US Open Sectional Qualifying: Nallen Earns Spot in NJ

SUMMIT, N.J. (June 6, 2005) – As Chris Nallen approached the scoring area at Canoe Brook Country Club late Monday afternoon, a loud cheer went up from two loyal female fans. Nallen, the 23-year-old Hackettstown, N.J., native who returned to the place where he won the 2001 New Jersey State Amateur, had just posted a 36-hole total of 138 (2 under par) on the club’s North and South courses.

The number was good enough for the 2003 USA Walker Cupper and current Nationwide Tour pro to secure one of the six available spots at the U.S. Open sectional qualifier. Nallen, who was dejected last June when he missed out at the same venue to play at Shinnecock Hills, wouldn’t leave the premises in that same mood this year.

And with plenty of local support, which included his father, Nallen had every reason to be excited about heading to Pinehurst No. 2 for his first U.S. Open (June 16-19).

“A bunch of guys came out,” said Nallen, who attended Blair Academy in Blairstown, N.J., before embarking on an outstanding four-year collegiate career at the University of Arizona that included first-team All-American honors for his senior year in 2003-04. “It’s great. Maybe it adds a little bit of pressure, but it’s really good for them. It’s great having those guys out here supporting me.

“It’s always good to come back here. I love northeast golf. I have had some good memories here and good experiences here.”

Like last August when he advanced all the way to the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., before being ousted by Luke List. Ironically, a win would have made Nallen exempt for the 2005 Open as well as given him an invitation to the ’05 Masters. But he would have had to stay amateur, so the loss made his decision to turn pro much easier. Then he went out and won on the Nationwide Tour in his first start (Gila River Classic in Arizona), becoming the first player in that circuit’s history to Monday qualify and win in his inaugural start.

The other five qualifiers on Monday were all PGA Tour players.MichaelAllen led the way with a pair of 68s to earn medalist honors at 6-under 136. J.L. Lewis joined Nallen at 138, while 2003 Masters runner-up Len Mattiace, a native of the Metropolitan New York area, and Connecticut native J.J. Henry posted at 139. The last spot went to Australian Steve Allan at 140, one shot ahead of first alternate John Guyton. Allan is the only one who played in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst in 1999.

Thunderstorms delayed play for 105 minutes late in the afternoon, but the competitors got back out on the course at 6:20 p.m. EDT and were able to finish before darkness set in.

Nallen jumped out to a torrid start with four consecutive birdies from No. 10 on the longer North Course (7,066 yards, par 72). He wound up with a 70, which included a tee shot that sailed into the Short Hills Mall parking lot on the par-5 second hole. In the afternoon on the shorter South Course (6,625 yards, par 70), he continued his steady play with a 68.

“I putted good all day,” said Nallen. “I hit two bad shots that I didn’t like: the tee shot on No. 2 and a drive on No. 15 on the South. I hit it way right into the maintenance shed.”

Nallen could point to the week he spent with swing coach Roger Knick at GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford, N.Y. He estimated that he hit 5,000 balls as well as putting in time on the practice green to get his stroke more consistent.

Although he has made six cuts in nine Nationwide events in 2005, he has yet to post a finish better than a tie for 26th.

“I’m just not getting that one low round to get me going,” said Nallen. “I’ve made cuts, but I haven’t played well on the weekend. I just need to keep working hard, stay patient and it will come together.”

With a cigar in one hand and a cool adult beverage in the other, Allen certainly had every reason to be in a celebratory mood. The Open will be his first since 2002 – fourth overall – where he failed to make the cut at Bethpage. His best finish in nine previous majors was a tie for 12th at the ’01 Open at Southern Hills.

And his only other visit to Pinehurst came in 1982 as a senior at Nevada-Reno for the NCAA Division I Championship.

“It will be fun to go see,” said the 46-year-old Allen, who has made eight of 14 cuts in 2005 on the PGA Tour, including a tie for 10th at the MCI Heritage. “Billy Ray Brown [of Houston] won there. It’s a great honor to play in an Open for sure.”

Allen grew up at The Olympic Club – he was a junior member at the age of 14 – but failed to qualify for the Open in 1998. He decided to play at Canoe Brook over the two designated “tour sites” in Columbus, Ohio, and Rockville, Md., because he felt his chances were better, even though the other venues offered 20 and 22 spots, respectively.

“I personally don’t care for those that much,” said Allen. “Sure, there are [more] spots, but you are playing against 50 of the best players in the world. I would rather play against five or 10 players and the club pros and amateurs. I do it for a living, so I feel I have an advantage there. I feel this is a good thing for me … and I have a good chance out here.”

As long as his 46-year-old body can hold out. Allen has made an effort to get in better shape, but the weather delay didn’t help matters. He still had four holes on the South Course to finish and he promptly bogeyed 15 and 17 before ending on a high note with a birdie at 18.

“[The 36 holes] is tough for the flat-bellies,” said Allen, referring to the younger guys. “It’s very hard for me. It was hard warming up for those last four holes.”

Henry, too, could have gone to the more populous site at Rockville, but the five-year pro from Fairfield, Conn. (he now resides in Fort Worth, Texas) came back to familiar territory. He qualified for his first Open in 2004 at Canoe Brook and went on to make the cut at Shinnecock Hills (64th). Plus, the British Open qualifier will be held here in three weeks, so he figured it was as good a place as any to play for a U.S. Open berth.

“I like the golf course,” said Henry, who posted rounds of 68 (South) and 71 (North). “I knew it was going to be a strong field. The Met area still is one of the best [sectional sites], whether it be club pros or [amateurs] in the area. I made it last year, so I had some good vibes. I’m honestly surprised more [tour] players didn’t come and do it. You are 10 or 20 minutes from Newark Airport and you have a [short] drive down to next week’s event [at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md.].”

Henry was in the 18th fairway of the North Course, 138 yards from the flag when the horn blew to suspend play. The delay gave him a chance to glance at the scoreboard and to find out how the players in contention were doing. At 3 under through 35 holes, Henry realized a par at the last hole might be good enough. He played his approach shot to 20 feet and two-putted for the par 5.

“I didn’t want to do anything stupid,” said Henry of his decision-making. “You just never know. I played the best I could today.

“There are six spots and I don’t care if I am one or six, I just wanted to get in.”

Henry has never played No. 2, but he was at Pinehurst as a junior for an event held on the No. 7 course. But he knows from his experience at Shinnecock Hills, par will be a good score. It’s the kind of golf he prefers.

“I’ve always said my game kind of favors an Open because I seem to play well on hard golf courses,” said Henry, who has two top-10 finishes in his last five PGA Tour events. “Look at my record, some of my best finishes seem to come when par is a good score. I tend to hit a lot of fairways and greens and make a lot of pars.”

Allan had quite an experience at his last Open at Pinehurst. He played with Tom Watson over the final two rounds and tied for 42nd, his best showing in five previous majors. He qualified for the U.S. Open in 2004, but missed the cut at Shinnecock Hills. He opened the sectional with a bogey-free 67 on the South Course and added a 73 on the North, including six consecutive pars to close the round. His lone hiccup was a double-bogey 7 at 12.

Still,Allan had to wait anxiously for all the scores to trickle in. Guyton’s 141 kept him in the hunt for the last spot. And whenCarlAlexander posted an afternoon-round 76 (he had 70 in the morning),Allan was headed to Pinehurst.

“From the delay, I knew the scores were getting tougher, so I knew I was right in there with a shot,” saidAllan. “Ideally, a birdie [down the stretch] would have been nice, but I got in there anyway.

“This is the first time I have gone away from a ‘tour’ site, but in the past I have always looked at scores from the other sites and they always looked about the same. I was surprised [to see a few tour pros here], but a few guys might have had the same idea as me.”

Sectional Notes: Among those failing to qualify were 2002 U.S. Amateur champion Ricky Barnes; 2003 USA Walker Cupper Brock Mackenzie (now a pro); touring pros Tom Byrum; Jose Coceres (withdrew after 30 holes) and Jim McGovern; 1997 USA Walker Cupper George “Buddy” Marucci; 2002 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion George Zahringer; 1997 USA Walker Cupper Duke Delcher and club pro Darrell Kestner, who has made eight Open appearances, the last in 2002.

Barnes had one of the best morning rounds with a 68 on the North Course, but struggled in the afternoon with a 74 on the South. …Benjamin Case of Charlotte, N.C., tied Allan with the best score from the morning round (67), but a 75 on the South Course left him two shots off the cut.

David Shefter is a staff writer for the USGA. E-mail him with questions or comments at dshefter@usga.org.

NOTE: For complete sectional qualifying results, visit www.usga.org or click the tournament link above (requires amateurgolf.com membership)

ABOUT THE U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying

Sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open Championship. Played at various sites across the U.S. on the Monday a week and half before the U.S. Open. There is also a qualifier in Japan and in England. 36 holes of stroke play at each site.

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