At the US Open, Two Friends Look to Channel Francis Ouimet

BROOKLINE, Mass. — The golf ball was buried in a bunker behind the green, and Drew Cohen thought to himself: “He’s in jail. He’s going to need to pull off the bunker shot of his life.”

Cohen, the longtime friend and full-time caddy of the amateur golfer Michael Thorbjornsen, then watched him power to within a foot of the hole. Thorbjornsen made par and then birdied the next hole, and the two were off to the 2022 US Open, having survived an eight-man qualifier for three spots on June 6 in Purchase, NY

The pair soon descended on the Country Club outside Boston, hitting the merchandise building in addition to the golf course. There, they bought matching T-shirts with an image of Francis Ouimet, the 1913 US Open champion, and his caddy, Eddie Lowery.

“We saw them and said: ‘Hey? Why not us?’” Cohen said Tuesday after he and Thorbjornsen traversed the Country Club’s front nine with Collin Morikawa and Nick Dunlap, the 2021 US Junior Amateur Championship winner. “Let’s make our own history.”

That history would mean Thorbjornsen, a star at Stanford University, does what Ouimet did: win the US Open at the Country Club as a 20-year-old amateur. Both entered their tournaments as the defending Massachusetts Amateur champion.

“I think,” Cohen said, “he has the capacity to make a run this week.”

Cohen and Thorbjornsen have been inseparable friends since first meeting in middle school. When Thorbjornsen left Wellesley, Mass., a Boston suburb, after middle school, for IMG Academy in Florida to work on his golf game, Cohen followed. But while Thorbjornsen stayed for three years, Cohen remained for just one.

“Drew was a good golfer,” his mother, Lisa Goldberg, said. “He just wasn’t Michael-good.”

Cohen also missed hockey too much. And when Thorbjornsen returned to Wellesley to finish high school, Cohen, the varsity boys’ hockey captain, made sure his friend was named team manager.

But it is through golf that their bond has grown even stronger. Cohen started caddying for Thorbjornsen last summer and good things happened. Thorbjornsen won the Western Amateur in July 2021. He advanced to the round of 32 at the US Amateur.

This summer, Cohen, a rising junior at the University of Wisconsin, had a choice to make: He could take an internship at an investment bank or continue walking courses with Thorbjornsen. With his mother’s blessing, he chose the latter.

“I told him he had plenty of time to sit behind a desk,” Goldberg said. “Go for it.”

That was fine for Thorbjornsen.

“He knows me as well as anyone,” Thorbjornsen said. “As a person and a golfer. He knows when to leave me alone, and he knows when to say something.”

On Thursday morning, the two will be on the first tee, where Thorbjornsen is scheduled to hit one of the first shots of the 2022 US Open because of his local ties. Another Massachusetts native, Fran Quinn, the oldest player in the tournament at 57, will start at the same time on the 10th tee.

Thorbjornsen has played in one US Open, in 2019 at Pebble Beach in California, where he made the cut. Cohen was not on his bag that week.

“He needed a professional,” Cohen said. “We were both 17. Can you imagine?”

That tournament was Thorbjornsen’s coming-out party in terms of national attention. He had started playing golf at age 2, entering national tournaments at 6 and winning them by 10. A spectacular junior career preceded a scholarship to Stanford.

“Michael always had excellent hand-eye coordination,” said his father, Thorbjorn, who also goes by Ted. Through those years, the senior Thorbjornsen would drive his son to a state-of-the-art golf training facility in Rockland, Mass., about 30 miles from Wellesley, daily. They would often return home just before midnight.

“He would have to do his homework in the car,” Ted Thorbjornsen said. “The teachers would all get mad. But all this time, I am thinking that this kid is smart and you never get that time back.”

Father and son had not seen each other for three years before this week, in part because of the pandemic. Michael Thorbjornsen’s parents are divorced, and Ted lives in Abu Dhabi. The two men have nonetheless communicated frequently over that time, with Michael sending his father his golf videos of himself and Ted criticizing them.

“Sure, we have the normal friction between father and son,” Ted said, “but never when it comes to golf. It’s a sort of code language we have. He never argues. He trusts me.”

He trusts his caddy, too.

“Drew is the calm to Michael’s storm,” said Goldberg, who housed the two in her Wellesley home last week before they moved into a hotel for the tournament.

Cohen and Thorbjornsen will be in Connecticut next week for the Travelers Championship. The tournament extended an invitation after Thorbjornsen qualified for the US Open. The two will then travel to Scotland for British Open qualifying and Switzerland for the Arnold Palmer Cup, and perhaps Greece for some downtime. Then come the two big amateur tournaments in August — the Western and US Amateurs.

Thorbjornsen said he planned to return to Stanford for his junior year. The Cardinal had a disappointing season last year, but, Thorbjornsen warned, “watch out for us next year!”

That is not to say he is not focusing on what’s directly in front of him.

He peppered Morikawa with questions on Tuesday about life on the PGA Tour. Morikawa, himself a pro only since 2019, said the amateur experience at an event like this could be “overwhelming.”

Morikawa continued: “It was cool to kind of go back to how I prepped in college, how I prepped as a junior. I think the biggest thing is just learning your routines and coming to these places and figuring out the ropes. You have to learn how to just stay in your own lane.”

Thorbjornsen is aware of the financial enticements of the new Saudi-backed LIV Golf series, but said his professional plans were on hold. He did, however, offer a suggestion to the PGA Tour for attracting top collegians like himself.

“Maybe they could do something like offer PGA cards to the top-five college players,” Thorbjornsen said. “That would provide an incentive.”

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