Sanders, Van Tonder run U.S. Open Local Qualifier at Running Deer
PITTSGROVE TOWNSHIP, N.J. â€” Eighty players vying for five spots competed in the final of two U.S. Open Local Qualifiers administered by the Golf Association of Philadelphia Monday at Running Deer Golf Club (par 72, 7,028 yards). When all was said and done, two players, donning newly-earned medalist honors, garnered all the buzz.
David Sanders, a Minor League Golf Tour player, fired an even-par 72 to lead the clubhouse early. Players posting scores and spectators seeking out the leaderboard were heavily impressed with that mark, especially considering inconsistent, gusting conditions. Then, with a matching 72 in-hand, Lodie Van Tonder â€“ a native of South Africa â€“ joined that discussion.
Sandersâ€™ and Van Tonderâ€™s medal-earning number would not be bettered. Three additional players punched their tickets to the next stage: Ryan Rucinski (Wilmington, Del.), Dawson Jones (Howell, N.J.) and Lucas Trim (Tampa, Fla.). The cut line stopped at 3-over 75 on the day.
This yearâ€™s U.S. Open â€“ the 117th edition â€“ will take place June 12-18 at Erin Hills in Erin, Wisc.
Sanders, who calls Mt. Laurel, N.J. and Laurel Creek Country Club home, was the early standout thanks to a steady front nine. After reaching the long par-5, 521-yard 4th green in two with a wood approach, Sanders lagged a long eagle look to three feet and converted for birdie to move into red figures. Sanders hit every green in regulation through the front, making the turn at even despite a bogey blemish on No. 6 (par 4, 417 yards).
The 2011 New Jersey State Golf Association Amateur Championâ€™s back nine was a little more adventurous. He began the roller coaster ride with three promising birdies in his first five holes.
Sanders left himself in great position off the tee on No. 10 (par 4, 408 yards), then hit the bullseye mark with a 9-iron on his approach, leading to a tap-in birdie from a foot. Another red number was carded on No. 11 (par 4, 357 yards), after he landed a wedge shot, against the wind, 15 feet below the hole and jarred the birdie look to move to 2 under.
â€śWhen I was in the fairway, sitting at 2 under, I was feeling good. I was in good position,â€ť said Sanders.
Following a three-putt bogey on No. 13 (par 3, 225 yards), Sanders laid up on the par-5, 555-yard 14th before chipping to a few inches for another tap-in birdie. Bogey mishaps arrived again on Nos. 15 (par 4, 368 yards) and 16 (par 3, 169 yards), but ultimately werenâ€™t enough to knock him off the lead.
â€śIt could have been a few shots lower out here today, but Iâ€™ll take it. It was playing tough out here with these swirling conditions,â€ť said the 26-year-old Sanders. â€śI really wanted to take it deep today to prove myself a little bit.â€ť
Or in this case, prove himself even further. Sanders, who reached the Round of 16 in the 2011 BMW Philadelphia Amateur Championship, notched his first professional Minor League Golf Tour victory in Februaryâ€™s West Palm Beach City Championship at West Palm Beach Golf Course. His eye-opening rounds of 67 and 64 included birdies on 13 of the final 27 holes to secure the title.
â€śI live in West Palm Beach, Florida now, and that Tour stays around my area. Itâ€™s good competition down there,â€ť he said. â€śIâ€™m playing in European Tour School Qualifying at the end of this month. Itâ€™s really exciting stuff for me."
Van Tonder, a former member at Running Deer who still plays the track almost weekly, knew it was going to be a good day when he knocked his wedge approach to five feet and holed the putt on No. 1 (par 4, 394 yards). Although he gave one back on No. 2 (par 4, 477 yards) with a bogey slip, the fall didnâ€™t last long. The par-3, 481-yard 3rd was a friend to Van Tonder, playing host to a pure 9-iron approach followed by another five footer for birdie.
The highlight of his day â€“ and possibly of the fieldâ€™s â€“ came in result of a greenside, chip-in eagle on No. 14. Van Tonder found himself 30 feet past the hole on his approach, sitting nicely on the fringe, and promptly put the ball in the bottom of the cup for the round-defining moment. It was just another example of Van Tonder excelling in spots on the course where others consistently struggled.
â€śI love [Running Deer], I still call it my second home. Coming from South Africa, I love playing in these winds,â€ť said Van Tonder, who relocated to the United States eight years ago.
The now-regular GAP player and current Sakima Country Club member picked up the game at the age of 11 back in South Africa. It was there where he learned the sport on nine-hole courses while idolizing his countryâ€™s impressive list of PGA Tour standouts. Most notably Gary Player, whose familyâ€™s farm Van Tonder â€śgrew up in the same areaâ€ť as.
Van Tonder, of Pennsville, N.J., still reps his South African roots and a hint of his homelandâ€™s accent. But now, he calls himself â€śan extremely proud American."
â€śI love this country,â€ť he said. â€śItâ€™s the best place Iâ€™ve ever lived in my life."
Rucinski, who medaled in a #BMWPhillyAm Qualifier last year at Radley Run Country Club, earned his way to the Sectional Qualifying round after finishing just one back of the leaders.
â€śIâ€™ve played Running Deer in the [BMW GAP Team Matches]. It was easier to score that day, but today Iâ€™ve got to be happy with 73,â€ť said Rucinski, a prominent player for Wilmington University who just completed his sophomore season. â€śIâ€™ve tried to play in the [U.S. Open Local Qualifiers] before, but those were always high scores. Knowing I had to score low put pressure on me, and that got to me. Today it was more relaxed.â€ť
The final two spots went to a pair of talented collegiate players: University of Rhode Islandâ€™s Jones (2-over 74) and Villanova Universityâ€™s Trim (3-over 75).
The latter earned his spot via a 2-for-1 playoff versus Philadelphia Cricket Club professional Mark Miller. Trim found the green in regulation on the first playoff hole (No. 10) while Miller pushed his fairway approach just right of the green. The Cricketeerâ€™s chip came up short, opening the door for the Wildcat. Trim executed an impressive two-putt par from the top tier of the downhill green to secure the final spot, bettering Millerâ€™s bogey.
Miller earned the first alternative position, while Laurel Creek Country Clubâ€™s Joe Russo grabbed the second alternate position in result of winning a 4-for-1 playoff.
Today's event marked the second of two U.S. Open Local Qualifiers the Golf Association of Philadelphia administered this season. The first was held May 11 at Country Club of York.
Golf Association of Philadelphia