Agostini: U.S. Open dream very much alive for Turlock native Smith

05/13/2014 8:01 PM

05/13/2014 9:30 PM

If your handicap index sits at 1.4 or below and you have $150 in your pocket, you can enter the United States Open.

The process is both simple and almost impossibly difficult. If you survive Local and Sectional Qualifying, you’ll join the 156-player field for the Open at Pinehurst No. 2 next month. Simply, it’s the most open of opens.

Only two men, Ken Venturi (1964) and Orville Moody (1969), won the Open after campaigning through both qualifying levels. They beat lopsided odds but proved it can be done. The dream is legitimate.

How do we know it’s legit? A record 10,127 entries, from all 50 states and 75 countries, were accepted this year by the United States Golf Association. They started the process this week with Local Qualifying at 111 sites, several of them in California.

One player with no regrets so far is Turlock’s Paul Smith.

You know Smith from his two medalist titles at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters while he was a student at Turlock High School. He also turned in quality golf at Cal State Stanislaus.

Today, he’s following in the footsteps of older brother Sam Smith at USC. Sam ended his collegiate career as a USC team captain and an All-American last spring. A year later, Paul has continued the family tradition with the Trojans.

He tied for ninth last month at the Pac-12 Championship (71-71-72-78) at The Gallery at Dove Mountain in Marana, Ariz. Beginning Thursday, Smith and the 25th-ranked Trojans take part in the NCAA Regionals in Sugar Grove, Ill. Smith has been solid this season with five top-20 finishes and was in contention at the Pac-12s until his poor final round.

One hole, in fact, sank his chances – a quad 9 at the par-5 15th, a hole he birdied the first three days.

“It was just one mistake,” Smith said. “I’ve actually been playing much better. My short game and driving have improved. I’m happy I made the choice to USC, not just for golf but life in general. Playing two seasons at Stanislaus was important for me to make the jump.”

Smith also has found time, however, to chase the U.S. Open.

Smith tamed Fresno’s Fort Washington in 5-under-par 67 and shared the medalist honor with Corey Pereira of Cameron Park during Monday’s Local Qualifying. From there, he’ll continue to 36-hole Sectional Qualifying, one of golf’s most grueling days, at Lake Merced CC in Daly City on June 2.

“Fort Washington always has been one of my favorite courses,” he said Wednesday. “I also like Lake Merced, so I’m looking forward to the Sectional.”

THE SHAG BAG – Entries are being accepted for the 32nd Modesto City Championships on June 7-8 at Dryden Park and Creekside. ... UC Davis freshman Will Brink, the former East Union High School star, closed with a 69 on Sunday and won the Manteca City for the second year in a row. ...

Johansen sophomore Daniel Pena, whose impressive 6-under 66 was good for the medalist honor at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters, threatened the Masters record of 65 set in 2012 by Del Oro’s Austin Smotherman (SMU). Pena stood 7 under par with two holes left, Nos. 2 and 3 at The Reserve at Spanos Park, and bombed his tee shot straight and true at the par-5 second. He found trouble with his second shot, however, and finished bogey-par for 66. Pena led four individual qualifiers to NorCals next Monday in Roseville, and all four shot 70 or better. Conditions favored low scoring, and Central Valley senior Anthony Bonales closed a strong prep career with an even-par 72.

HOLES-IN-ONE – Paula Kinch, Modesto, 128-yard 17th at Bayonet, Seaside, 6-iron. ... Ricardo Semeria, Modesto, 173-yard 12th at Creekside, 5-iron.

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