U.S. Open golf tournament
Where: Chambers Bay golf course, University Place, Wash.
When: Noon Thursday
TV: Fox Sports 1
Sinking a birdie putt at practice Monday, Lee McCoy received an unexpected but warm round of applause. This week, he’s hoping to make that feeling last as long as possible.
McCoy, a Habersham Central High graduate, will compete in the first round of the U.S. Open Thursday at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash. The rising senior at Georgia enjoyed an excellent junior year, breaking the school single-season scoring average (70.08 over 36 rounds) and going undefeated in match play as Georgia reached the NCAA championship semifinals.
“I think my game is in a pretty solid state right now,” McCoy said. “What a way to get broken in. More than anything, I’m looking forward to enjoying the week and learning from some of the players around me.”
He qualified for the tournament by finishing second at Hawks Ridge Golf Club in Ball Ground, carding a 13-under 131 to snare one of the sectional’s three spots.
Since arriving in Washington Sunday night, McCoy has been through three practice rounds and called the golf course “interesting, to say the least.”
“You’re looking for pars, and trying to eliminate the triple-bogeys, but it’ll be there in the end,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of birdie opportunities, because the course beats you to death. It’s an absolute monster.”
While McCoy rubs shoulders with the likes of Keegan Bradley and Dustin Johnson, he said he’s also looking forward to his next two guaranteed PGA Tour starts at the Travelers Championship June 25-28 in Connecticut and the John Deere Classic from July 9-12 in Illinois.
After that, the amateur golfer will be able to decide whether he returns to Georgia for his senior year or become a full-time professional. He’s leaning toward returning to school but wants to make his choice following the Walker Cup in September. The Walker Cup is played every other year between teams comprising the leading amateur golfers of the United States, Great Britain and Ireland.
Last week, he was able to help the U.S. amateur team reclaim the Palmer Cup against a European team in Sugar Grove, Ill.
“Right now, I think he’s planning on coming back,” said Georgia coach Chris Haack. “But it’s all predicated on him not doing something really good like coming close to winning the (U.S. Open). That might change his mind, but I think he’s planning on coming back, barring something crazy.”
McCoy will be teeing off from the No. 1 tee at 7:55 a.m. Pacific time (10:55 a.m. Eastern) Thursday along with fellow Americans Kevin Chappell and Robert Streb, who are both professional players.
McCoy, 21, is the youngest Georgia Bulldog playing in the U.S. Open, which includes alumni talent like Bubba Watson, Erik Compton and Russell Henley.
Chris Chitwood, who coached McCoy for one year at Habersham Central in 2012, said McCoy has the talent and patience to thrive on tough courses. As a senior, McCoy was named the Georgia Player of the Year and held the state’s No. 1 ranking.
“One of the things that sets him apart from everyone else is that he never followed a bad shot with another,” said Chitwood, who is now the assistant principal at Hilliard A. Wilbanks Middle School in Demorest. “He’s a very confident player and knows he can grind when he needs to, but he’s got the mentality to play with anybody.”
McCoy said he was surprised to see the turnout in Washington as the nation’s golf fans descend on Chamber Bays golf course. The opening few days are expected to remain cloudy, but the weather hasn’t stopped fans from showing up early to watch McCoy and others try their hand on the practice circuits.
Playing in front of large crowds isn’t a concern for McCoy — he just wants to get used to the new noise.
“I’m really relaxed,” he said. “More so than I thought I would be. But the nice thing I have going for me is that I’ve got a couple more starts after this, so it’s not a do-or-die week. I don’t feel a lot of pressure on me. If I do really well, people will take notice, but I’ve got nothing to lose.”