Tyler Raber was coming off a birdie and 6 under par after 35 holes during U.S. Open sectional qualifying Monday in Daly City.
Experience told him that, as well as he was playing, he needed to keep the pedal down. After a good drive and solid wedge to within 10 feet on his final hole, his birdie putt was on line but not exactly traveling at ramming speed.
“I thought I might have hit it too softly,” Raber said.
The ball crept toward the cup, seemed to stop for a moment on the edge, then toppled in. The final birdie completed an afternoon round of 4-under 67 at Olympic Club’s Ocean Course, placed Raber fifth in the field of 100 and clinched his spot in next week’s U.S. Open at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club.
The last thing you want to do is walk away the week before you have that breakthrough in your career.
It also reaffirmed his belief that his game is good enough to compete at the highest level and pushed aside recent thoughts it might be time to give up pro golf, at least as a full-time pursuit.
It’s safe to say that was one big putt – and further proof the difference between success and failure at golf’s top levels often is miniscule. One less revolution and Raber would have been in a playoff for the final two Open qualifying spots and ... who knows?
Back home at El Macero Country Club on Tuesday, he said, “It reiterates that golf is a pretty fickle game.”
Raber, 26, turned pro three years ago after a stellar amateur career that included three All-Big West Conference selections while playing for UC Davis and victories in the prestigious Trans-Mississippi and Pacific Coast championships. It’s been a lean three years with no wins, no status on any recognized tour, no appearances in a tournament above the mini-tour level and more money going out than coming in.
The Davis resident signed on as an assistant men’s golf coach with his alma mater in February. Frustrated by near misses during Canadian Tour and single-event qualifying and fed up with mini-tours he calls “a glorified skins game,” he was giving himself until August before considering more stable employment.
I’ve come to terms that I’m not going to be the next (stoic type like) Retief Goosen or Jason Dufner, but I’m much better at letting (bad shots) go.
It wasn’t his first choice. Then the putt dropped.
“The last thing you want to do is walk away the week before you have that breakthrough in your career,” he said, summing up the conflict so many aspiring pros face.
At Oakmont, Raber hopes to play a practice round with Sacramento acquaintance Spencer Levin, who will make his fourth Open appearance. Levin’s tie for 13th in his Open debut in 2004 at Shinnecock Hills remains the best showing by an amateur in 45 years.
Raber and Levin, 31, have common ground. Both are relatively small in stature – Raber is 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds – and rely on accuracy and moxie more than power. Both also tend to run hot when things aren’t going their way. Levin has channeled his emotion to earn more than $7 million in 11 years as a pro. Raber said he’s much better since he started playing for money.
“I’ve come to terms that I’m not going to be the next (stoic type like) Retief Goosen or Jason Dufner, but I’m much better at letting (bad shots) go,” he said.
Raber said he’s hitting the ball well and healthy after fighting through some hip and lower-back issues. He again will have his younger brother Scott as his caddie. Once it was confirmed Monday that Raber qualified, Scott got right to the point.
“He said, ‘I hope you know we’re not going back to Oakmont to spectate,’ ” Raber said. “I couldn’t agree more.”
Steve Pajak: 916-326-5526.
- When: June 16-19
- Where: Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club
- 2015 winner: Jordan Spieth
- TV: Rounds 1 and 2, 7 a.m., FS1, and 2 p.m., Ch. 40; Round 3, 8 a.m., Ch. 40; Round 4, 8 a.m., Ch. 40