Gust of wind cannot blow Quincy’s McCulla out of contention at 121st U.S. Amateur

McCulla range

Quincy's Alex McCulla warms up on the driving range prior to the first round of the 121st U.S. Amateur at Longue Vue Club outside Pittsburgh as his caddie, Tyler Bertram, watches. Submitted photo

PITTSBURGH — A “Tin Cup” moment led to the only visible eyesore on Alex McCulla’s scorecard Monday.

Yet, it was the hole prior to catching a gust of wind that left him more disgusted.

The Quincy golfer fired an even-par 70 in the opening round of the 121st U.S. Amateur at Longue Vue Club and sits tied for 43rd midway through the 36-hole stroke play portion of the event. Only the top 64 golfers from the field of 312 will advance to match play.

The Illinois State University freshman knows he has a chance to be in that mix, but he could have positioned himself better had he taken care of back-to-back holes on the back nine.

“I left a lot of shots out there,” McCulla said. “I hit probably as good as I ever have. I just couldn’t get the putter going. I missed four times inside of 5 feet, which is a lot.”

After making the turn at even-par 36, McCulla birdied the par-3 10th and the par-4 13th holes and was sitting at 2-under heading to the 544-yard par-5 15th.

“It’s not where you normally hit driver, but I hit driver,” McCulla said. “I got aggressive. I knocked it about 350 yards down the middle of a really tight fairway.”

It left him with the perfect set up to attack the pin and potentially eagle the hole. At worst, he thought, he’d walk away with a birdie. Issues with the putter led to him making par.

“I had a 7-iron in my hand and I made par,” McCulla said. “That’s a dropped shot. You’re losing one on the field if you have a 7-iron on a par-5 in the middle of the fairway.”

He went to the par-3 16th still at 2-under, but he felt a gust of wind as he stood over his tee shot. It was enough to knock down his ball — like the infamous scene in “Tin Cup” when a “gust from the gods” knocked his ball down on the 18th hole of the U.S. Open — and it spun backward off the green and into the bunker.

“I hit it really good,” McCulla said. “It was right at the flag. If it had flown a foot further, it would have ended up within 5 or 10 feet.”

Instead, McCulla had to hit out of the bunker from below the hole.

“I could barely see the flag,” McCulla said.

He kept the bunker shot on the green, but he left himself about 50 feet from the pin.

“It was a tough two-putt and I three-putted it,” McCulla said. “That was rough.”

He finished with two solid pars to post an even-par 70 to give himself a chance, even if Oakmont Country Club, the historic venue where McCulla will tee off at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, gave very little to the field.

Of the 60 players to shoot even par or lower Monday, only two played Oakmont.

With the Oakmont greens reading 14 to 14.5 on the stimpmeter, McCulla realizes shooting par or better is a challenge, but it’s not out of the question.

“You have to go out and make a charge,” he said.

He knows the 156 players shifting to Longue Vue for the second round will be trying to do the same.

“A lot of those guys who were right on the edge of the leaderboard who played Oakmont today are going to go out to Longue Vue tomorrow and they’ll be gunning,” McCulla said. “It’s not like you can sit in place at Oakmont and think you’ll be ok. You have to go play.”

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