Local Golf Professional Attempts to Qualify for the U.S. Open

Scottsdale Resident Jon Levy gives Golfer’s Guide a first-hand account of his attempt to qualify for this year’s U.S. Open

WD?
NOT FOR ME

By Jon Levy

This Thursday, 156 participants will tee it up in the 109th U.S. Open at the Bethpage Black Course, in Farmingdale, New York with the hope to win our nation’s Championship.

I won’t be one of them.

In fact, after posting my highest round as a professional -- a 17-over par, 89 -- in the first round of Sectional Qualifying at Columbine followed up by an almost equally unimpressive 9-over, 81, I missed the mark by a “Wal-Mart sized” margin.

But, in this monumental failure, and the full-day’s worth of golfing agony that I put myself through, that I’m proud of myself for at least one undeniable and scorecard-staining feat: I didn’t withdraw.

To set the stage in clearer terms -- I used to play professional golf full-time.  But, like many young players grinding it out in the depths of the developmental circuits trying to climb their way up to the PGA TOUR -- either because they realize they’re not on that path to stardom or they just plain run out of money -- I hung up the clubs six years ago in search of a more steady (and less stressful) paycheck. 

For me, that meant landing the Men’s Golf Coaching position at Scottsdale Community College, a powerhouse junior college program.

Jon LevyI loved it there.  I served four years (’03-’07) at helm of the Fighting Artichokes’ golf squad, leading the program to a national title in 2007.

That led to a position as the Director of Communications for Scottsdale, Arizona-based Gateway Tour, which -- with the time demands of the position and the tournament golfer in me fading effortlessly into the past -- meant I had become a weekend golfer who occasionally hit balls at best.

As anyone who has played competitive golf would probably admit though, the competitive spirit (or at least need for competition) never dies in a player no matter how long it has been since a tournament tee shot was been hit.

Fast forward to April 23rd when I clicked the “submit application” button for the U.S. Open at Bethpage, and I was officially entered into my first competitive golf tournament in over two years.

I knew the whole premise was kind of crazy. 

Sure, I could still go out and shoot my fair share of rounds in the 60’s with buddies, but with no consistent practice or playing regimen in my game, I could just as easily shoot 80.  So, pick up like I hadn’t missed a step and qualify to play for our nation’s Championship against the best players in the world?

I practiced hard.

It had almost felt awkward playing the role of “golf pro” again, but it brought back a lot of memories -- good and bad -- and a feeling of liberation at the least.

Tournament time. 

I chose the Collindale Golf Course (Ft. Collins, Colorado) site for the local Qualifying because, well, if all else failed I could at least use the event as a mini-vacation and reason to see my dad who lives in nearby Boulder.

My game was in good shape, but needless to say, there were some mental demons having a field day in my head because it had been so long since I had played a tournament.

“Next on the tee, from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan (my original home town), Jon Levy.”

The last tournament that I had played in was a small Pro-Am in the country of Trinidad and that was January of 2007. 

It was a disaster.  Heading into that event playing about the same frequency as I had before this qualifier, I couldn’t calm my mind, emotions, or body in the slightest -- and that led to nothing less than the yips to emanate through every club in my bag. 

At 32, I’ve matured enough now to be able to separate golf from the rest of my life emotions-wise, but it’s undeniable some of mental issues I’ve encountered with the game I’ve yet (and may never) been able to fully disregard.

Why go through this potential agony again?

“Next on the tee, from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Jon Levy.”

Heart pounding, vision blurring and narrowing, and bad thoughts abounding, I drew the club back and hit my first competitive golf shot in two years -- a 3-wood right down the middle.

I was off.

And after a scrappy 1-over, 72 in windy conditions that led to a four-for-three playoff for the last qualifying spots -- I actually earned the last spot with a par on the fifth extra hole against a young, upstart pro to make it through to the Sectional Qualifier!

“Weekend Golfer Earns Spot at Bethpage.”

I could see the headline.  It was now much more of a reality that this former golf pro/coach and current media-type could actually be teeing it up in the same tournament as Tiger Woods and the world’s best.

Choosing Colorado again for the Sectional, Columbine Country Club was where it would all go down.

I made it through to the Sectional and played there once before (2003), but after a re-tooling of the course and over 7,400 yards of tree and rough-infested real estate to negotiate in the 36-hole venture ahead, a difficult stage was set.

“Next on the tee, from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Jon Levy.”

Columbine’s 1st is a short par-4 that only requires a long iron off the tee to get the ball into wedge position. 

Heart pounding, vision blurring and narrowing, and bad thoughts abounding, I drew my 3-iron back and hit it right down the middle.

Again, I was off.

But, unlike the calmness I felt during the Local Qualifying, I couldn’t shake that nagging feeling of impending doom.  A feeling that, at any time, I was going to lose the ability and competency I showed in the Local Qualifier that got me through -- especially now with the larger stage at bay.

It got the best of me. It started with a skulled chip shot -- the likes of a shot a 20 handicapper would hit -- on the par-4, 4th that led to a double-bogey, 6.

Any confidence that I had clung on to up to that point was gone.

Even recalling it now, it’s a bit fuzzy -- but somewhere between that chip, accidentally stepping knee-deep into a stream while looking for my ball en route to a triple-bogey, 6 on the par-3, 7th, and hitting countless un-solid, wayward, and confident-less golf shots throughout the round -- I posted the worst round of my professional career: a 17-over par, 89.

I can’t recall the last time I didn’t know what I had shot until I signed the scorecard, but it happened at Columbine. 

I think it’s funny that sports psychologists seem to like to point out that no one really cares about the score next to his/her name on the scoreboard except the player.

Easier read than realized.  Especially in this day and age, where Jon Levy - 89 is easily accessible for anyone and everyone to see on the internet.

That was all I could think about. 

“Jon shot 89?!” is all I could of my friends and family saying when seeing that.

I’d say embarrassment would be a good term to describe what I was feeling at the lunch break between rounds, but at the time, I was so numb and aloof as to the atrocity I had just committed, all I wanted to do was leave the premises.

But, I played on.

I remembered 3-under par (141) had made it through in ‘03 when I was there last (and missed the mark by just three shots). That meant I would have had to shoot a second round of 52 to get to that number if this year were going to follow suit.

Needless to say, there was no chance I would be heading to Bethpage with a player’s badge.

But, there was a bigger issue at play: I had zero confidence in my golf game. 

My nerves were shot.  My head felt like it weighed 100 lbs and my right shoe was still soaked from falling into the stream. But, I played on. 

If this were a movie or fictitious story, the main character at this point would come back with the round of his life or at least embark on some sort of uplifting journey through his second round.

None of that for me -- just more of the same -- highlighted by a quadruple bogey, 8 on the par-4, 5th after hitting two balls into the water with a sand wedge.

I played on.

And then, in a brief moment of reaching what would be the beautiful, calm eye in the middle of an otherwise horrific hurricane, I hit a good drive, 3-wood, pitch, and holed a slick, downhill 8-footer for birdie on the par-5, 8th to garner my lone under-par score of the day.

It was perhaps the only on-course bright spot during a day that would make Tin Cup’s final hole in the movie look like commonplace.

When it was all said and done, I signed for a second-round, 81. Eight shots better than my first round, but terrible again, nonetheless.

Golf-wise, I can say I don’t know what -- if anything -- I’ll take from this experience. 

Yes, it’s a good accomplishment just to get there, but any golfer will tell you there’s no solace in that.

What I am proud of, however, is that -- even with now having to cope with awkward answers, reasoning, and general responses to friends and family as to how and why it went down like it did at Columbine -- I still finished.  I still posted my scores when I could have taken the easy route and withdrawn.

When I was coaching at Scottsdale Community College, I always used to tell my players they would respect themselves better after the emotions cleared if they just stuck with it and finished what they had started, no matter how bad things got.

After not playing competitively in a few years, I realize again how hard this advice is to follow. 

I fell on my face. I shot a million.  However you want to term it, the worst-case scenario happened.  But, I respect myself for walking the straight and narrow and finishing as planned, even though my golf shots couldn’t.

 

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