David Sheman’s selection of Huntsville Golf Club as the site where he would try to begin working his way toward the U.S. Open was the result of a somewhat random process.
“Everyone from Canada goes to the events at the border,” said Sheman, a 25-year-old professional who, as the only Canadian in the 71-player field, was the medalist at U.S. Open Local qualifier May 12. “I thought I would be more focused as I got far enough away from the border to be away from playing with my friends.”
The Back Mountain fit Sheman’s criteria as being away from the border but still within driving distance from Newmarket, Ontario. He birdied the final two holes and three of the last five to shoot even-par, 72 and advance to one of the 11 sectional qualifiers for the first time in three attempts.
Sheman played on the PGA Canadian Tour last year but did not win enough money to keep his card. He plans to play minitour events around Canada this summer.
After his local visit, Sheman also has it on his agenda to continue the pursuit of a spot in one of golf’s four major championships.
Four players and two alternates made it through the field of 42 amateurs and 29 pros, who will have to clear one more very challenging step in qualifying in order to make it to the U.S. Open June 12-15 at Pinehurst in North Carolina.
Sheman was happy with his choice for more reasons than his clutch finish when he thought he may still need those birdies on the final two holes to advance.
“This was a really nice spot,” said Sheman, who came into the area in time to play a practice round the day before the qualifier. “Last year, I played and they wouldn’t even let us have a practice round at the place. This year, I talked to some members.
“They were really nice and welcoming.”
Sheman said that advance look was a definite advantage over players who saw the course for the first time.
Five Huntsville members tried to use their local knowledge to chase the dream of playing in the U.S. Open.
Chase Makowski, a high school senior who was part of Holy Redeemer’s Class AA state championship in the fall, came the closest.
Makowski made it into a four-way tie for the second of the two alternate spots. His par on the 518-yard, par-5 first was not enough.
Matthew Baker from Venice, Fla. had a birdie to win the playoff, which also included Greg Pieczynski, a Kingston native now living in Massachusetts.
“I was expecting to start my year out on a good note and there’s no place better to do that than here,” Makowski said. “I’ve been getting prepared, playing the tips of the back tees for two weeks getting prepared.
“I knew the course was going to be long and the greens were going to be fast.”
Despite falling short, Makowski, a Dallas resident, said he was proud to finish in the top 10 of a strong field that included so many professionals.
Mariano Medico, who played with Makowski at Holy Redeemer and will continue as his teammate on the Division I college level at Monmouth University, was in contention until the 18th hole. He was part of an eight-way tie for 10th place with a 76, along with Austin Smith, the 2013 Huntsville medal play club champion.
Todd Vonderheid, the club’s match play champion in 2013, shot 81 while Andrew Golden shot 95.
The course proved to be a difficult test as the average score among the 69 players to complete their rounds was an 80.9.
“It’s hard to predict the scores, but I figured even (par) would be a good score with the green speeds, rough lengths and other factors like nerves,” Huntsville pro Matt Occhiato said.
Complicating matters for the local players in the field was a difficult winter that made it tough to have their games in mid-season form.
Makowski shot his 75 in his first competitive round of the spring.
Huntsville management overcame challenges from the same issues.
“This winter did not want to go away,” general manager Jeff Fry said. “We’re kind of behind where we would normally be. We, like a number of the other courses in the area, had some damage.”
USGA officials stopped by in advance to check the conditions of the fifth green, which needed extra work this spring, and deemed the course ready for the event.
The tournament drew players from Florida, Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey.
Pennsylvania players grabbed the other sectional spots.
Andrew Mason from Huntingdon Valley shot 73 to finish second. Sean Szerencsits from Coplay and Zachary Herr from New Hope shot 74s and won a playoff over Eric Williams from Honesdale, who became the first alternate.