by Carl Steward, Bay Area News Group
PEBBLE BEACH — Joseph Bramlett will walk to the tee box of Pebble Beach's 10th hole for his 9:12 a.m. U.S. Open debut today where he will meet playing partners Dan McCarthy of Syracuse, N.Y., and Travis Hampshire of Tampa, Fla.
After two practice rounds with the guy from Windermere, Fla. — and the galleries that accompany the world's most famous golfer — the St. Francis High graduate and Stanford All-American should have his butterflies in check.
"It sure can't hurt," Bramlett said Wednesday after wrapping up an unexpected Day 2 of the Tiger Woods Guided Tour.
Conrad Ray, the Stanford coach and former Cardinal teammate of Woods, had arranged the first round Tuesday, of which they played 13 holes before play bogged down and they quit. But after soaking in all he could from the man who has tortured a USGA-rigged Pebble setup unlike any other, something unexpected happened: He was invited back for an encore.
"Things could be worse," said Bramlett, 22, who graduated from Stanford over the weekend and will embark on a pro career later this year.
Though he took his opportunities to "absorb stuff" and "ask questions when appropriate" while playing with the world's No. 1 player, the Saratoga native didn't want to be a hindrance to Woods' preparation. Besides, Bramlett does have his own Pebble history to fall back on.
He played well at the California State Amateur two years in a row (semifinals in 2005 and finals
in '06) and even tallied an ace in '05 on the Stillwater Cove-hugging fifth hole. He also is battle-tested under uber-competitive USGA conditions, having become the youngest ever to qualify for the U.S. Amateur when he did so at age 14 in 2004. And he was hungry for this chance after missing out by the narrowest margins in a U.S. Open qualifier playoff in 2007.
"My first thought was 'You finally got this outta your way.' He was so close in '07," said his dad, Marlo Bramlett. "He's happy to be here; he feels like he belongs."
Walking 31 holes with a fellow Stanford guy named Woods will only add to that effect. Bramlett is determined to give it his all this week. He's also sure Woods' all may be too much for anyone else in the field.
"His game looks pretty good," he said. "It's going to take something pretty special to beat him this week."
Bramlett has no qualms about his first order of business: having fun.
"It's my first major, and I've got to soak that in," he said. "It's the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. It can't get much better than that."