True democracy on stage at U.S. Open

Roy McAvoy, the reluctant hero in the movie, “Tin Cup,” may have said it best about the U.S. Open being the most democratic golf tournament in the world. After all, it’s the one major championship that is truly open.

In the run up to this week’s U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in Washington, a total of 9,882 golfers applied for the grueling two-stage qualifying process that includes 18 holes of local qualifying and 36 holes of sectional on courses that are set up to mimic the brutal conditions of the national championship.

It’s open, yes, but getting into the 156-man field is another story. And winning? Considering the last time a player won the U.S. Open after going through local and sectional qualifying was in 1969 (Orville Moody), it’s safe to say the odds are against it.

“No one sneaks into the U.S. Open,” said Lloyd Porter, the longtime head pro at Oaks North Golf Course. “You have to be a seasoned player just to get in. And it’s take a real special kid to win it.”

Porter remembers back in 2013 while on a trip to San Francisco he stopped in Lompoc to play a quick round at La Purisima Golf Course. By chance, there was a qualifier scheduled for the next day and he remembered how difficult the course had been set up.

“Oh my god, it was so much harder than you could imagine,” he said. “You get into the rough and it was essentially a one-stroke penalty to hack out of there.”

John Mason, the director of instruction at Encinitas Ranch Golf Course, said what makes the U.S. Open special is the qualifying process.

Mason has been trying to qualify since his first failed attempt way back in 1979. A decorated player from San Diego State advanced to sectionals seven times, but never to the big dance.

“It’s truly open, but it is kind of irritating because I’ve been trying for years and never made it,” he said.

His younger brother, Mark, however, once qualified. And his good friend, Barry Mahlberg, qualified twice. All three were college roommates while playing for the Aztecs in the early 1980s.

“That’s always burned on me and my brother never lets me forget it,” Mason said with a laugh.

Needless to say with the difficult course setup that comes with every U.S. Open, this major will not be one to forget either.

“The USGA wants you to be around even par for the U.S. Open and many players don’t like that,” Mason said. “It takes a different type of personality to hang in there when they are 2 over.”

Added Porter: “It takes a grinder to win this thing.”

Marc Figueroa is a freelance writer who has been covering golf in San Diego for more than 20 years.