By D.J. Piehowski
BETHESDA, Md. – Like many players in the field this week at Congressional, Beau Hossler is driving a Lexus courtesy car. He says it’s “pretty sweet.”
Hossler qualified for this year’s U.S. Open as a 16-year-old, passing the local and sectional qualifying exams in his first attempt. One thing at which he wasn’t so adept: his driving test. In fact, Hossler failed it twice before getting his license two weeks ago. He doesn’t yet have his official California license, so when people ask him for photo identification, he usually has to use his school ID from Santa Margarita High School.
“I feel more nervous taking a driver’s test than I do playing a U.S. Open qualifier,” Hossler said with a smile, revealing that he is the only player in the field with braces. “I guess it was just a mental block.”
The youngest player in this year’s field, Hossler is easy to pick out on a practice green full of touring pros. On Tuesday, he wore gray Adidas pants, a green shirt and a TaylorMade hat to complement his “BEAU HOSSLER” staff bag, which was made specifically for him this week. From a distance, his style and TaylorMade apparel make him look like a young Sean O’Hair, minus the growth spurt and the ambition to turn pro at an early age.
He makes his way to the first tee alongside Camilo Villegas and Marc Turnesa and his “strange, 1940s swing” – as his father calls it – produces a rare miss to the left of the fairway. But it doesn’t matter to the kid who this week will rely on a straight driver and a tidy short game. It’s going to take more than that to wipe the smile off his face.
Before the start of Monday’s practice round, Hossler was signing autographs for more than 20 minutes when he realized his first major-championship tee time was just five minutes away.
Still with a line of waiting fans ahead of him, Hossler explained that he would unfortunately have to get going, that he couldn’t be late for his first tee time. According to Beau’s father, Beau Sr., the next lady in line responded with a snide comment.
“Oh, this is how you’re going to start your career, huh?” she said.
“To be honest, I think that kind of hurt his feelings,” Beau Sr. said. “But it was a good lesson that you obviously can’t please everyone.”
This week is going to be all about learning lessons, just as his trip to the U.S. Amateur was in 2009. Hossler qualified for the Amateur at Southern Hills at age 14, where he finished in the middle of the pack in stroke-play qualifying after a pair of 77s.
“I remember I was hitting it really short and the greens were really firm,” said Hossler, who needed to make a 15-footer in a playoff to advance to the tournament – a putt he calls his greatest golf memory. “It was a long golf course for me back then. I just remember learning that you have to be patient.”
His first trip to a USGA event came when he looked even younger for his age and measured at 5 feet, 2 inches and 120 pounds.
“People kept mistaking him for a caddie when he showed up on the tee boxes,” Beau Sr. said. “They would ask him who he was carrying for.”
While he’s been much younger than his playing partners this week (Villegas, Turnesa, Angel Cabrera and Sunghoon Kang), Hossler said he’s received nothing but respect.
“All the guys I’ve played with are really cool, and they have a lot of great information to share,” he said. “It’s neat talking to them to see what their preparations and expectations are like compared to what I have done in the past.”
According to Villegas, the feeling is mutual.
“He was a really humble kid, and it was nice to spend time with him,” said Villegas, who then reflected on his first U.S. Open, in 2004 at Shinnecock.
“It wasn’t pretty,” he said with a laugh, “and I was already done with college. It was really pretty overwhelming, a reality check. It motivated me to work extremely hard to be out here, but at the same time it humbled me a bit seeing everyone else.
“Hopefully, he enjoys the experience and doesn’t get too hard on himself, because everyone is going to make bogeys out here.”
It was not Beau Sr. who built Hossler’s swing. In fact, before his son took up the game, Beau’s father says he probably only played three or four times in his life. The reason for even introducing Beau to the game was because Beau Sr. said he thought he was spending too much time obsessing over baseball.
“We used to watch Dodger games all the time, and all he ever wanted to talk about when he was 5 years old was baseball,” he said. “So I figured we should introduce a few other interests.
“He was no prodigy or anything, but I got him a set of Snoopy clubs and he hit 30 in a row well right off the bat,” Beau Sr. said. “After that, we started putting and eventually, when he was 7 or 8, he won the first event he ever played in and started breaking par by age 11.”
Today, he’s well known among the junior-golf world as a Southern California standout and an AJGA All-American. (He’s No. 15 in Golfweek’s Junior Rankings.) He’s friends with other recognizable juniors such as Anthony Paolucci and Gavin Hall. It will be only a matter of time before the college coaches can start officially contacting him in a form other than generic pamphlets. There have been some who have said he should ignore what they have to say and take his game to the mini-tours when he finishes high school. Don’t count on it.
“Beau’s been looking closely at USC, Texas and Stanford,” Beau Sr. said. “It’s tough to tell which way he’s leaning; they don’t talk much at that age.”
(It’s not tough to see where his hopes lie – Beau Sr. is a USC grad and wears a faded Trojans cap.)
“But that’s still a while off,” Beau Sr. says. “He’s still a normal kid who walks the dog and takes out the garbage.”
And one who, at least for this week, drives a courtesy Lexus.