The U.S. Open golf championship is one of the major highlights of the professional golf season. The 114th edition of the U.S. Open wasn’t much of a contest, though, for anyone not named Martin Kaymer. The German was the first player from continental Europe to win this country’s national championship.
Setting Kaymer’s performance aside, though, the weekend leaderboard for this year’s Open, staged at historic Pinehurst No. 2 at the Pinehurst Resort and Country Club in scenic south central North Carolina, featured eight former golfers who played collegiately in the Big 12 Conference.
Former Oklahoma State golf champion Rickie Fowler finished the highest of the Big 12 eight-some, finishing in a tie for second, but eight strokes worse than the winner Kaymer.
The number of golfers with ties to the Big 12 could easily have been nine, however, were it not for some unfortunate luck that fell upon another former Oklahoma State golfer, Hunter Mahan. Mahan missed the weekend cut by a single stroke. The cutline was set at five over par to play on into the weekend after the opening 36 holes.
Mahan’s 36-hole score was one stroke below the cutline, which eliminated him from the final 36 holes that would determine the 2014 U.S. Open champion. But here is the rest of the story:
Mahan and his playing partner, Jamie Donaldson, were playing the 18th hole in Friday’s second round (their ninth hole of the day, having started on the back nine). Both players were playing the same make and model of golf ball (Titleist Pro-V1x). Both players hit their drives in the fairway, but when they hit their second shot, they mistakenly hit each other’s ball.
This rarely happens to a professional golfer or in a PGA tournament because they have caddies and others eying what’s going on like hawks. But, obviously, it can and does happen.
Neither Mahan or Donaldson recognized what had happened until they went to mark their golf balls on the green. That’s when they noticed the grievous misdeed. USGA rules require a golfer who hits the wrong ball to incur a two-stroke penalty and return to the spot on the golf course where the incorrect ball(s) was struck.
“Not much to describe it. I just hit the wrong ball” Mahan said to a writer for Golf.com after his ill-fated round was complete. “I looked at the ball. It looked – I mean, I don’t know. It was one of those things I couldn’t explain to you. Off the tee, it just looked like that’s where my ball should have been, and I couldn’t explain to you how it ended up where it did.
“Just got to pay more attention; it’s just one of those fluke things,” he said. “I’ve played a lot of rounds of golf now, and it’s maybe happened one time before.”
Turns out, that cruel mistake cost Mahan a chance to play on and compete for a full 72 holes in one of the most prestigious golf tournaments of the year.
It was a life lesson the 32-year-old professional golfer will not soon forget.