Richard "Skip" Berkmeyer, 38, has tried — and failed — to qualify for 17 U.S. Opens (he'll try again this year). If you, too, have dreams of Open glory, Berkmeyer has some advice for you…
I've played in 24 USGA events, including nine U.S. Amateurs. I've been the medalist in the U.S. Mid-Amateur twice, and I'm the three-time Missouri State Amateur champion. Believe it or not, the U.S. Open qualifier is actually the least pressure-packed of all the big events I play. In amateur competitions, I expect to do well. In the Open, I know that I'm a long shot, so I've got nothing to lose.
My first advice to anyone who hasn't tried to qualify: Get some tournament seasoning first.
The level of competition varies. I've played with Tour pros, but I've also played with guys who've shot in the 90s, and even a guy who shot 110. The first time that happened, I was really irritated, and after the front nine, when it seemed like that guy wanted to quite, I made sure he kept going. I was going to let him not post a score.
You can tell on the first tee if a guy is in over his head. That said, I understand: You've got to get your feet wet, and how are you going to know if you don't try?
When you sign up for locals, you get to list your first choice for where you want to play if you make it through to sectionals. I always try to stay close to home. It saves on travel. Besides, if you can't beat the guys in your own area, you're not going to beat the guys on a national level anyway.
Some of the course setups can be tough, but they're never as tough as a U.S. Open setup. What's important is to get yourself on a course that you know well.
I made it through to sectionals five times, and I twice missed qualifying for the Open by two shots. One of those years, I putted terribly. If I'd putted even average, I would have made it through. But it doesn't help to look back and think, What if?
As long as I think I've got a good chance of making it through to sectionals, I'm going to keep at it. It's our national championship. It doesn't get any better than that.
I run a family business that sells trophies and awards, and when I won the Missouri State Am, I had the chance to engrave my own name on the list of winners. I know I wouldn't get to do the engraving if I ever win the Open, but that's a privilege I'd be willing to pass up.
WHAT ARE THE CHANCES?
U.S. Open qualifying is a simple process: Whittle your handicap down to 1.4 or better, advance through local qualifying, followed by sectional qualifying, and — presto! — you're playing with Tiger and Phil. Here are the odds of that actually happening:
-Odds of you being one of the 26.1 million golfers in the U.S.: 12 to 1
-Odds of you being one of the 1.19 milion U.S. golfers who keep a handicap in the USGA's official handicapping system: 22 to 1
-Odds of you being one of the 28,865 golfers with an official USGA handicap of 1.4 or lower, the minimum requirement for entering a U.S. Open qualifier: 5,239 to 1
-Odds of you being one of the 550 of 7,819 entrants* who advance through local qualifying: 14 to 1
-Odds of you being one of the 86 of 947 entrants* who advance through sectional qualifying: 11 to 1
-Odds you could get in Las Vegas for an unknown qualifier making the cut at the U.S. Open, according to a high-ranking Vegas oddsmaker: 100 to 1
-Odds of that same player finishing in the top 15, guaranteeing a return trip to the Open the next year: 500 to 1
-Odds of that player winning the U.S. Open: 5,000 to 1
*Figures from 2011 qualifying.