It was a good day Monday in U.S Open Sectional qualifying at Hawks Ridge in Ball Ground for the Georgia Tech golf program, as two former Yellow Jackets and a current member of the team were among four qualifiers.
Noah Norton, who recently completed his sophomore season, shot 11-under 133 to share medalist honors with recent Tech standout Ollie Schniederjans. Roberto Castro, like Schniederjans a former Yellow Jacket and current PGA Tour member, tied for third at 135 with Alpharetta amateur Chandler Eaton, a member of the golf team at Duke.
Two recent UGA golfers tied for fifth at 136, with Jaime Lopez Rivarola earning the first alternate spot in a playoff over Joey Garber, a rookie on the PGA Tour. Anders Albertson, a teammate of Schniederjans at Georgia Tech and a PGA Tour rookie, was seventh at 137.
The 2019 U.S. Open will be played at Pebble Beach Golf Links June 13-16, with two ex-Georgia Bulldogs and a third former Yellow Jacket qualifying at other sites. Former UGA golfer Brendon Todd, a PGA Tour member living in Watkinsville, was co-medalist in a qualifier in Dallas. Sepp Straka, a recent UGA golfer who attended high school in Valdosta and is a rookie on the PGA Tour, qualified in Canada. Former Georgia Tech golfer Chesson Hadley, also a PGA Tour member, qualified in Columbus, O.
Schniederjans, who grew up in Powder Springs, was one of the earliest starters, and when he finished his second round, was in third place behind two players still on the course, with a few others in position to catch or pass him.
Norton, one of the co-leaders at the time at 12-under, took a double bogey on the par-4 17th, but birdied the par-5 18th to tie Schniederjans in the clubhouse at 11-under.
Garber, a St. Simons Island resident, birdied five straight holes on the front nine and four in a row on the back, and held the outright lead at 12-under after nine birdies in an 11-hole stretch. But he made a double bogey on the short, par-4 15th and bogeyed the difficult par-4 17th. Garber reached the front bunker of the par-5 18th in two but left his third shot in the sand and lipped out his par putt for a second round 67 and a 136 total, tying him in the clubhouse with Rivarola, who shot 64 in the afternoon after a 72 in the morning.
Castro, Norton and former SEC football player Kane Whitehurst were early on their final nine when the other leaders finished, and were all in position to possibly catch Schniederjans and Norton with strong finishes. The trio finished after all the other groups had completed play, and the final hour consisted solely of a scoreboard watch to see how the final three players on the course were holding up.
The final group all attended high school in north Fulton County, a relatively short drive from Hawks Ridge. Castro, who played at Milton, shot 68 in the morning round and was 7-under as he made the turn in the afternoon. He got to 10-under with a birdie at the par-4 first hole and an eagle at the par-5 fourth, but bogeyed the long par-3 fifth. Castro parred in from there, hitting a superb approach shot from the rough at the par-4 ninth to set up an easy par for a 67 to finish at 9-under.
Eaton, an Alpharetta High graduate, was coming off a solid showing in the NCAA Championship for the Blue Devils. He shot 69 in the morning, going out in 4-under with an eagle at the fourth and three more birdies. He got to 5-under with a birdie at the 10th, but a double bogey at the 11th led to an over-par back nine. Eaton again shot 32 on his opening nine in the afternoon and finished with a bogey-free 66, collecting birdies on both par 5s on the front nine. He was 4-under on the par 5s in the final round, but made things a little nervy when he ran his birdie putt at the ninth past the hole, leaving him with a tester for par to avoid a playoff with Rivarola and Garber. He holed the putt to secure the final spot from the qualifier at Pebble Beach.
Whitehurst, a member of a state championship high school football team at Chattahoochee who played in college at Arkansas and South Carolina, shot 69 in the morning. He was 8-under after 27 holes, carding five birdies on the back nine to start his afternoon round. Bogeys at 1 and 2 knocked him out of a spot in the top 4, and after a birdie at the par-5 third, he made three more bogeys on his final nine for a 71. Whitehurst turned pro earlier this year, and recently made his first appearance in a Web.com tournament in Knoxville, playing his way into the field in a Monday qualifier.
Rivarola had the low round of the day with his 64 in the afternoon, but needed a birdie on the par-5 18th to finish at 9-under, settling for par. He earned the first alternate spot when he made birdie on 18, the first playoff hole, and with six spot still available in the U.S. Open field, has a decent chance to play at Pebble Beach.
Albertson, who played his high school golf in Cherokee County at Etowah, went out in 33 in the morning, but severely damaged his hopes of qualifying when he shot 3-over on the back nine. He started on the back nine in the afternoon and went out in 33 with an eagle at the 18th, but came up short despite four birdies and an incoming 32 for a 65.
Atlanta amateur Steven Behr, who played in college at Clemson, shot 70-68—138, with former Kennesaw State golfer Matt Nagy of Buena Vista posting scores of 68-71—139. Nagy, who advanced from a Sectional qualifier at Hawks Ridge in 2009 while he was still at Kennesaw State, went 28 holes without a blemish on his scorecard. A double bogey at the par-4 second hole dashed his hopes of advancing Monday, with two bogeys over his last seven holes offsetting four birdies in that span.
Finishing at 140 was former Georgia Tech golfer J.T. Griffin, now living in Marietta and playing on the Web.com Tour, and two-time European Ryder Cupper Robert Karlsson, who won 12 times on the European Tour. Griffin shot 69-71 and Karlsson, a native of Sweden who lives in North Carolina, shot 71-69.
Veteran PGA Tour player Jason Bohn of Acworth and Marietta amateur Jonathan Keppler, a member of the golf team at Florida State, both shot 72-69—141. UGA golfer Spencer Ralston of Gainesville, one of the three highest ranked college golfers in the field along with Norton and Eaton, shot 74-69—143.
Two Georgia PGA members competed in the qualifier. Jordan Walor of the Atlanta Athletic Club had five birdies in his opening round and four in the afternoon, posting scores of 73-76—149. Jacob Tilton of Ansley Golf Club got into the field the morning of the qualifier as several Web.com Tour players withdrew, and played respectably in the first round, also shooting 73 before struggling in the afternoon.
In other qualifiers:
Todd shot 65-66—131 to share medalist honors in Dallas. Savannah native and ex-UGA golfer Brian Harman shot 138 and missed a playoff for the final two spots by one stroke. Straka shared medalist honors in Canada with scores of 69-70-139. South Georgia native and fellow ex-Bulldog Harris English tied for third at 140 and lost a three-players-for-two-spots playoff after bogeys on two of his last four holes left him with a 73 in the afternoon round. English is first alternate and has a reasonable chance of getting into the field. Hudson Swafford, a teammate of English in Athens, bogeyed three of his last four holes and missed by four shots at 144.
Hadley tied for seventh in the largest of the qualifiers to earn one of 14 spots. He shot 69-68—137 to qualify along with Anirban Lahiri, Jhonattan Vegas, Rory Sabbatini, Jason Dufner, Luke Donald and Aaron Baddeley. St. Simons resident Michael Thompson shot 137 in a qualifier in Springfield, O., and missed a playoff by one shot.