Like many sports, golf can be a game of inches. Thursday, those inches made the difference between those who made it through the U.S. Open local qualifier at Kensington Golf & Country Club in Naples, and those who didn’t.
Medalist Dudley Hart, the former PGA Tour player who moved to Naples in August, fired a 67 and Hideout pro Justin Bertsch shot a 68 to earn the top two out of five qualifying spots. Morgan Dobbins of Jackson, Ohio, and Fort Myers’ Alexander Medinis both had 69s to advance to sectional qualifying June 6.
That left former Community School of Naples star and current University of Florida golfer Ryan Celano, Bonita Bay pro Justin Smith, and Kingsway teaching professional Adam Miller battling for the final spot after shooting 1-under-par 70s.
Celano’s chances ended on basically one shot. His drive on the par-4 18th, the first playoff hole, landed in bushes to the right of the rough. A few inches to the right or left, and he would’ve been fine. Instead, Celano had to take an unplayable lie, then didn’t get out of the bushes, and his troubles went on from there.
Smith and Miller both parred it, and went to No. 17 for the second playoff hole. Both missed the fairway to the right, Miller stopping inches from a bush, and Smith facing an awkward lie on the side of a mound. Miller’s approach stayed right, and was just in a line of trees to the right of the green.
Again, though, inches came into play. Miller had just enough room for a punch shot, and rolled it around the collar of the green, 20 to 25 feet away. Smith had missed the green left, and pitched to 6 feet. Miller left his par putt five feet short, but Smith missed his putt, and Miller drained his to push the playoff to a third hole, back to No. 18.
“I had a tiny little gap, so I just was going to try to get through there, and it didn’t hit anything,” Miller said.
Both were in the fairway, but Smith’s approach got caught up in the wind, hit left of the green and caromed into the hazard. That left the door open for Miller, but his approach landed just inches inside the edge of the sand trap. He got a huge break, though. His ball was surrounded by red ants, so he was allowed to make a drop in the bunker, and knocked his shot to 15 feet. Smith dropped and hit his pitch shot to five feet. Miller missed, leaving Smith a chance to prolong the playoff. But his putt lipped out, and Miller was moving on.
“I hit (my approach shot) good. It just caught the wind,” said Smith, 28, who is first alternate. “That’s four feet from being good. It’s golf. I’ll get over it and move on to the next one.”
“I hate for Justin to miss a short one like that,” Miller, 31, said. “You’d rather make a putt to win it.”
Hart, 47, didn’t have nearly that drama, waiting around most of the day after being one of the early finishers. He has honed his game at Calusa Pines Golf Club, and it showed Thursday with six birdies and two bogeys. Hart hasn’t played in the Open since 2002 and has undergone a pair of back surgeries, the last in 2014. But the move south from Buffalo has loosened up the two-time PGA Tour winner’s body.
“I didn’t do anything spectacular,” Hart said. ” … I played pretty solid, gave myself a bunch of chances, and a couple of greens I missed, I got up and down. … I was just trying to pick and choose my places to be aggressive.”
“I just played really solid all day,” said Bertsch, 34. “One bogey. Other than that, four birdies. It’s just a great golf course where you can’t make the big mistake in an 18-hole qualifier.”
Despite a last-hole bogey, Medinis is moving on.
“Just staying patient,” Medinis, 26, who has qualified for the Canadian Tour and was 1 over through eight holes but made three birdies in a four-hole stretch. ” … It was playing tough with the wind. I knew anything in the 60s would probably be good enough.”
U.S. Open local qualifier
at Kensington Golf & Country Club, Naples
1. Dudley Hart, Naples, 67; 2. Justin Bertsch, Naples, 68; 3. Alexander Medinis, Fort Myers, 69; 3. Morgan Dobbins, Jackson, Ohio, 69; 5. Adam Miller, Port Charlotte, 70 (won on third playoff hole)
First — Justin Smith, Bonita Springs, 70; Second — Ryan Celano (a), Naples, 70
71 — Austin Schultz (a), North Port; Carl Santos-Ocampo (a), Philippines; Jake Sherwin (a), Cape Coral; Jon McDonald, Bonita Springs
72 — Alastair Mackenzie, Scotland; Corey Weckerling (a), Fort Myers; Gyles Robin, England; Patrick Williams, Canada; Sebastian Mark, Bradenton; Tom Bittner, Bradenton
73 — Adam Dearmond, Naples; Craig Hicks, Naples; David Morgan (a), Naples; Josh Pisarri (a), Naples; Justin McCarraher, Fort Myers; Michael Donald, Hollywood; Richard O’Hanlon, England
74 — Brandon Lee, Fort Myers; Zach Golembiewski, Sarasota
75 — Cody Olson (a), Naples; Matt Leiti (a), Naples
76 — Adam Beatty (a), Naples; Adam Crisp, Toledo, Ohio; David Kent, Estero; Jake Daly, Cincinnati; Jared Blocker, Naples; Kristoffer Shane, Ruskin; Matthew Markle, Naples; Michael Claman, Fort Myers; Tate Smith (a), Port Charlotte; Tommy Hurst, Miami
77 — Brent Foockle, Cape Coral; Brian Keenan (a), Tampa; Christian Sheehan, Naples; James Desanges (a), Ave Maria; Jared Kobren, Lakewood Ranch; John Lento, Estero; Jordan Burke, Bonita Springs; Maurice Delisle, Aruba; Ronald Ryan, Naples; Shane Reynolds (a), Fort Myers
78 — Abdulrahman Sihag, Kenya; Alex Holt, Muncie, Ind.; Charles Beauregard, Naples; Jake Myers, Naples; Jay Westerlund, Bonita Springs; Joshua Brunet, Naples; Landon Weber (a), Fort Myers; Sean McGinness, Fort Myers
79 — Emilio Mariconda (a), Naples; Peyton Graham, Naples
80 — Andrew Filbert, Naples; Jake Pleczkowski, Naples
81 — Alexandre Giguere, Fort Myers; Justin Ahasic, Naples; Kyle Rayburn (a), Bonita Springs; Kyle Trautwein (a), Sarasota; Marcelo Jakubovic (a), Brazil; Philip Murray, Lehigh Acres
82 — John Cochrane, Canada; Steven Delaney, Delray Beach; Tommy Donovan, Naples
83 — Luke Farmer (a), Estero
84 — Dylan Foster, Fort Myers; Mark Chlebek, Naples
85 — Daniel Butts, Fort Myers; Preston Flick, Estero
86 — Garrett Ruthig, Naples
88 — Alexander Gove, Naples; Ryan Layne, Fort Lauderdale
NS — Anthony Pascua (a), Lutz; John Andrew (a), Fort Myers
NC — Evan Uram, Naples
WD — Gunnar Benson, Naples; Juan Aller (a), Venezuela; Kristian Caparros, Hollywood; Tomohiro Kondo, Japan
About Greg Hardwig
Greg Hardwig has been at the Daily News since 1997 and the sports editor since 2004. He also cover golf in Southwest Florida.