Eric Axley, who grew up in McMinn County and lives now in Knoxville, squeaked into the 2018 U.S. Open golf tournament in sectional qualifying at two Memphis-area courses, but former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga standout Stephan Jaeger and former Lee University player Shea Sylvester just missed getting in.
Jaeger and Sylvester were in the group tied for fifth at 145 for 36 holes at the Ansley Golf Club, Settindown Creek Course in Roswell, Georgia, where NHL referee Garrett Rank shared medalist honors with Michael Hebert at 142 and Roberto Castro got the third spot in a two-man playoff after a 143.
Jaeger's fellow Baylor School alumnus, Keith Mitchell, shot 143 and missed qualifying by five shots at Brookside and The Lakes in Columbus, Ohio, where the 14 qualifiers included Keegan Bradley, Brian Gay, Russell Knox and Australian Adam Scott.
Axley survived a big playoff to become one of 11 Open qualifiers at Colonial and Ridgeway country clubs near Memphis. He was one of three who made it out of the 11 who shot 136s.
The U.S. Open is June 14-17 at Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, New York.
Scott also barely got in after spending five weeks trying to secure his spot in the world ranking so he wouldn't have to qualify. The last resort was his first 36-hole sectional qualifier, and the former Masters champion and world No. 1 made it with one stroke to spare.
Scott kept alive his 17-year streak playing in all the majors with a two-putt from 30 feet for par on his final hole And even-par 72 for a 6-under 138 total was just enough for him to avoid a 10-man playoff for the final spot.
"It's a nice streak to keep going, but it will be better if I win the U.S. Open," Scott said. "I am playing all these majors to win them, not just to show up, so I'd like to make the most of this opportunity."
He will be competing in his 68th consecutive major, a streak that began after he missed the 2001 U.S. Open. Scott was scheduled to play a qualifier that year but decided against it.
This time, it was 36 holes or bust. The top 60 in the world after this week get into the U.S. Open, but the 37-year-old Australian already had decided that he wasn't playing the FedEx St. Jude Classic this week in Memphis.
"I wanted a week off," he said after opening with a 66 at Brookside in the morning.
The longest day of golf featured 11 sectional qualifiers across eight time zones, from England to California, with 869 players trying to earn 71 spots. The USGA held back six spots for those who crack the top 60 in the world next week.
Shane Lowry of Ireland, who has yet to finish better than a tie for 14th all year, found his game on a beautiful day in central Ohio with rounds of 68-67 to share medalist honors with Sungjae Im of South Korea, who leads the Web.com Tour money list.
As usual, Brookside and The Lakes had most of the PGA Tour players, some of them wearing shorts in a setting that hardly looked like a PGA Tour event. It sure didn't feel like one, either, at least not to Bradley. The former PGA champion made it to his seventh straight U.S. Open, and it was a grind. He had to qualify for the second straight year.
"It reminded me of tour school. There's no joy," Bradley said with a smile that showed his relief. "It's humbling to come here."
Knox figured he would be sitting out this U.S. Open when he was 3 under for the tournament, three shots below the projected cutoff, and had five holes to play. He made birdie putts of 30 feet, 18 feet and 4 feet, saved par from the bunker with a 6-foot putt and then birdied the 18th from 20 feet to make it by two.
Michael Putnam nearly didn't make it to The Lakes after he opened with a 1-over 73 at Brookside. He figured he would give it nine more holes, and then he wound up with a 64 to make it with room to spare.