SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y.—Timothy Wiseman, the 724th-best player in collegiate golf last season, finished tied for 148th in the U.S. Open on Thursday.
Wiseman, the third-highest ranked player on Ball State’s team, became the only Ball State student-athlete to ever play in the Open.
Before Thursday, you’d never heard of Wiseman, and Tiger Woods has probably still never heard of Wiseman, but his 83 was just five shots off the most famous golfer of this century’s score.
Wiseman probably won’t make the cut on Friday, barring playing the best round of golf of his life. And that’s okay. On a day when Shinnecock Hills chewed up some of the best names in the game, a 21-year-old kid from Corydon, Ind. who is by all accounts a just fine golfer got to play in one of the sport’s premier events.
By the time Wiseman teed off at 2:42 p.m. on Shinnecock’s 10th hole, most of his idols had been rendered average by the wind, the greens, the reedy rough. By then, Phil Mickelson had posted a 77. The other players in the morning’s marquee trio, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, had shot 78 and 80, respectively. Woods was just a few holes removed from triple-bogeying Shinnecock’s first hole, and no player on the leaderboard was better than one-under par. And so before you ask how Wiseman got here (because you didn’t even know until now that you wanted to know anything about him at all) you should ask how he was doing. And his answer? In short: Not well.
“Honestly, it was nerve-wracking,” Wiseman says of his Thursday morning wait. “I was more anxious this morning before my round than I’ve ever been before. Thankfully I felt more calm on the course. But just leading up to it, knowing what I was probably going to get myself into, I was a little anxious, I’m not going to lie. I wish I wasn’t.”
That covers how he was doing, which brings us to how did he do it to begin with? How did he get from Ball State to Southampton? The short answer: Wiseman started this path at a local qualifier in Muncie, Ind. on May 14, where he placed second. On June 4, Wiseman secured his spot at Shinnecock with a two-under-par finish at a regional qualifier at Springfield Country Club in Ohio. Since then, it’s been all golf, all the time, largely at his home course, Old Capital Golf Club in Corydon, and at his swing coach’s range in Louisville, about an hour down the road.
He played well in a tournament, and then another, and then he played a whole lot of golf for about a week. But logic says there has to be something more, some reason this solid college golfer wound up here, in the final group of the day, walking a quiet path around Shinnecock.
In the pack of about 25 people who followed Wiseman’s threesome, his college coach made the rounds among friends and family. Mike Fleck had stayed up until 2 a.m. in Scotland the night Wiseman qualified at Springfield, and that night across the Atlantic, he resolved he’d make it to New York this weekend. In the end, it took a friend with a private plane to get him to the course, where he arrived as Wiseman stepped onto the second green.
Fleck has coached Wiseman for three years, on a team that finished second in the MAC championship tournament in 2018. He should know Wiseman’s game as well as anyone at Shinnecock, and for those of us still stuck on the how of it all, he looks like a good shot at an answer. Wiseman’s No. 724 ranking, per Golfweek and Jeff Sagarin, tells the story of a player who averaged a perfectly respectable 74.71 strokes last year at Ball State, who didn’t miss a round all season, who placed third in the MAC championship tournament. Fleck’s story, you’d think, should offer more.
“I would say he’s a very boring player,” the coach says, smiling. “He doesn’t do anything exceptionally well. It’s not like he hits the ball really far off the tee. It’s not like he’s got an unbelievable short game. He’s a solid player, tee to green, and probably like a lot of these players, when the putter gets hot a little bit, it really elevates his game. I think that’s where he was … in the qualifier and through the practice rounds.”
Michael VanDeventer, Wiseman’s former Ball State teammate, drove 15 hours from Columbus, Ind. to see the Open’s first round. He and a buddy got to Shinnecock in time to walk with Wiseman on Wednesday, and when he finished on Thursday, the sun almost completely set, VanDeventer had time to congratulate his friend before turning around and driving through the night back to Indiana. He was set to play in an event at his home course Friday at noon, and he couldn’t cancel, but the recent graduate also couldn’t miss Wiseman’s big day. “You see Tiger tee off, and then you’re like, holy cow, Tim gets to tee off in about an hour,” VanDeventer says. “He gets to do the same thing.”
The two have played together and against each other for most of their lives, dating back to junior golf. For those still searching for the key to Wiseman’s game, VanDeventer (the No. 627 player in collegiate golf last year) seems like someone who might have answers. After all, he spent 30 hours in his car for this, his first U.S. Open trip. And he does have an explanation, he says. Wiseman, he thinks, is very good at shooting par. “He’s never been the type to just light the course up and make a ton of birdies,” VanDeventer continues, “but he always finds a way to make a par.”
They say it without pause, that the guy over there, handing in his U.S. Open scorecard, is a boring golfer, a par golfer, a scrappy, analytical golfer. It’s the furthest thing from disparagement. It’s plain, Midwestern truth, and Wiseman shrugs at these reports of his regularity. “I’m not 6’5” and bulky,” he says. “I don’t hit it forever. I’m not the most accurate. I feel like I’m really solid at a lot of things. I tend to be conservative. I think my way around the course—I don’t want to say better than most, but I think that would be my edge if I had to pick one.”
And if that’s it, if Wiseman thought his way to the U.S. Open, that’s probably enough. He shot nine strokes better than the worst score of Thursday’s round, just a few strokes off of some of the best players in the game on a difficult course. He played for a crowd that at its thickest numbered in the dozens, the very few dozens. He could hear his friends and family talking as they walked the fairways, birds chirping, crickets singing, generators buzzing, a piano playing from a dinner party at a house on the edge of the course. It felt a little bit, Fleck says, like a college tournament—with the highest stakes, the toughest lies, the biggest stars hidden just over the next hill, remarkably unremarkable.