Former UTA golfer works overtime for Open berth

Posted Tuesday, Jun. 04, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
More information U.S. Open June 13-16, Merion Golf Club, Ardmore, Pa.

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The sudden-death playoff that wouldn’t end became a memory that will not fade Tuesday for Zack Fischer, a former UTA golfer who secured a belated berth in the 2013 U.S. Open field.

Fischer, 23, buried a 12-foot birdie putt at Lakewood Country Club to end a 12-hole playoff with Colleyville resident Ryan Palmer for the final available spot at the Dallas sectional qualifier. Fischer made his decisive putt shortly after Palmer, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour, posted his first bogey of an extended playoff that may have been the longest sudden-death session in the history of professional golf.

USGA officials, who oversee the U.S. Open, said they do not keep comprehensive records regarding lengths of sudden-death playoffs to break ties at their qualifying events. But the 12-hole session, spread over two days, took longer to decide than any sudden-death playoff listed in the 2013 PGA Tour media guide.

The longest sudden-death playoff in a tour event covered 11 holes at the 1949 Motor City Open and ended after the participants, Cary Middlecoff and Lloyd Mangrum, agreed to a co-championship when play was suspended because of darkness.

That was not an option for Fischer or Palmer, who matched scores for eight consecutive holes Monday night until play was suspended because of darkness at 8:57 p.m. They returned at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, followed by a gallery of approximately 50 fans, to play four additional holes before Fischer broke the tie with his birdie putt at the 18th green.

“It’s great. It’s fantastic. It’s going to be amazing,” Fischer said, reflecting on his impending debut in a major championship, June 13-16 at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. “It’s overwhelming. But I’m so tired right now, I can’t even really think about what I just did.”

Little wonder. Fischer and Palmer, a former Texas A&M golfer and Colonial Country Club member, played 48 holes over two days before settling the identity of the final qualifier from the Dallas regional. Palmer, 36, opened the door by missing the green with a 75-yard approach from the middle of the fairway, then failed to convert a 15-foot par putt moments before Fischer drained his decisive birdie.

Although the status is unofficial, Fischer was excited to learn that he may have endured the longest sudden-death playoff in history to secure his spot at Merion. The longest sudden-death playoff in a PGA Tour event that produced a winner covered eight holes. It has happened five times, including John Huh’s victory at the 2012 Mayakoba Golf Classic.

“Oh, my gosh. We just made history. How cool is that?” Fischer said. “How many holes did we end up going?”

Told it was 12, he responded: “Wow.”

Fischer, who played at UTA from 2007-11, will be the second golfer from the school to play in the Open. Greg Gregory, an Everman High School graduate and former UTA golfer, missed the cut at the 1999 Open.

Palmer, who offset one birdie with one bogey during the extended playoff, berated himself for playing substandard golf marked by multiple missed opportunities to close out the two-man playoff.

“I didn’t make any putts,” Palmer said. “What’s really frustrating is ... it carries over [for two days]. It’s a crapshoot. What do you do?”

Fischer extended the sudden-death session on the 10th playoff hole with a 25-foot par putt on the 18th green. Fischer said he played for 12 feet of right-to-left break in an all-or-nothing attempt to extend the playoff with Palmer poised for a tap-in par.

“I got lucky it went in,” said Fischer, who offered a huge fist pump when it dropped. “After it fell, I thought, ‘I can win this thing.’”

Two holes later, the Texarkana, Texas, resident wrapped up an Open berth in front of family, friends and former UTA teammates. Fischer’s parents, Ron and Beth, walked all 48 holes.

Beth Fischer called it “mind-boggling” to think that her son, who competes primarily on mini-tours, secured his spot in the Open in such dramatic fashion.

“We’ve always believed he had the heart. He’s a fighter. He doesn’t give up,” Beth Fischer said.

Cameron Hollek, who just completed his senior season at UTA, called it “surreal” to watch his former teammate’s triumphant moment.

“It’s so inspiring. I’m stoked for him,” Hollek said. “He’s always been clutch. But this is surreal. Even more for him, I’m sure.”

Fischer, who punctuated his winning putt with his second fist pump of the playoff, agreed.

“It’s just unbelievable,” Fischer said of his upcoming journey to Merion. “I can’t wait to get there.”

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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