On Wednesday, Cole Howard received a call he will never forget. It was an invitation to play in a U.S. Open Sectional for the first time.
Carrying his bag for all 36 holes Monday at Woodmont Country Club, Howard cashed-in on his long-shot alternate status. The 26-year-old from Fort Worth, Texas, fired a 143 (73-70) to qualify for the U.S. Open for the first time. He will play at Olympic Club in San Francisco on June 14-17.
"Thrill of my golfing career," Howard said. "I was thrilled just to have the opportunity to be here. Now this."
Others who qualified Monday in Rockville were medalist Shane Bertsch (140), Michael Thompson (142), Paul Claxton (143), Jeff Curl (143), Darron Stiles (143) and Nicholas Thompson (143), older brother of LPGA prodigy Lexi Thompson.
Local favorite Fred Funk, 55, shot 145, coming up two shots short on a day of swirling winds, tight pins, fast greens and difficult conditions.
"It played tough," Funk said. "I let a few get away."
Funk, who finished fourth Sunday in the Champions Tour's Principal Charity Classic in Iowa by shooting rounds of 70, 67 and 66, found the North Course at Woodmont more difficult Monday, as it was set up at 7,168 yards.
"I love this golf course," Funk said. "It really rewards the guy that's playing the best. I like that. And in these conditions today, you had to be on your game, that's for sure."
Playing Woodmont with the ultimate goal of Olympic was a good omen for Bertsch, 42. The only other time he qualified for the U.S. Open, he did it at Woodmont in 1998, the last time Olympic hosted the Open. Now he makes a return trip to San Francisco.
"I played pretty steady -- six birdies and two bogeys," said Bertsch, who missed the cut at the 1998 Open. "I'm a much better player now than I was then."
All the qualifiers Monday have extensive PGA and/or Nationwide Tour experience with the exception of Howard, who embodies the democratic spirit of the event, which is open to all players with a handicap index of 1.4 or better. This year, 9,005 players entered.
"I'm still sort of in shock," Howard said. "I guess I'm really going to San Francisco."
Ranking 30th on the money list of the Golfweek National Pro Tour, Howard has earned $12,847.50 this year. He played on the Hooters Tour last year, along with the Adams Golf Pro Tour Series, where he won the Beaumont Open at this time a year ago.
Howard was one of the first players done Monday and watched anxiously as scores were posted. When it became clear he was in, he called his parents in Texas. Another he planned to call was Brian Mills, a friend since they were grade-schoolers. They played high school golf together and now are buddies on the Golfweek Tour.
"I want him to caddy for me at Olympic," Howard said. "It should be a blast."