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This USGA qualifying site filled to capacity in two minutes
28 Aug 2022
by Conner Penfold of AmateurGolf.com

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(Valley Club of Montecito photo)
(Valley Club of Montecito photo)

It is not uncommon for USGA qualifiers to reach their maximum number of entries, which then requires a 10-player waiting list to be created. Oftentimes, such popular qualifying sites take weeks, or sometimes months to fill.

But one Southern California qualifying site, known for its exclusivity and world-renowned golf course architecture, received more than 100 completed sign-ups in roughly two minutes when the USGA opened the application process for the 2022 U.S. Mid-Amateur on the morning of April 27.

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I was one of the many mid-amateur suitors hoping to play qualifying at the Valley Club of Montecito. I set my alarm for 5:45 a.m. and had coffee ready beside my laptop minutes before applications opened at 6:00 a.m. in California. By 6:02 a.m., exactly 132 seconds later, I had pressed "submit" and was redirected to a page confirming receipt of payment. I was in. Or, so I thought.

About 30 minutes later, I received an email explaining that the site had reached capacity by the time my entry was received. I had not found my way onto the waitlist, either, meaning the 90 available spots plus the 10 allotted waitlist positions had been filled in under two minutes and 12 seconds.

• • •

The Valley Club hosted U.S. Mid-Amateur qualifying on August 15, and the national attention the site drew was evident in the number of out-of-state participants, as well as its spread. Given that Santa Barbara is a six-hour, 350-mile drive from the closest metropolitan area outside the Golden State, one would expect the pairings sheet to be predominantly local.

But of the 89 players listed on the playing roster, only 63 were from California. The other 26 players represented 12 different states, including five on the eastern seaboard. By comparison, another Southern California qualifier held on the same day at The Farms Golf Club in northern San Diego County was almost exclusively California residents. Just two in the 76-player field listed their residency outside California.

One of those 26 travelers (and quick-typing registrants) was 38-year old Brady Eckard. Not having played an Alister MacKenzie design, the former Appalachian State golfer planned a trip from his home in Raleigh, N.C. to Santa Barbara, Calif. with his girlfriend.

Eckard worked in a practice round at Valley Club the day leading up to the qualifier, but not before he accomplished the most important task of their west coast getaway.

"It was more than just golf," Eckard said.

He proposed to his girlfriend Saturday morning, with his now-fiancee's parents in town to celebrate, as well. If that wasn't enough, he put the cherry on top of the trip with a 2-under-par 69 to earn one of four qualifying spots available at the Valley Club.

Newly-engaged and heading to his first USGA championship.

"I'm very excited," he said. "It's been a long time coming."

• • •

Among the group headed to Wisconsin for the U.S. Mid-Am is medalist Patrick Jorgensen, who made the scenic drive down Highway 101 from his home in Monterey County. His 4-under 67 edged Pebble Beach Vice President and Director of Golf John Sawin, whose 68 sent him to his fourth U.S. Mid-Amateur since 2014.

For Jorgensen, even though it's the second time he's qualified for a USGA championship, he'll be playing in his first when he tees off at Erin Hills.

He qualified for the 2020 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball with playing partner Marc Engellenner, but the pair and 127 other teams never stepped foot on Philadelphia Cricket Club as the tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So it was only fitting that Jorgensen, who has worked as a caddie at Cypress Point Club, got redemption on another MacKenzie layout.

"I'm loosely trying to play the Top 100 [ranked courses]," Jorgensen said. "I had never played Valley Club so it was a treat to play it and to play well. It was awesome."

Finishing a shot behind Eckard was Cameron Crawford of Cedar Hills, Utah, who endured a 7-for-1 playoff to secure the coveted final spot. The group played 16, 17, and 18, with Crawford and three others surviving with pars before the former Dixie State golfer cashed in a birdie on the 18th green.

Crawford, who will be off to his third USGA event and first since 2016, traveled to California with a friend. His mindset, like others who walked Valley Club that day, was to use the qualifier as opportunity to play at a club otherwise difficult to access.

"The members and the course were amazing," Crawford said. "It was pretty memorable and special for me. There have been times with golf when I didn't think I would ever compete on a competitive level again, so to have the chance to qualify is amazing."

>> Results from the U.S. Mid-Amateur qualifier at the Valley Club

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