MCT June 17, 2011
Youthful phenoms burst onto the sports world fairly regularly, although non-contact sports such as golf and tennis see more than pro football. In tennis, there is always room for a pony-tailed girl, and golf’s Bobby Jones debuted at the national level at age 14 in 1916. More recently, Tiger Woods, Michele Wie, and Alexis Thompson have drawn attention as teen golfers.
Another youngster played with the big boys this past week on one of golf’s biggest stage, the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. Sixteen-year-old Beau Hossler of Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. missed the 36-hole cut, but the adventure was priceless.
“It’s good to see all the great players and learn from them how they prepare for the tournament is especially cool,” he after his second round. He also explained that his goal is to make the PGA Tour, and he viewed this week as a sneak preview of his dreams.
His fondest memory of the tournament is of the first hole in the first round, the daunting par-3 10th on Congressional’s Blue course. That day it played at 199 yards, with a lake in front, bunkers behind, and thousands of fans everywhere. “Pretty difficult hole to start with,” he said afterward, “but I hit a good shot in there, so it was pretty neat.”
Hossler earned a spot in the 156-“man” field through sterling play in both local and sectional qualifying tournaments. Considering 8,300 players attempted to qualify, and to paraphrase a late 1980s Nike ad campaign, Beau knows golf.
A busy 10 days led up to his flight from Los Angeles to the East Coast on June 12. Beginning June 3, he passed his driver’s license test, shot a 67-71—138 in Glendale, Calif. to qualify for the Open, sparked his high school golf team to a fourth-place finish in the California state championship, and wrapped up his sophomore-year finals at Santa Margarita Catholic High School. Whew!
He seems quite the normal high schooler—braces on his teeth, some adolescent skin challenges, and a bit of gawkiness arising from a recent growth spurt of six inches. But once he laces up those Foot Joys, he morphs into a national championship player.
“This is pretty cool,” he said during one of his practice rounds before the tournament. His playing partner that day was Angel Cabrera, an Argentine with two major championship wins. “He was nice,” Hossler said. “He didn’t say much, but I learned a lot watching him.
When they reached the dramatic 18th hole, a 523-yard par-4 with a peninsula green surrounded by water, Hossler didn’t flinch. After a good drive, he had 230 yards to the flag. “I hit a hybrid to within 15 feet, but missed the putt,” he said nonchalantly. “This is a tough course.” (He parred the hole each time in rounds one and two.)
Hossler’s father, also named Beau, walked with his son during the practice rounds. “I’m a little overwhelmed,” he confessed, “but he has been pretty mellow”
Dad said that he is taking a go-slow approach with Beau and golf. “We are trying to limit his entry in adult tournaments and just take baby steps. He still has to cut the lawn and take out the trash.”
Beau’s mother, Amy Balsz, who has remarried, followed her son on the course, but chose to blend in with the gallery. She too said she was overwhelmed, but thinks her son responds well to the fans’ attention. “I think a crowd motivates him. I see a spark on his face when he gets in the lead in junior tournaments.”
This year’s Open is not Hossler’s first foray into a national tournament. In 2009, the 14-year-old eighth-grader qualified for the U.S. Amateur at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla. Then only 5-foot-2 and 120 pounds, Beau tied for 177th in a field of 311 in the 36-hole qualifying rounds. He was seven strokes off the cut line for match play.
Beau’s caddy for the 2009 Amateur, as well as this week’s Open is Bill Schellenberg, the teenager’s godfather. On the range before a practice round, Bill waved at the Open pageantry and said, “He’ll have no trouble handling all this.”
A former teenage phenom was in the U.S. Open field at Congressional—Ty Tryon. He became the youngest player to earn a PGA Tour card at age 17 in 2001. He lasted only a year on the Tour, and then failed the next year to stick on the Nationwide Tour. He has since labored in golf’s backwoods, but did qualify and make the cut in last year’s Open at Pebble Beach.
“Enjoy the week,” he said when asked for advice for Hossler. “Keep your head down and play your own game.”
Regrettably, Tryon also missed the cut is headed back to the land of aspirations.