“It’s not an experience most people get to have,” Jessie Mueller said. “I like that I can talk to him and be on the course instead of being behind the ropes.”
The US Open is the most democratic of the four men’s professional majors. It’s open to any amateur who can play his way in, and about half the field this year is qualifiers.
It makes for some memorable experiences — a week for regular Joes to rub elbows with the golfing elite.
Maxwell Moldovan, a rising junior at Ohio State and the 2019 American Junior Golf Association Player of the Year, is playing in his first pro event. Jake Conjerti, one of his old friends from his days growing up near Akron, is on the bag. They have worked together for a handful of big junior events, but nothing compares to playing a Tuesday practice round with a Masters champion.
“We’re on the putting green right beforehand, hearing Max’s name called right before Scottie Scheffler’s,” Conjerti said. “I grab Max’s arm and said, ‘This is the pinch me moment.’ ”
For most amateurs and club pros in the field, the caddy is a close friend or swing coach. Wellesley’s Michael Thorbjornsen, a rising junior at Stanford, chose Drew Cohen, a friend from the Boston golf scene and briefly old a classmate at IMG Academy.
“We started becoming friends in seventh grade,” said Thorbjornsen, 20. “I think it was his mom that almost set up a ‘play date’ for us to play at TPC Boston, and from there kind of just kicked it off.”
Caleb Manuel, a rising junior at UConn from Topsham, Maine, chose Nick Hampoian, a former UConn teammate and a North Reading native. Hampoian now has an apartment in South Boston and has been sleeping in his own bed this week.
“I just graduated, starting my real job on Monday, so good last week of freedom,” said Hampoian, who will be doing IT staffing at TekSystems in downtown Boston. “I’ve played here [at TCC] a couple times, just being from around here. He wanted someone who knew his game and could have fun with him, and he picked me. So I was psyched.”
Charlie Reiter, a rising junior at the University of San Diego, chose his new swing coach, George Gankas, after Reiter’s father caddy for him through qualifying. Gankas and Reiter haven’t worked together long and are still getting a feel for each other.
“Dad did all the hard work and got him in the tournament,” said Gankas, who also caddy for Jake Rogers in the 2007 US Open at Oakmont. “But we’re having a good time. I’ve only been with him for a couple of months, so it’s good for me to be on the bag so I can learn his game later.”
Ryan Gerard, who just turned pro after graduating from North Carolina, chose college teammate Luke Edwards.
“I just have a lot of trust and confidence in him and his abilities,” Gerard said. “I understand what I’m getting with him. He’s going to be very honest and helpful for me this week. He’s not going to blow smoke up my butt or do anything that’s problematic. So I’m really looking forward to getting out there.”
Gerard hopes that having a familiar face will help keep him grounded in his first major.
“He knows how far I hit it, he knows what shots I like to hit, he knows what I’m good at and how I can play to my strengths out here,” Gerard said. “Sometimes you get lost in that when it gets overwhelming.
“This is my first time playing in front of big crowds, a lot of cameras, a lot of cool stuff. But at the same time, all that cool stuff is just extra noise that you’ve got to kind of block out. And the more he can help me do that, the better off I’m going to be.”
One of the best stories of the week will be the Quinn family from Holden. Fran Quinn, a 57-year-old member of the PGA Tour Champions, became the oldest golfer to advance through qualifying since the US Golf Association began tracking it in 1982. On his bag throughout the qualifiers was his wife, Lori Quinn, who is her regular caddy.
Lori caddy for her husband at final qualifying in Rye, NY, and was going to caddy for him again this week, but she called an audible after Monday’s practice round. Her son, Owen Quinn, 23, got the call instead, after he just missed the cut in the Rye qualifier.
“He’s played here so many times,” said Lori, referencing the 2019 Massachusetts Amateur and the 2017 Francis Ouimet Memorial. “I said, ‘You should be out here, not me.’ It just made more sense.”
Owen was on his father’s bag the other time Fran qualified for the US Open — in 2014 at Pinehurst, when Owen was only 15. Now the father/son duo is teaming up again, at a course in their backyard. They have the first tee time of the day on Thursday, 6:45 am off the 10th hole.
“The 2014 championship was probably the coolest week I’ve had in golf, just being inside the ropes at the US Open, playing on Father’s Day Sunday,” Owen said. “This week is that much more special.
“I’m old enough now to appreciate it more and to provide more insight on it all. If we’re able to play on Sunday, I think it would be one of the cooler days of my life.”
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.