JAMESTOWN — Nerves were immediately put to the test for Mason Witt in his attempt to qualify for the 2022 U.S. Open.
Witt had to survive not only the 144-player field, but also a six-for-five playoff during local qualifying on May 16 at Maketewah Country Club in Cincinnati. Only one playoff hole needed to be played for him to join the group of nine which advanced to the final stage of sectionals.
Teeing off on the back-nine and shooting 2-under to begin his round as he made the turn, he overcame a double bogey with two more birdies to get back to even on the second nine. A bogey-bogey finish however saw him finish with even-par, 70 for his round and caused a small few sweating moments as he went from the tournament medalist position to scoreboard watching if he would make the playoff, but he ended up in the group of six playing for the final five spots.
“It was nerve-racking because even though I was playing good golf, I was the youngest and most inexperienced in the group,” Witt said. “Almost everyone else were professionals, and maybe they are not PGA Tour guys, but they all have been on the mini tours for awhile and know what the pressure can be like. They were kind of looking at me being the young guy and maybe not thinking much about giving me a chance.”
The 19-year-old former Ohio state high school champion and standout from Greeneview High School just completed his freshman season at Xavier University.
He felt confident enough after the season with his current abilities to give a go at what every golfer dreams about, an opportunity at entering America’s national championship and one of the four major tournaments in professional golf. Non-professional competitors need only a handicap index of 1.4 or lower to be eligible to enter, which 8,880 players did so this year in starting out at local qualifying.
“I had a good freshman year and the qualifying was at our home course,” Witt said. “The back nine is a little bit easier and I thought I needed to make some more birdies on that nine because the front can be tougher.”
One of his Xavier teammates, Jack Wertz, is carrying the bag as his caddie for qualification. Witt likes the pairing and sees the two as a good team, complimenting Wertz’s green reading ability and overall similarity in the type of golf games both play which allows for good discussion in strategy on the course.
Witt is finishing play at the Northern Kentucky Amateur Championship on Thursday for his final preparation in competition before Monday’s qualifying rounds. He will compete in the sectional tournament held at Springfield Country Club, which he chose as his preferred spot between three sites due to the proximity to home and familiarity with the course.
Witt said he believes 80 golfers will compete and nine spots will be available, but the official number of spots allocated for qualification will be determined based on the strength of field rating the Springfield site receives compared to the other eight, which includes The Olympic Club in San Francisco and Kinsale and Wedgewood Golf Clubs in Columbus. Golfers will play 36 holes over two rounds on Monday to determine who advances.
Springfield CC is a par-72, 6684-yard Donald Ross designed course. The winning score in 2021 during sectional qualification was 13-under, 131, and the final qualifier shot six strokes over that score as seven players advanced from the 77 competitors. Notable golfers who competed at the site last year include PGA Tour members Bo Hoag, Sahith Theegala, Carson Schaake, Brian Stuard, Troy Merritt, Jim Herman, Michael Thompson and Beau Hossler.
51 total positions remain to be filled for the U.S. Open from the nine qualifying sites, all of which will take place on Monday in what has been dubbed as “golf’s longest day” due to the length of time needed to complete play and determine the final U.S. Open qualifiers.
Witt will likely be facing a difficult final path to make it to The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., for the 122nd U.S. Open Championship, which begins on June 16, but he said he won’t be disappointed if he does make it as he’s already proud of his accomplishment.
“At my age to be able to reach second stage is really good,” Witt said.
Contact Steven Wright at 937-502-4498 and follow on Twitter @Steven_Wright_.