A U.S. Open local qualifier was held Tuesday at Duke University Golf Club, but two of the golfers hardly were locals.
Vincent Torgah and Stephen Klah traveled from Ghana to tee it up.
Some trek, too. Torgah and Klah, both professionals, first went to Las Vegas to practice and play, then made the trip to Durham for the qualifier.
“It was a bit challenging,” Torgah said. “We missed our flight here, but at least we are here, which is the important thing. It’s a good experience.”
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Neither played well enough to advance out of the qualifier, a first step toward competing in the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash. Torgah shot 1-over-par 73 and Klah shot 78.
Five sectional qualifying spots were available, and Cory Renfrew of Canada was the medalist with a 66. Lanto Griffin of Blacksburg, Va., shot 68, one stroke ahead of Carter Jenkins of Raleigh, Jake Kennedy of Mount Ulla and Brandon Hagy of Los Angeles.
Hagy was a consensus All-American at Cal-Berkeley and the recipient of the 2014 Byron Nelson Award, given for athletic and academic excellence. He has played PGA Tour events this year and received the best of golf instruction through the years.
In contrast, Torgah and Klah first were caddies before they were allowed to play the game in Ghana. Torgah, who turned pro in 2003, said he is a self-taught golfer.
“I learned by watching other people, watching tournaments on television,” Torgah said.
The U.S. Open, British Open, Masters … Torgah said he took in as much as he could, then tried to emulate the golf swings as best he could.
Golf gets scant attention in Ghana, a country of 27 million people on West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea. Nor are there many pro golf tournaments in a nation that adores its football (soccer) stars.
“Maybe two or three in a year,” said Torgah, who is from the coast city of Tema. “You might stay home six months waiting for a tournament.”
Torgah and Klah were encouraged to make the trip to the U.S. by Gabe Dakwa, a Ghana native who lives in California and made the golf arrangements in Las Vegas. Charles Darkwah, who attended Duke and lives in Durham, is hosting the golfers.
Torgah and Klah will stay in the U.S. and play in an eGolf Gateway Tour tournament later this month at Albemarle Plantation in Hertford. In the meantime, they’ll jet back to Las Vegas, saying they’re unable to find a Triangle-area course willing to allow them to practice and play at minimal cost.
“It’s a very long way here, but that aspect doesn’t affect me that much because I know I’m a good player,” Klah said. “No matter how far the journeys, I will make it.”
Klah, 28, had two birdies, four bogeys and two double-bogeys Tuesday. Torgah, who played with Klah, had four birdies but also three bogeys and a double-bogey.
“The course was in excellent condition,” Torgah said. “This was my first time playing on these greens, which were fast. But that’s OK. I can manage it if I stay here for long.”
Torgah, 29, won the 2014 Gold Fields PGA of Ghana championship, is a four-time winner of the Moanda Open in Gabon and has victories in Nigeria. Klah, who plays out of Achimota Golf Club near Accra, the Ghana capital, was second in the Gold Fields event in December.
Both have tried unsuccessfully in the past to qualify for the British Open and were in their first U.S. Open qualifier. Both believe in time they can return and qualify for the Web.com or PGA Tour.
“If I have the chance to play more tournaments I will do it, because I have the game,” Torgah said.
Another, perhaps loftier goal is to gain added exposure for golf in their country by representing Ghana in a Summer Olympics.
“That’s where we want our game to be, maybe not in 2016 but in 2020,” Torgah said.
2015 U.S. Open
Chambers Bay, University Place, Wash.