PINEHURST — There was a moment earlier in the week when Owen Quinn stopped and allowed himself to take in the scene – the grandstands surrounding Pinehurst No. 2, the extensive U.S. Open signage – and he made sure to file away what he saw.
“We first set foot on the range and I was like, ‘Wow – I’m at the U.S. Open,’” Quinn said. “Inside the ropes at the U.S. Open. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”
Quinn, 15, had heard stories about what U.S. Opens were like – stories from a time before he was born. His father, Fran Quinn, is playing in his fourth U.S. Open this week, but playing in one for the first time in 18 years. The last time Fran Quinn played an Open was in 1996 at Oakland Hills Country Club in Michigan.
He didn’t make that cut and left with $1,000 in winnings. Now, nearly two decades later, after a dream of making the PGA Tour faded, he’s back – advancing to the weekend with son Owen working as his caddie.
Fran Quinn, 49, made for one of the Open’s feel-good stories Thursday, when he shot a 68. For a brief time Friday, after birdies on the first and third holes, he was the closest player in the field to Martin Kaymer, who has turned the supposed most difficult tournament in golf into, for now, a race for second place.
Quinn’s fast start Friday quickly gave way to something more expected, given his age, record and journeyman past. He bogeyed Nos. 4 and 5, and then a double-bogey at No. 7 had him back at even par. All the while, Owen, all 145 pounds of him, toted his father’s 55-pound golf bag, trying to keep the mood light.
“Sometimes you try to take his mind off it a little bit so he’s not too focused, but you want to make sure he’s focused enough,” Owen Quinn said. “So, like, if I see something funny … I’ll point it out and get a laugh out of him. Keep it going a little bit.
“Talk when he needs to talk, be quiet when he needs to be quiet and just make the decisions from there.”
Despite that rough four-hole stretch, Fran Quinn is at 2-over par after two rounds and accomplished something Friday he hadn’t in 20 years: He made the cut at a U.S. Open.
Quinn finished 43rd in 1994 at Oakmont Country Club, outside of Pittsburgh. Between then and now he has lived the life of a golfer on the margin – always right there, in position to become a PGA Tour golfer, but not quite good enough to last.
Quinn has won three Web.com Tour events, and has earned more than $1 million on that tour during a career that has spanned more than 20 years, but he earned his PGA Tour card just once – for the 1992 season – before losing it.
Sometimes he had thoughts of doing something else with his life.
“I think anybody who has played the game for 20, 25 years – four or five times in their career (they’ve) thought about not playing anymore,” Quinn said. “I play because I love the game.”
Last year, he played in 13 Web.com Tour events and finished in the top 25 just twice. He tried to make the 2013 U.S. Open but didn’t make it out of a local qualifier.
Yet here he is, playing on the weekend at Pinehurst. It seemed unlikely on Thursday, and it was even less likely not long before that. To make the Open field, Quinn, who lives in Northboro, Mass., advanced out of a local qualifying tournament, and then finished tied for first in his sectional.
Owen, an accomplished golfer on his high school team, caddied both events. Now, on Father’s Day weekend, they’re working their way around Pinehurst No. 2 together.
“Surreal,” Fran Quinn said Friday. “To be able to have your 15-year-old out with you, walking on the biggest stage in the world. We’ve talked about it and he’s handled it far better than I would have at 15 years old.”
As is the custom in player-caddie relationships, Fran Quinn and his son agreed to financial terms before they started working together. Ten percent of whatever dad wins this weekend will go straight to Owen – but in the form of a boost to his college fund.
Staff reporter Chip Alexander contributed to this story.
Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter