The Louisiana and LSU flavors at this year’s U.S. Open will be as thick as a good seafood gumbo.
There is Patrick Reed, the Texan who spent most of his teenage years in Baton Rouge, building the blocks of his junior career that led to April’s victory in the Masters.
There is touring pro and former LSU golfer Sam Burns, who blitzed one of the tougher fields in sectional qualifying two Mondays ago in Memphis, Tennessee — a site filled with PGA touring pros in advance of last week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic — to win by five.
Then there are the three returning LSU golfers who also won their sectionals: senior-to-be Luis Gagne, junior-to-be Philip Barbaree and sophomore-to-be Jacob Bergeron.
“It’s pretty cool having everyone here,” Gagne said Monday via phone from Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, site of the U.S. Open in Southampton, New York. “We’ve been playing practice rounds together. I played one with Philip and Jacob and two with Sam. It’s great having the gang back together. It shows what we have going on (at LSU).”
A berth in the U.S. Open in a sense has Gagne starting at the top.
The LSU golfer tried to make it through local qualifying for several PGA Tour events but never was able to break through into the field.
The U.S. Open was a different story, though it took a little good fortune to send him on his path.
Gagne entered local qualifying for the U.S. Open on May 9 at Orange Tree Golf Club near his hometown of Orlando, Florida, where 84 golfers teed it up, seeking just five spots in the sectionals.
Gagne went off in the second group of the day where he shot a somewhat discouraging even-par 72. His friend Christian DiMarco, son of former touring pro Chris DiMarco, also shot 72 in the first group, making a triple bogey on 18.
“When we came in, there were already three people in front of us,” Gagne explained. “We figured there were still 70-plus people out there and two of them would come in ahead of us.”
So Gagne and DiMarco put the clubs in the trunk and headed home. Hours later, both learned that Gagne had snagged the final qualifying spot on a coin flip “playoff” over DiMarco, who was designated as first alternate.
After getting the news, DiMarco told the Golf Channel he called his friend Gagne and said: “Well, I didn’t put up much of a fight to you, buddy.”
“I was very surprised,” Gagne said. “I thought it was a funny way to decide who wins.”
As it turned out, DiMarco also made it into the sectional round after another golfer dropped out, so Gagne would have made it anyway. Confidently, though, Gagne left nothing to chance in the sectional June 4 at The Bear’s Club in Jupiter, Florida. With just three spots available for 48 golfers, Gagne shot 68-70 to finish at 6-under 138 and win the sectional by two over Richy Werenski, a PGA touring pro who tied for fourth in the FedEx St. Jude on Sunday.
The U.S. Open is typically described as the sternest test in golf, though last year’s event at Erin Hills in Wisconsin was anything but. Brooks Koepka shot 16-under to win as the winds failed to blow, leaving the wide fairways virtually defenseless.
At Shinnecock Hills, the USGA has a more classic layout with tighter fairways and closer, thick rough. There are tightly mown chipping areas around the greens that will trundle a poorly struck approach shot 10-15 yards off the putting surfaces.
With typical youthful confidence, Gagne says Shinnecock is “one of the hardest” courses he’s ever played but is hardly frightened by the challenge in front of him.
“I like the way the course is set up,” he said brightly. “You make pars and don’t make a ton of mistakes, pop a birdie now and then and you’ll be in good shape.”
Gagne has three goals for the week: make the cut, be the low amateur in the field, and be the low LSU golfer by the time the U.S. Open draws to a close Sunday.
“For sure. We’re all so competitive — especially me and Sam,” said Gagne, who will represent Costa Rica on the international team in the Arnold Palmer Cup this later this summer in France. “Of course, we want the best for each other.”
If the LSU contingent winds up in a tie for “low Tiger,” the USGA probably won’t let them back on the course for a playoff.
Gagne better have a coin ready, just in case.
U.S. Open tee times of local interest
All times CDT
6:51 a.m. (No. 10): Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Charl Schwartzel
7:35 a.m. (No. 1): Jacob Bergeron, Lanto Griffin, Tom Lewis
7:46 a.m. (No. 1): Luis Gagne, Kristoffer Reitan, Cole Miller
11:30 a.m. (No. 1): Sam Burns, Brian Gay, Dean Burmester
1:31 p.m.: (No. 1): Philip Barbaree, Cameron Wilson, Will Grimmer
5:45 a.m. (No. 10 tee): Sam Burns, Brian Gay, Dean Burmester
7:46 a.m.: (No. 10): Philip Barbaree, Cameron Wilson, Will Grimmer
12:25 p.m. (No. 10): Bubba Watson*, Jason Day, Brooks Koepka
12:36 p.m. (No. 1): Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Charl Schwartzel
1:20 p.m. (No. 10): Jacob Bergeron, Lanto Griffin, Tom Lewis
1:31 p.m. (No. 10): Luis Gagne, Kristoffer Reitan, Cole Miller