NCAA championship star looks for more at U.S. Open

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (AP) — Bronson Burgoon sprayed a few drives into the gnarly Bethpage Black rough early Monday morning, left some approach shots in tricky positions and knocked a couple putts past the hole.

A perfect U.S. Open practice round, it was not.

After the wild, whirlwind month he's had, Burgoon wasn't distressed. A few iffy shots not withstanding, the kid is on quite a roll.

``It's been an unbelievable experience,'' he said.

It all started when he hit a stunning, 120-yard gap wedge from the rough to within 3 inches on the final hole of the NCAA championships last month, avoiding a match-play collapse and giving Texas A&M a most dramatic team title. A few days later, he qualified for the U.S. Open for the first time in five attempts, ending a streak of heartbreaking playoff losses at qualifiers.

So there Burgoon was Monday, finally lining up alongside some of his idols on a super-demanding Long Island track.

``It's one of the coolest things I've ever done,'' Burgoon said, unable to contain his grin. ``Golf course is tough.''

Burgoon isn't just some amateur player who happened to get lucky in a qualifier into the national championship, which starts Thursday. No, the 22-year-old from The Woodlands, Texas - about a half-hour north of Houston - has the penchant for pulling something off when the golf stakes are highest.

As a high schooler, he said he'd break the Texas state tournament record, then shot 61 to do exactly that. At the NCAAs last month, he was 4-up with five holes left in the championship-deciding match, then lost four straight holes and sent his tee shot on the 18th into the rough, putting him on the brink of costing the Aggies the national title.

Then came the shot of his life, and the rush hasn't stopped since.

``He rises to the moment,'' said Burgoon's caddie this week, Steve Cribari, his high school coach. ``It's almost like he lost those four holes in a row just to have the drama. He just gets his back to the wall, he gets his mind set on something and he gets it done. That's why he's going to be a great pro one of these days.''

Burgoon isn't a pro yet; he's keeping his amateur status with hopes of playing in the Walker Cup this September.

``This is the biggest perk I've ever had as a coach,'' Cribari said. ``I start tearing up. It's just a phenomenal experience and I'm going to learn a lot, too. This isn't just helping him. This is helping me.''

Although he could surely use it in Bethpage's thick rough, Burgoon won't have that lucky gap wedge this week.

Course officials at Inverness, the site of the NCAAs, asked for it and plan to display it alongside the club Bob Tway used to hole out from the sand and win the PGA Championship there in 1986.

``Pretty cool,'' Burgoon said.

Burgoon freely acknowledges that the U.S. Open experience is a bit overwhelming. His favorite golfer is Adam Scott; when Burgoon was at player registration at Bethpage, Scott was the next guy in line behind him.

``He was right there and I went, 'Whoa, hello,''' Burgoon said.

The truly surprising moment, though, came during his practice round Monday morning. Amid the fans on course hoping for a peek at Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson, two guys Burgoon had never seen approached him from the gallery.

They started calling him Champ, a tribute to his shot at the NCAAs.

``It's just a dream come true, you know?'' Burgoon said. ``People have been awesome so far, and it was just the first day.''

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