NAPA, Calif.—Johnny Miller isn’t having the best week at the Frys.com Open at Silverado’s North Course. His coveted course record is taking more shots than Donald Trump at a Republican debate.
Thursday, it was Brendan Steele shooting 63 to tie the mark Miller shot here (with the aid of a hole-in-one) in the opening round of the 1974 Kaiser International Open. Saturday, it was Louisiana State University alum Andrew Loupe’s turn.
Loupe fired 63 but had a look at 62 because the final hole was a par 5. Loupe had a 30-footer for birdie but gassed it four feet past the hole and made a clutch comebacker for his par and a record-tying 63. Still not bad.
“I really wanted to birdie 18 because I knew it was for the course record,” Loupe said later. “Plus, I’ve never shot 62 in competition before.”
That’s all right, it would be poor form for a guest to break the mark held by the course’s owner — Miller was part of the group that purchased the Silverado Resort & Spa in 2010. Miller’s mark stands but there’s always Sunday’s final round.
The round left Loupe at 13 under par and tied for second with Kevin Na, one stroke behind 54-hole leader Brendan Steele.
Loupe, who turns 27 next month, is just the find-the-secret-in-the-dirt kind of golfer that Miller would like. He was a star basketball player in high school in Baton Rouge, La., before he focused on golf. It has been an uphill struggle for him in pro golf but he feels like he turned a big corner when he won one of the Web.com Tour qualifying series tournaments last month at Ohio State University’s Scarlet Course.
“That was huge,” Loupe said. “I really needed to close one out just to have that confidence the next time around on this level, just to know that I have it in me and have a little validation.”
Loupe’s hot round happened because of a hot start. It sounds easy but the North Course’s first four holes are considered the meat of the course.
He’s a big hitter but it was his putter that got hot.
Driver, sand wedge to 15 feet, birdie on No. 1. “It’s a great way to start a round, rolling one in like that.”
At the par-3 second, Loupe made a six-foot putt for birdie. “I hit a 4-iron that was a ten out of ten, if you know what I mean.” Sweet.
Loupe sank a 20-footer for birdie at No. 3. “It was a huge bender, with perfect speed, one of the best putts I’ve hit all year.”
A good drive and a wedge to six feet was good for birdie at the fourth.
At the par-5 fifth, “I had 13 feet for eagle to go six under par through five holes and missed it.” He made the return putt for birdie.
He somehow messed up his streak at the sixth, making bogey despite having sand wedge in from 83 yards, but that was his only mistake. Ten birdies, one bogey and a 63 that briefly threatened to erase Johnny from the Silverado record book.
Loupe wore a purple golf shirt in honor of his alma mater’s colors, purple and gold. He tries to wear purple on game days — LSU played Florida just after he polished off his 63 — and on Sundays. Tiger Woods has red, Rickie Fowler has orange — nobody has claimed purple yet, Loupe was told.
“It’s mine then,” he said with his engaging wide smile.
You have to win to own a color and Loupe knows just how hard it is to succeed at this level. He was in contention at the 2014 Valero Open going into the final round and shot 75, finishing fourth. Now, after a few years of dispiriting Monday qualifying and failed Q-schools, he’s got his foot in the door on the tour. He feels more prepared to succeed now than at any time in his life.
“My struggle to get here is a big part of this,” he said. “I still have so far to go but I feel like I can go a long way in this game.”
He was chasing Monday qualifiers for a few years, on the PGA Tour and on the Web.com Tour, and coming up short by one stroke or losing in playoffs. It can make you question your game even though you shot 65 or 66 and didn’t get in the tournament. It’s a test of will.
“It’s easy to just come up short with a lot of good game,” he said. “It happened to me for a couple of years. I just refused to give in.”
It was 2012 and Loupe was in Springfield, Mo., trying to qualifying for a Web.com event, the Price Cutter Charity Championship. He lost in a playoff on a Monday two weeks earlier, missed by a shot the week before. This time, he shot a bogey-free 67 and lost another heartbreaker in a playoff.
He went to his car in the parking lot and sat there for about two hours. He sent out a group text to his supporters — his mom, a friend of his mom’s, a buddy who is now caddying for him (Wayne Birch) and another friend. He’d text the score and whether it was good enough. This time, he texted: “67, no good.”
There was silent meditation. There was self-questioning. His group responded with encouragement, but a golfer after a failed score is mostly inconsolable but as Loupe said, “It’s all love.” He got choked up for a brief moment upon dredging up this memory, his face temporarily flushed.
Then he finished the story. He got out of the car and told himself, I’m going to do this.
“It’s just that…” Loupe pauses, trying to find the right words. “I don’t have a Plan B. I’ve never come up with one. It would almost be a distraction.”
So he soldiered on. At PGA Tour Q-school that year, he was practically out of contention. Then he birdied nine of the final 13 holes and got his card on the number.
“That just reinforced to me that you never give up,” he said. “Never.”
It’s a tough game and the competition is fierce. Not everyone is a Johnny Miller phenom or an instant star like Jordan Spieth. Most players who make it to the PGA Tour must survive a demanding journey to get there. Loupe is on his way. He’s in a good position in the middle of a leaderboard that’s tightly bunched at the top going into Sunday’s finale. He’s got a chance but more important, he’s got confidence that was earned in a crucible.
“It’s very easy to doubt yourself, especially on Mondays,” Loupe said. “I know I’m good enough. Self-belief is a choice.”
Tourney host Johnny Miller would agree.