a sectional event at Sacramento, Calif. Kijowski is heading to Portland, Ore. Thompson will play at Memphis, Tenn., and Ellison and Nondorf are going to Columbus, Ohio.

"I’ve never been back there, but that’s where the most spots are," Ellison said of Columbus, where 25 slots for the Open are up for grabs. "Of course, that’s where all the tour guys will be. But I’ll give it a shot."

Contact reporter Steve Carp at or 702-387-2913.

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