Qualified Success For some of the players, just getting to Olympic was a triumph

June 28, 1998

To be in or not to be in, that's always the question at the U.S.
Open, and this year Greg Shakespeare of Littleton, Colo., was
among the record 7,117 golfers who subjected themselves to the
slings and arrows of the qualifying process. Although
Shakespeare came up short by one cruel stroke at the Denver
sectional, he was not the only recognizable name to strike out.
Hall of Famers Johnny Bench and Mike Schmidt failed to make it
through local qualifying, the first stage of a two-step process.

There were some qualified success stories, though--89 of
them--and they added spice to the stew of the Open's 154-man
field. Fallen champions seeking redemption, a reviled USGA
executive in search of absolution, an insurance man playing
hooky from the real world, the operator of the world's most
talked-about golf cart--the qualifiers had every subplot in the
book.

Sure, the majority were PGA Tour regulars who had slipped
through the cracks of the automatic exemption rules. But there
were also guys like 47-year-old Paul Simson, a rotund and jovial
vice president of a Raleigh, N.C., insurance agency, who had
made his way into his first Open after a lifetime of playing top
amateur events. Simson, whose locker was squeezed between Ben
Crenshaw's and Justin Leonard's, lucked into a practice round
with Fuzzy Zoeller ("I was worried my swinging might bother his
talking," Simson said afterward), and he neatly captured his
feelings about the week by using the word neat 11 times in a
20-minute interview following his Wednesday practice round with
Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar. ("Great kids, really neat people,"
he said.)

Simson even became the center of attention during his eventful
opening round. Two birdies in the first three holes put him on
the leader board, but things got interesting on the 10th hole,
when he stirred the ghosts of the Olympic Club. Simson jacked
his drive on 10 out of sight to the left, where a spectator
stealthily pocketed his ball. There was only one witness to the
theft, and the USGA official in Simson's group, unaware that the
larceny had been captured on television, deemed the witness's
testimony suspect. After an exhaustive and predictably fruitless
search, during which he doggedly scaled a tree, Simson was
forced to take a one-shot penalty and go back to the tee and hit
another ball. He wound up making a triple bogey. Simson faded
from there to a 76. He followed with a 72 in the second round
and missed the cut by a stroke. Still, he took his misfortune in
stride, displaying the kind of perspective you might expect from
a guy who hadn't even tried to qualify for the Open in 15 years.
"At least I made SportsCenter," Simson said.

Not everyone had the luxury of treating his qualifying as a
lark. Take Chip Beck. Please. Once upon a time Beck, 41, was
among the game's most consistent performers, a three-time Ryder
Cupper who in 1988 finished second on the money list and won the
Vardon Trophy for low scoring average. These days Beck is in the
maw of one of the worst slumps in Tour history. He hasn't made a
cut in his last 38 tournaments, a swoon that dates back to the
Honda Classic in March '97. This season he has broken 70 only
once, in his first round of the year, at the Bob Hope Chrysler
Classic. Reflecting on his painless 72-70 to breeze through the
Open sectional in Summit, N.J., Beck says, with no exaggeration,
"It was the first good thing to happen to me on a golf course in
more than two years." Even an opening 78 at Olympic did nothing
to darken what the Tour's media guide calls "without question
the sunniest disposition on the Tour." Minutes after his round
Beck grabbed his wife, Karen, pulled her close for a smooch and
said, "Angel, we're back. We're back!"

What has Beck spreading so much sunshine is a series of changes
in his game and his life, though he admits that during his slump
it has been hard to separate the two. In recent months Beck has
gone back to playing his old Ping irons, returned to his trusty
fade after years of unsuccessfully trying to draw the ball and
finally settled on a sports psychologist after experimenting
with several shrinks. Beck is also selling his estate in the
tony Chicago suburb of Lake Forest in favor of a more
affordable, smaller house. Most important, he has stopped
flirting with the notion of getting a real job and rededicated
himself to his golf. That he shot a second-round 77 and missed
yet another cut was not as important as having made it to the
starting line. "I've got a lot of exuberance back, a lot of the
zest," Beck said. "Being here this week and the success I had in
qualifying have been a big part of it. I'm telling you, I'm this
close."

Ted Oh is no closer than he was in 1993. That year he introduced
himself to the golf world when he qualified at age 16, becoming
the youngest player to tee it up in the National Open since
Tyrell Garth Jr. qualified in 1941 at 14. For a day at Olympic,
Oh wore the extra five years well, seizing the early lead on
Thursday with an outward 32 before fading to a 74, which was
followed by an abysmal 81. "I was as nervous as hell then," Oh
said after the first round, comparing his two Opens. "I have
less tension here. I'm just one of the pros."

Though Oh still doesn't have to shave regularly, much has
changed since he was a fresh-faced kid lighting up Baltusrol
with a smile that was almost as dazzling as the promise of his
future. Oh grew up in Torrance, Calif., only a few exits up the
freeway from Tiger Woods, and reaching the Open first was a
significant victory in their rivalry. It has been all downhill
putts for Oh since. Later that summer Woods beat Oh in their
most significant duel, the final of the U.S. Junior. Oh went on
to powerhouse UNLV, but the team failed to fulfill expectations
during his two years there, and last August, at the Nike Omaha
Classic, Oh qualified on Monday as an amateur but teed it up in
the opening round as a professional. On the eve of the
tournament he was sitting around his hotel with family,
including his father, whom Earl Woods once accused of being the
worst kind of Little League dad. Says Oh, "We started talking
and [someone] said, 'Why not play this event as a pro?' So
that's what we decided to do." He tied for 44th, cashed a check
for $665 and dropped out of sight until last November's Q
school, in which he was bounced during the second stage. This
year Oh has played a few events in his native South Korea,
futzed around on California mini-tours and unsuccessfully tried
to Monday-qualify at a few of the Tour's West Coast stops. Most
of his time is spent at Mulligan's Golf Center, a scruffy
driving range in Torrance, where he bangs balls while waiting
for another chance to earn his Tour card.

"This is a big week for me because it's a chance to test my game
and see where I am for Q school," Oh said. "I need experience,
and there's no better place to get it than the U.S. Open. It's
also a good chance to remind people of who I am."

Oh had dramatically qualified for the Open at the Rockville,
Md., sectional by holing a wedge for an eagle during a sprawling
playoff that had 13 players competing for six spots. Tour
veteran Brandel Chamblee was also part of the playoff, and he
earned a spot in the Open and a Purple Heart, or at least a
purple toe. Two nights before the qualifier, Chamblee made an
ill-fated trip to the john in his darkened hotel room and broke
the little toe of his right foot on a suitcase. On the morning
of the 36-hole sectional he asked for a cart under the "Casey
Martin rule" but was denied. So he took six ibuprofen. "That was
what the bottle said was the maximum dosage in a 24-hour
period," Chamblee said after hobbling to a first-round 76 in San
Francisco. "If it had said 12, I would have taken 12."

The hills of Olympic are no place for a gimp, and Chamblee
managed only by popping pills as if they were Tic-Tacs. "If I
took any more, I'd probably die," he said before missing the
cut. "The U.S. Open is important, but it's not that important."

David Eger also came to Olympic leaning on an enlarged
perspective. Eger was the boy wonder of golf administration: His
career included two tours of duty at the PGA Tour and a stint as
the USGA's tournament director from 1992 to '95, during which he
was responsible for setting up the Open courses. That's a job
destined to draw some scorn, but Eger's name still provokes
strong feelings in golf circles because of what some people
describe as a haughty management style and because of his role
in the infamous decision to pull the plug on the '96 AT&T Pebble
Beach National Pro-Am. Though Eger is a regular on what he calls
"the amateur cocktail circuit" (he won this year's Crump Trophy
at Pine Valley), this Open marked his return to the kingdom he
once ruled, and from the wrong side of the ropes things looked a
little different. "A lot of people who make their living playing
golf have no perspective," Eger said last Thursday night,
washing down his 78 with a beer in the clubhouse. "Hey, nobody's
curing cancer out here. It's just a game, but too many people
lose sight of that."

Eger, 46, bounced around the Tour for 3 1/2 years in the
mid-'70s, and, after regaining his amateur status, won the 1988
U.S. Mid-Amateur. He has always had the game to qualify for the
Open, but this was the first year he tried. "I never felt
comfortable with the idea of taking a spot from a player, which
would have cost someone the chance to earn prize money," Eger
said.

Though he laughed off the notion of a conspiracy by his former
colleagues, Eger was given a numbing 3:10 p.m. tee time on
Thursday and grouped with Casey Martin, who was making Open
history. (Martin and his cart had qualified in Cincinnati, but
only after his double bogey on the 36th hole forced him to take
part in a playoff for the final spot.) Eger, saying he was
"spooked like a horse" by all the hullabaloo, doubled the 1st
hole and never recovered, although he shot a 71 on Friday.
Missing the cut was a mild disappointment, but no more than
that. Speaking for all the qualifiers, Eger said, "I was just
grateful for the opportunity to play."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN BURGESS Oh for '98 A sensation five years ago when he first qualified for the Open at 16, Oh has been a bust since he turned pro last August. [Ted Oh] COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT GOLDSMITH Bad call The opening round was just another day at the office for Simson until a fan stole his ball and he was incorrectly penalized. [Paul Simson in office with cleats up on desk] COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN BURGESS New line of work Eger, who used to set up Open courses, had a different perspective last week. [David Eger planning a putt]

"Hey, nobody's curing cancer out here," Eger said. "It's just
a game."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)