Seventeen years after the round of golf that changed the direction of Marc Engellenner’s life, he can recall the details as if it happened yesterday.
It was Aug. 25, 1997, at Twelve Bridges that he shot a bogey-free 6-under-par 66, making four 25-foot birdie putts.
He was 19, a year out of Del Oro High School, where he played golf as the sixth man on a six-man team during his senior year and his best score was a 42 for nine holes. He had not broken 70 before that day at the course now named Catta Verdera.
So he did what any teenager would do. He turned pro.
“I was an idiot kid; it was the work of a child,” Engellenner said of the decision. “I had one really good day in a round that didn’t matter.”
His “highlight” in 12 years competing sporadically as a professional came during his final 2006 tournament on the developmental Spanos Tour. After missing 10 cuts in a row, he made the cut – then finished last among those who did and got his $1,200 entry fee returned.
“Making that cut in the last tournament of the year, after coming close so many times, it felt really good at the time,” he said.
In 2009, Engellenner applied to regain his amateur status. The United States Golf Association granted his request in 2011. Monday at El Macero during the first stage of U.S. Open qualifying, he crafted a new golf career highlight, shooting a 3-under 69 to finish second in a field of 90 and earn a spot in sectional qualifying next month.
He played his last nine holes in 4 under to get the best of a field full of more accomplished players who wouldn’t be half as excited as he is to advance.
“Most of them wouldn’t know me,” said Engellenner, 36, born and raised in Lincoln and now a self-described weekend warrior who lives in Grass Valley, where he works in the insurance business.
“The ones who do would know I have the potential, but they would still be surprised. Not that I shot a 69, but that I shot a 69 in a tournament.”
Playing El Macero’s back nine first and among the last players to start, Engellenner didn’t give any indication something special was in the offing. Engellenner made the turn 1 over after bogeying the easy par-5 18th hole from the middle of the fairway.
In a handful of previous Open qualifying attempts, he wasn’t anywhere close to relevant on his second nine. Then he birdied No. 1 with an approach to 2 feet and the par-5 second hole. After making a birdie on the par-5 fifth hole, which returns to the clubhouse, a glance at the scoreboard told him four finishing pars would get the job done. He added a birdie at No. 8 for good measure.
“It was a little bit of an out-of-body experience,” Engellenner said of the closing holes.
Cameron Rappleye, a professional from Elk Grove, was the qualifying medalist. His 67 included a hole in one on No. 16. Luke Vivolo, a UC Davis sophomore, finished third with a 70. Los Altos pro Jeff Brehaut and Ryan Gronlund, an amateur from Pleasanton, each shot a 71 to earn the final two berths into the sectional June 2 at Lake Merced.
The ultimate goal for most will be Pinehurst on June 12-15. Engellenner is realistic about his chances over 36 holes against a stronger field.
“The more holes you play, the less flash the flash in the pans have. And I’m definitely one of those,” he said. “I’m an absolute lotto ticket. If this were Vegas, there would be 10,000-to-1 odds on me. But nobody is going to go down there and enjoy it more or have more fun than me.”
• At U.S. Open local qualifying at Fort Washington in Fresno, Cameron Park’s Corey Pereira and Sacramento State junior Owen Taylor were among the five qualifiers.
Call The Bee’s Steve Pajak, (916) 326-5526.