JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Michael Whitehead was still getting over the sting of losing out on his shot to play in the U.S. Open when his phone rang Tuesday in Texas with news that took a little while to digest.
Tiger Woods had withdrawn from the U.S. Open.
Would he like to play?
“It’s kind of surreal,” Whitehead said “I just got a phone call from the USGA asking if I wanted to play in the U.S. Open because a spot had come open. I said, ‘Um, yes.’ She said Tiger had withdrawn from the Open – that was the implication, at least. So, ‘Thanks, Tiger.’ I guess I’m glad he was listening to his doctors.”
Woods decided not to play, saying his left knee and Achilles have not fully recovered and he didn’t want to risk further injury. It’s the first time Woods will not be at the U.S. Open since 1994.
Whitehead, who just graduated from Rice with a degree in sports management, barely made it through a playoff in the first stage of 18-hole local qualifying and had signed up for the 36-hole qualifier in Ohio, figuring there would be more spots available because of all the PGA Tour players at that site.
Instead, he was moved to Dallas Athletic Club. He wound up in a three-man playoff for the final two spots with tour players Harrison Frazar and Greg Chalmers, but on the first extra hole, Whitehead nearly hit his approach into a hazard and had to scramble for a bogey. He was eliminated and had to settle for being first alternate, with no idea how high up on the alternate list he would be.
“It didn’t feel very good,” he said. “To have come so far and almost have it, and then not have a very good hole. Praise God it turned out the way it did.”
Whitehead was busy making travel arrangements to get to Congressional on Monday. The biggest tournament he ever played before this was the U.S. Amateur last summer at Chambers Bay, where he failed to qualify for match play.
Next week, he’ll be alongside Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald and defending champion Graeme McDowell on one of the biggest stages in golf. His hope for a practice round is Ben Crane, whom he has met in the College Golf Fellowship program.
It’s almost happening more quickly than he can imagine.
First came the close call at local qualifying. Whitehead then turned pro, graduated from college and now is on his way to the U.S. Open. After that? He is getting married in July, then playing mini-tours to get ready for PGA Tour qualifying in the fall.
“It’s a good start to the summer,” he said.