Truly open tournament gives everyone a shot 

click to enlarge Just like old times: Casey Martin will be reunited with former Stanford teammate Tiger Woods next weekend at the U.S. Open after claiming a spot by playing beautifully in a Creswell, Ore., qualifier. - GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO
  • GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO
  • Just like old times: Casey Martin will be reunited with former Stanford teammate Tiger Woods next weekend at the U.S. Open after claiming a spot by playing beautifully in a Creswell, Ore., qualifier.

Fourteen years ago, Willie Brown, then the mayor, was saying, “The U.S. Open is wonderful. It’s a $150 million boon to San Francisco, and being the center of golf worldwide for a week — that can’t hurt.”

Fourteen years ago, Phil Mickelson was tying for 10th and Tiger Woods for 18th.

Fourteen years ago, Casey Martin was having the ride and rounds of his life.

Fourteen years ago, 1998, the last time an Open was held at Olympic Club, Matt Kuchar was low amateur.

Then and now. The more things change, the more the main characters stay the same.

Brown is no longer at City Hall, but he and his opinions can be found virtually everywhere else.

The rest of the cast? We knew Woods, Mickelson and Kuchar would return when the 112th Open is held next week. Now we know Martin also will be there.

As will Michael Allen, the pro who is an Olympic member and at age 53 had a dream fulfilled. He’ll be there, along with James Hahn and Charlie Wi, the Cal guys, and Cameron Wilson, who’s from Stanford, as are Woods and Martin.

The Open is open, if you can qualify. Which Allen, Hahn and Martin did. Which Joel Kribel, another player from Stanford, who played in the Open in ’98, but after a 66 in Monday qualifying at Lake Merced wobbled to a 79 at Harding Park, this time did not.

Some wonderful back stories. Martin, who needs a cart — and fought to be able to use one — because of a birth defect in his right leg known as Klippel Trenaunay Weber syndrome, turned 40 on Saturday. He’s the golf coach at Oregon and rarely plays. Monday, at Creswell, Ore., he played beautifully.

“Just incredible,” tweeted Woods, Martin’s former Stanford teammate. “Ability, attitude and guts. See you at Olympic, Casey.”

Fourteen years ago, amid controversy — some officials thought Martin should walk like the others — before Martin struck his opening tee shot at Olympic, the roar from the spectators made the ground shake as if the San Andreas fault, under the first hole, had let loose.

“I was almost crying at the first tee,” Martin said that day, “when they gave me that ovation.”

There were a few tears for Allen as he played the final holes Monday at TPC Harding Park with the realization he would qualify.

As a 7-year-old, he got Arnold Palmer’s autograph during the ’66 Open at Olympic. What he got as first alternate for the ’98 Open at Olympic was hours of waiting for nothing. “I thought about my father the last few holes Monday,” Allen said, “and I got a bit emotional.”

Woods showed a different sort of emotion Sunday winning the Memorial, displaying the fist pump hidden for so long. Who knows what might happen in the Open?

Davis Love III, 48, captain of the American team in this fall’s Ryder Cup, qualified. So did Shane Bertsch, who played in ’98, but missed the cut.

So did Mark McCormick, 49, a club pro from New Jersey whose caddie is Vini Lopez, the original drummer and founder of the E Street Band featuring Bruce Springsteen. Lopez was fired by The Boss long ago. Born in the USA, just like the Open.

The last two Open winners, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, were not. They’re Northern Irishmen. The Open is open to all.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. Email him at typoes@aol.com.

112th U.S. Open

  • When: June 14-17
  • Where: Olympic Club’s Lake Course
  • TV: NBC, ESPN
  • Info: www.usopen.com
  • Defending champion: Rory McIlroy

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Art Spander

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