Area golfers vie for spots in US Open

calexander@newsobserver.comJune 1, 2014 

Richard Fountain will be in Rockville, Md., on Monday looking to play his way to Pinehurst and into the 2014 U.S. Open.

Brad Fritsch will be in Memphis, Tenn., determined to do the same, even though the Holly Springs resident promised he will be in Pinehurst, regardless.

“I’m going to go – if I’m in or going to watch,” he said. “It’s a spectacle.”

Jason Gore was a big part of that spectacle in 2005, the last time the U.S. Open was played on the famed No. 2 Course. Nine years later, he’s hoping for a return and repeat, albeit with a different twist.

Fountain, Fritsch and Gore will be competing in U.S. Open sectional qualifiers, each putting in 36 strenuous holes. Fountain, a Raleigh native who recently finished his senior year at Davidson, is the amateur and the youngest among the three at 22, and they all face the same, long odds in taking the final step to Pinehurst.

Fountain, one of a record 10,127 qualifying entrants for this year’s Open, played in an 18-hole local qualifier May 12 at Pinewild Country Club in Pinehurst. A 6-under-par 66 on the Magnolia course made him co-medalist with McCuen Elmore of Cheraw, S.C., securing one of the six sectional qualifying spots available.

“I really hadn’t practiced a lot and had no idea what to expect,” Fountain said. “But I felt really relaxed the entire round, which is always a good feeling on the golf course. I kept making good shots, making birdies and …”

And shot 66.

“Yes, 66,” he said, smiling.

Now, the hard part. According to Golf Digest, it’s easier to win the Triple Crown in thoroughbred racing than to get through local and sectional qualifying for the Open.

Gore beat the odds in 2005, making it to Pinehurst and then becoming the feel-good story of the Open. Then 31, he played in the final group on Sunday with defending champion Retief Goosen, only to stagger to an 84 while Goosen had an 81.

Gore said it was a “great lesson in humility.” It helped that he received a standing ovation at the 18th green that day and that many warmly welcomed him back to Pinehurst when he recently put in a practice round on No. 2 – his first time on the resort grounds since 2005.

“It’s a special place,” he said. “It was awesome. I’d have loved to hoist the trophy there, but it was a great week.”

And that final round?

“It’s golf. It’s a dumb, awesome game,” Gore said, laughing.

Gore won on the PGA Tour later in 2005 and said the experience in the Open “kick-started” his career. He twice has played in the U.S. Open since Pinehurst, missing the cut in 2008 and tying for 47th in 2010.

Gore, now on the Web.com Tour, will be in the San Francisco area for the sectional, one of the 10 to be held Monday in the U.S. His rounds will be split between the Olympic Club and Lake Merced Golf Club, with 110 golfers competing for five spots.

Fritsch, 36, is in Memphis for the PGA Tour stop, the FedEx St. Jude Classic. He has playing rights on the PGA Tour this year but did recently return to Raleigh for the Rex Hospital Open, the Web.com Tour event at TPC Wakefield Plantation.

With a final-round 66, Fritsch tied for fourth. That left the former Campbell golfer in the right frame of mind for a potential 108 holes of golf this week – 36 in the sectional at Colonial Country Club, then 72 in the tournament at TPC Southwind.

The Memphis sectional is one of the largest: a field of 145 players and 13 available spots.

“We’ll see how it goes and I’ll try not to burn myself out,” Fritsch said of the qualifier. “It would be great to play in the Open. I played once, but it was a long time ago. I’d like to just be there again.”

Fountain is a former Broughton High standout and a three-time All-Southern Conference selection. He hasn’t played in a U.S. Open but has played with a U.S. Open champion – Raleigh native Webb Simpson. Fountain, in fact, shared the Carolina Country Club course record with Simpson, both with 59s.

Fountain was in a U.S Open local qualifier two years ago in Greensboro and shot 78, falling well short. He skipped qualifying last year but sent in his entry form this year.

“I thought, ‘It’s in Pinehurst, I really need to try,’ ” he said.

At Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, he will be among the 59 players vying for four spots. But if he can keep making good shots, making birdies. …

Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip

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