PORT ARTHUR —
Chris Stroud and Shawn Stefani came up well short in sectional qualifying Monday, but Southeast Texas won’t be without a rooting interest when the golf world turns its attention to the 114th U.S. Open Championship next week at Pinehurst, N.C.
Former Beaumonter Anthony Broussard grabbed the final spot in the qualifier at Lakeside Country Club in Houston, and he did it in dramatic fashion. A schoolboy star at Kelly, and a strong collegiate player at North Texas, he birdied the final two holes on his afternoon round to get into a playoff, then punched his Open ticket with a birdie on the second extra hole.
“It was pretty exciting,” said Broussard, who shot rounds of 71-68 to tie William Knoop for third at five-under-par 139 in a field of 55 players. “I’d known for several holes that the number I needed to reach was probably going to be five-under. I was stuck on three under. I hit it close on all the holes coming in, but couldn’t make anything.”
Until 17, that his. With time running out, Broussard rolled in a 25-foot birdie from off the green. Then, on the par 5,18th he nearly holed a difficult downhill chip for eagle from 10 yards beyond the green. Birdie was enough to get him in the playoff, but he had to dodge a bullet when Knoop missed a 6-foot birdie on the first extra hole. Back to the 17th, he won by sticking his second shot inside two feet.
For Broussard, who has been chasing his PGA Tour dream on mini tours and Monday qualifiers, breaking through on his fourth attempt to get into the U.S. Open could be a game-changer. An exceptional talent who has never lacked for confidence, he sees the experience of playing at Pinehurst, and the lessons to be learned, as helping him take the elusive next step.
“I want to play at the next level and I think my game is where it needs to be to do that,” he says. “I play in a lot of money games with tour guys in the Dallas, people like Danny Lee and Martin Flores, and I’ve got the game to be right there with them. I’m playing better than I ever have. My mental outlook is good. I’m ready.”
For the 28-year-old Broussard, his high-water mark in golf was winning on the Hooters Tour a couple of years ago. He plays frequently on the Adams Tour and is currently No. 6 on the money list. While his Open shot can be a means to an end, he’s quick to tell you that winning a sectional qualifier was not nearly as big an accomplishment as winning a tournament on a mini tour.
“It’s not even close,” he said. “When I won the Hooters Tournament, the starting field was 154 players. Plus, it’s so much tougher to keep it together over four rounds than for 36-holes in one day. There were some good players in Houston but not nearly as many as you go up against anywhere on the mini tours.”
Broussard will have a couple of things working for him at Pinehurst, starting with input from his coach, Chuck Cook, who has considerable knowledge about how to attack Pinehurst No. 2. Cook, you see, was working with the late Payne Stewart when Stewart scored his dramatic victory over Phil Mickelson in the 1991 U.S. Open at Pinehurst.
“Pinehurst is different with the pop-up greens,” said Broussard, who has never played there. “From what I’ve been told, I’d say they are sort of like the greens at Sunset Grove in Orange on steroids. Chuck is going to be invaluable to me from a preparation standpoint.”
Meanwhile, serving as a calming influence will be his caddie — Broussard’s former Kelly teammate Craig McConnell. Currently the golf coach at UT-Tyler, McConnell was on his bag Monday at Lakeside. He probably knows Broussard’s game as well as anybody.
“I can’t wait,” said Broussard. “It’s the biggest golf tournament in the world. I’ll be nervous but I won’t be intimidated. This is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for. It’s going to be an amazing experience.”
Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
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