With his freshman college season over and the start of the summer amateur tournaments weeks away, Ryan Stachler welcomed the invitation from University of South Carolina teammate Brendan Gramley.
“Brendan lives near Pittsburgh and sent a text to come up for a visit, hang out and play a little golf,” Stachler said. “I thought, ‘Why not? That sounds like a good time.’ ”
Traveling from his Atlanta-area home to western Pennsylvania, little did he know ...
The “play a little golf” included an outing at famed Oakmont Country Club, site of the U.S. Open that begins Thursday, compliments of Gramley’s friends, Antoni Aiviolotis and Colin Certo.
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“They’re members and they invited us out to play,” Stachler said. “We had a great time. The golf course is everything you’re heard about” with its slick greens, thick rough and church-pews bunkers.
Just playing the course would make for a great time. To shoot 3-over 74 (for members; Open par is 70) despite “a little trouble on a couple of greens, a four-putt and a three-putt” would forge memories for a lifetime.
Little did he know. ...
The afternoon at Oakmont merely served for a prelude of the memories he will create this week. Stachler is back at Oakmont and playing in the Big Show.
Sure, he knew on that first visit to Oakmont that he had advanced from the Open’s local qualifying into the sectionals. The latter, however, is more daunting: 36 holes in one day with, at his site in Roswell, Ga., 38 players – some of them PGA Tour and Web.com Tour pros – competing for three berths in the national championship tournament.
What are the odds?
What are the odds especially after he sliced his tee ball to within a foot of a water hazard on his 12th hole, a par-4, in the morning round?
He had no stance. Realistically, he had no chance to avoid a high number that would wreck his round. Two over par at the time, disaster loomed
“I just wanted to make contact,” he said.
Squatting just to get a club on the ball, he did better than just make contact. His shot went screaming toward the hole 136 yards away and dived into the cup for an eagle-2.
“Obviously, that was a big turn-around,” Stachler said. “That easily could have been double bogey. Something bad turned into something great.”
He didn’t squander the good fortune. He finished the morning round tied for sixth at 1-under 71, then blistered Ansley Golf Club’s Settingdown Creek Course in the afternoon. He made birdie on six of his first eight holes, made the turn in 6-under 30 and finished at 7-under 65 for a 8-under 136 total.
“I made everything on the front nine,” he said. “The hole looked like a bucket. I didn’t hit the ball that close, but I told my caddie that I felt like if I got it on the green, I had a chance to make it.”
Stachler and his family returned to Oakmont on Sunday with plans for three practice rounds before his 8:57 tee time Thursday morning. But he didn’t need those to know the lesson from his first venture -- keep the ball in the fairway.
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Stachler’s journey to Oakmont began years ago at the TPC of Scottsdale in Arizona. His dad Bill knew the pro and provided an introduction to the game. The family moved to Massachusetts, then to the Atlanta area where he grew up playing golf, tennis and soccer.
“I had to decide at 13 which sport I wanted to focus on, and I picked golf,” he said.
Like most aspiring golfers of his generation, he grew up admiring the exploits of Tiger Woods and he experienced some mini-Tiger moments – earning all-state honors twice in high school, helping his prep team to a state title, winning some tournaments and finishing runner-up in the Georgia State Junior Championship.
The Gamecocks “weren’t on the radar” for Stachler until the summer before his junior year in high school. His game blossomed, and he found the blend of academics and golf he wanted at USC.
Stachler’s freshman class that included Scott Stevens and Will Miles joined a team that included three stalwart seniors. Although he played in only four tournaments for the team that finished in the top eight in the NCAA Championships, his making the U.S. Open field testifies to the depth of the Carolina squad.
“It’s a challenge to get playing time with three seniors like we had who deserve to play,” he said. “Even without getting into many tournaments, working with Coach (Bill) McDonald on my game has been great. We’ll be a younger team next year, but I’m looking forward to help keep the tradition going.”
Some of that work no doubt paid dividends in his climb through two qualifying competitions to reach Oakmont, and participating in the Open created one of those nice problems to have. He needed to readjust his summer schedule.
His plans to play in the Southeastern Amateur this weekend in Columbus, Ga. obviously changed, and the Rice Planters near Charleston next week remains “iffy.” But he will compete in the Eastern Amateur, the Palmetto and possibly the Georgia Amateur. And making the Open has an added perk – an exemption into the U.S. Amateur.
First things first, and that’s the Open. Naturally, he’s excited.
“I feel good about the way I’m playing, and I know this will be a great experience both now and for later,” Stachler said. “It’s going to be a challenge. I know from playing up there before how difficult the golf course is.”
Little did he know a couple of weeks ago he would be back so soon.
Ryan Stachler bio
Class: USC rising sophomore
Hometown: Alpharetta, Ga.
How qualified for U.S. Open: Shot 68 in Local Qualifying at Peachtree City GC in Peachtree City, Ga., and firing a score of 71-65--136 at Ansley GC in Roswell, Ga.
U.S. Open facts
Where: Oakmont Country Club.
TV: Thursday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., FS1; 5-8 p.m., Fox Sports. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Fox Sports. Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Fox Sports.