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The U.S. Open golf tournaments are open, but the entrances can be awfully narrow for a mini-tour pro.
Carson Schaake, who had a distinguished golf career at Iowa, kicked the door down with some fabulous recent play.
Schaake was the medalist at the 77-player Open final qualifier at Springfield, Ohio, Monday. He and three other players from that site advanced to next week’s Open at storied Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, Calif. He is the first former Hawkeye to play in an Open since Sean McCarty in 2003.
The Omaha native began his route to the Open in Beatrice, Neb., by being the best finisher at the local qualifier there with an 8-under-par 64, three shots clear of the field.
That got him to Ohio, his fourth time in an Open final qualifier. He was three shots better than everyone else there, including several PGA Tour pros. Among the many PGA Tour guys who played in finals (formerly called sectionals) and didn’t qualify were Rickie Fowler and major-tourney winners Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner and Padraig Harrington.
After a 2-under-par 68 in the first half of his 36 holes Monday, Schaake had a bogey-free 63 in his second round. Suddenly, he had a trip to the San Diego area to plan, to compete in a major championship with the world’s best players.
“It’s a crazy deal,” Schaake said Tuesday, “and we’re figuring it all out.”
He used a push cart to do his own caddying in Ohio, but the first thing he figured out for the Open itself was that his brother, Alex, would be on his bag at Torrey Pines.
“We’re going to have a good time,” Carson said. “It’s going to be a good experience for both of us. He knows my game better than anybody else other than myself.”
Alex Schaake just finished his college golf career at Iowa and is embarking on his own professional odyssey. Carson has been a pro since his playing days, which include a share of the 2015 Big Ten individual title, were over in 2017.
Carson Schaake’s highlight of 2021 had been winning the Ken McDonald Classic in Tempe, Ariz., on the Outlaw Tour. That was worth $7,500, and came a month after he had a runner-up finish on the same mini-tour.
His immediate goal has been trying to get full playing status on the Forme Tour, an eight-tournament series in which players try to qualify for the Korn Ferry Tour, which is the closest step to the PGA Tour. He has status for the first four events. Alex Schaake, by virtue of his fine 2021 season at Iowa, was given full status.
The brothers will travel together to the Forme Tour’s first four events, the first in Georgia later this month.
“It’s a grind,” Carson said about the mini-tour life. “It’s hard. I’ve won a few events.
“I’m just kind of getting a little better every year, learning how to get into a groove and how to stay in a groove longer. I’ve got my game in a good spot. I’m mentally right there. It’s translating to actual competitive rounds.”
As a Hawkeye in 2015, the PGA Tour’s John Deere gave Schaake a sponsor’s exemption. He was a nervous 20-year-old who shot 7-over and missed the 36-hole cut. Little did he know at the time that it was experience he could use for a U.S. Open six years later.
“I went into that like ‘I’m going to play great all four days, I’m going to win,’ and all that jazz. I put a lot of pressure on myself. That’s not how golf should be played.
“I play my best when I’m having fun and when I’m confident and comfortable with everything.
“You practice so that when you get to these uncomfortable situations like the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, you can be comfortable. I want to play the golf course, I don’t want to think about all these names that are there, Rory (McIlroy), Jordan (Spieth), Bryson (DeChambeau), all these guys.”
The goal, Schaake said, is “I want to take away from it as much as I can.”
“Golf is an experience thing,” he said. “I want to gain as much experience as I can from this. If I can play my game and play well, I can play well out there. I know I can do that.
“Take what I’ve been doing the last few months, take it to the course, and have a good time.”
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