Hawk’s Ridge Golf Club in Ball Ground will host its seventh U.S Open Sectional qualifier Monday, with the 67-plasyer field among the largest and strongest in recent years for an Atlanta area Sectional qualifier.
Since 2006, Ansley Golf Club’s Settindown Creek and Hawk’s Ridge have alternated hosting U.S. Open Sectional qualifiers with the exception of 2012, when the River Club filled in for Settindown Creek.
This year’s field consists of 67 players looking for spots in the 2019 U.S. Open, which will be played June 13-16 at Pebble Beach. The Atlanta area qualifier has not sent more than three golfers to the U.S. Open since 2006, but with the elimination of one of the two qualifiers held in proximity to a PGA Tour event, next week’s event at Hawk’s Ridge could add another spot or two.
Approximately one-third of the qualifier’s 67 entrants have Georgia ties, including six PGA Tour members and one player off the Web.com Tour. There are a total of nine PGA Tour players, nine Web.com players and one European Tour member in the field, along with a strong amateur contingent.
Among the PGA Tour players competing at Hawk’s Ridge are four former Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, including Alpharetta’s Roberto Castro, who qualified for the U.S. Open at Settindown Creek last year and Hawk’s Ridge in 2015.
Recent Georgia Tech teammates Ollie Schniederjans, Anders Albertson and Seth Reeves, all of whom are metro Atlanta residents and are playing on the PGA Tour this year, are also in the field, along with fellow former Yellow Jacket J.T. Griffin, also an Atlanta area resident and Web.com Tour member.
PGA Tour rookie Joey Garber, who is living on St. Simons Island, is the lone Georgia Bulldog playing on the PGA Tour at Hawk’s Ridge, with Acworth’s Jason Bohn one of three PGA Tour veterans in the field. Bohn has advanced to the U.S. Open from three Atlanta Sectional qualifiers since 2002, twice at Settindown Creek and once from the River Club.
Among the other PGA Tour veterans in the field is D.J. Trahan, who has qualified for the U.S. Open twice in the Atlanta area, but not since 2008.
Griffin is part of a strong Web.com contingent in the field, with that tour playing in the Carolinas immediately before and after the qualifier at Hawk’s Ridge. The Nos. 1 (Robby Shelton) and 3 (Xin-jun Zhang) players on the money list are in the field, along with seven others in the top 100, Griffin among them. Sweden’s Robert Karlsson, a two-time Ryder Cup player with 11 career wins on the European Tour and two playoff losses during his stint on the PGA Tour, is also competing.
Among the local contingent is former Kennesaw State golfer Matt Nagy, who shared medalist honors with Matt Kuchar at Hawk’s Ridge in a 2009 Sectional qualifier after getting into the field as an alternate from a local Atlanta qualifier. Before he developed into one of golf’s elite performers, Kuchar qualified for the U.S. Open five times at Atlanta area sites between 2002 and ’09. Nagy, who has played professionally since his days at Kennesaw State, was still an amateur when he shot 134 for 36 holes at Hawk’s Ridge a decade ago.
Recent Georgia Tech golfer Chris Petefish, is playing as a pro along with recent UGA golfer Jaime Lopez Rivarola and former SEC football player Kane Whitehurst, a member of a state championship football team at Chattahoochee HS in 2010. The other Georgia pro in the field is Jordan Walor, an assistant at Atlanta Athletic Club. Walor will look to join Tim Weinhart, who qualified at the River Club in 2012, as the only Georgia PGA pros to make it to the U.S Open over the past two decades.
Amateurs in the field include UGA golfer Spencer Ralston from Gainesville, Georgia Tech’s Noah Norton, and Georgia State’s David Li. Alpharetta’s Chandler Eaton, one of the top players at Duke, is coming off a recent appearance in the NCAA Championship along with Ralston and Norton.
Other college golfers in the field are Atlanta’s Keller Harper (Furman), Marietta’s Jonathan Keppler (Florida State) and Villa Rica’s Austin Fulton (Mississippi State). Two of the state’s top junior players also qualified – Georgia Tech signee Andy Mao of Johns Creek and Rome’s Lindsey Cordell. Recent Clemson golfer Stephen Behr, who is living in Atlanta, is also in the field as an amateur.
Amateurs have a history of advancing from Atlanta qualifiers, including Canada’s Garrett Rank, who qualified last year at Settindown Creek along with Castro and Web.com player Michael Hebert. Amateur Alex Smalley shared medalist honors at Hawk’s Ridge in 2017 at 137 with Stephan Jaeger, who has moved up to the PGA Tour after playing on the Web.com.
Alpharetta’s Ryan Stachler, a member of the golf team at South Carolina, qualified at Settindown Creek in 2016, with ex-South Carolina Gamecock Matthew NeSmith the medalist at Hawk’s Ridge in 2015 with a 17-under 127 total, four shots ahead of then UGA golfer Lee McCoy. Both are currently playing on the Web.com Tour.
Other amateurs who qualified at an Atlanta area site and have since gone one to play on the PGA Tour are Smylie Kaufman (2014), Michael Kim and Grayson Murray (2013), Russell Henley (2019 and ’11), Cameron Tringale (2009) and Luke List (2003).
There are other U.S. Open qualifiers Monday in New York, the Washington, D.C., area, Florida, Canada, California and Washington state, along with two in Ohio, one in Columbus the day after the conclusion of the Memorial Tournament.
In the first Sectional qualifier in Dallas, former UGA golfer Brendan Todd, who lives in the Athens area and is playing on the PGA Tour, shared medalist honors with fellow PGA Tour member Nick Taylor. Among the players who did not advance from the Dallas qualifier was Savannah native Brian Harman, like Todd an ex-Georgia Bulldog who is playing on the PGA Tour. Harman, who lives on St. Simons Island, missed a playoff for the final two spots by one stroke.
Nine PGA Tour members with ties to Georgia are exempt from qualifying. They are: Patrick Reed (Augusta State), Bubba Watson and Kevin Kisner (UGA), Charles Howell and Luke List (Augusta), and St. Simons residents Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar (Georgia Tech), Patton Kizzire and Keith Mitchell (UGA).