Andy Pope does his best work getting to US Opens

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — For some players, U.S. Open qualifying can be one of the toughest days of the year.

It’s the one test Andy Pope keeps passing.

Pope closed out his fourth U.S. Open appearance with an even-par 71 to tie for 58th and leave with hope, if not satisfaction. This was the fourth time in his last five years that the 35-year-old Pope qualified for the U.S. Open.

In three of those appearances, including this year, he had to go through 18-hole local and 36-hole sectional qualifying. For someone like Pope, who has never earned a PGA Tour card, making the cut at Pebble Beach means more than a check for $25,350.

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He doesn’t have to go through local qualifying for the U.S. Open next year. It also gets him into the second stage of Q-school for the Web.com Tour. It also means he no longer has to go through pre-qualifying to even try to Monday qualify for PGA Tour events.

“So I can chase these guys for the next five weeks,” Pope said.

It’s been a chase he won’t give up on, and four U.S. Open appearances in five years can only serve as motivation. Perhaps it was only fitting that he played the final round of the U.S. Open with Kevin Kisner, who also had to toil on the mini-tour circuit before reaching the big time. Kisner now is a three-time PGA Tour winner, including his first World Golf Championships title at the Dell Match Play.

“I’ve played with Kevin going back to Hooters Tour days,” Pope said. “Watching him trying to hit the same stuff I’m doing, we’re kind of carving our way around the golf course. You get to some Web events, and it’s whoever can hit it the farthest and wedge it the closest.

“We’re hitting the same distance, doing a lot of the same things,” he said. “To see a guy like him having the success he’s having is great for myself. It gives me motivation to keep on chasing it.”

Pope has played 76 times on the Web.com Tour over the years, with four straight years (2012-15) playing at least 12 times a year. His goal is to earn enough points to be among the top 200 on the PGA Tour or the top 75 on the Web.com Tour to get into a four-tournament series with a PGA Tour card on the line.

He earned five FedEx Cup points from the U.S. Open, which won’t go very far. But by making the cut, he’ll try Monday qualifying the next three weeks on the PGA Tour.

It’s a tough road, and a tough game, which Pope knows well.

At the U.S. Open, he was putting for birdie six times in his opening seven holes and was 1 over, and then hit from the left rough into the ocean on No. 8 and made triple bogey. The final round, he didn’t hit the ball particularly well and shot even-par 71.

“Funny game,” he said.

Even more maddening is all the experience he’s piling up at U.S. Open, which he hopes one day will pay off.

TRY AGAIN

Michelle Wie already has accomplished two of her biggest goals — graduating from Stanford and winning the U.S. Women’s Open. But she wants more, which is why she is trying to tee it up again in the Women’s PGA Championship this week at Hazeltine.

Wie is coping with an injury to her right hand. She began her season in Thailand in February, but had to withdraw as defending champion at the HSBC Women’s World Championship the following week. After a month off, she missed the cut in the first major of the year and her hometown event in Hawaii, and then withdrew from the U.S. Women’s Open.

Wie didn’t start hitting balls again until last week. Her motivation came from being courtside at the NBA Finals with her fiancé, Jonnie West, an executive for the Golden State Warriors. She saw Stephen Curry tape up his dislocated finger and Klay Thompson make two free throws after tearing knee ligaments.

“I sat pretty close to the court and when you’re there you really notice a lot of small things,” she said. “You also notice that being an athlete, you’re not ever going to be 100 percent, always going to go through something and it was a confirmation to me being like, ‘It’s OK that you’re hurt.’

“That’s just part of being an athlete and you just have to go through it and find a way to compete.”

ONE TO GO

Tiger Woods at the Masters. Brooks Koepka at the PGA Championship. Gary Woodland at the U.S. Open.

Those victories put American golfers in position to try to sweep the four majors, something they haven’t done since 1982 when Craig Stadler won the Masters, Tom Watson won the U.S. Open and British Open, and Raymond Floyd went wire-to-wire at Southern Hills to win the PGA Championship.

Americans have had three other chances to sweep the majors since then only for Steve Elkington of Australia (1995), Vijay Singh of Fiji (1998) and Jason Day of Australia (2015) to win the PGA Championship.

The British Open is the last major this year, held at Royal Portrush.

BUILDING THE SCHEDULE

The LPGA Tour has added a second tournament in Florida to the start of its season.

The LPGA and Group1001 have announced a new event that starts next year in Boca Raton, Florida. The inaugural Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio Golf Club will be played Jan. 23-26 and follow the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions in the Orlando area.

“We are thrilled to support women’s professional golf and to provide a platform for the sport’s best to compete and showcase their talents,” said Dan Towriss, the CEO of Group1001, an insurance holding company.

It will feature a 108-player field with a $2 million purse.

This will be the first time the LPGA Tour has started its season in Florida with multiple events since 2001, when the opening three events were in Orlando, Naples and the West Palm Beach area.

TIGER’S COMPETITION

There’s plenty of pressure in practice rounds at the majors, at least for the guy Tiger Woods is playing.

That would be Rob McNamara, who played college golf at Santa Clara, is a vice president at TGR Ventures and has been a second set of eyes for Woods as he rebuilt his swing on his own. They play together when Woods is scouting a major championship course, and every shot counts.

For the scouting trip to Pebble Beach a week before the Memorial, Woods set the over-under for McNamara at 81 playing from the championship tees.

“I shot 82 and missed it by one,” McNamara told Discovery-owned GolfTV. “I had about three 3-putts, and it was all of those downhill ones that I ran a few feet by, including one from 3 feet for birdie that Tiger didn’t give me on No. 15. I ran it 10 feet by and missed the comebacker.

“You got to hole them all out, even in the practice round.”

DIVOTS

Brooks Koepka is the first player to finish no worse than runner-up in three majors in one year since Tiger Woods in 2005 won the Masters and British Open and was runner-up at the U.S. Open. … Brooke Henderson now has four straight years of multiple victories on the LPGA Tour. … GSE Worldwide sports management agency has acquired Impact Point, the agency that represents Sergio Garcia and recently signed Maria Fassi. … Former LPGA player Val Skinner raised $500,000 at her 20th “LIFE” event to fight breast cancer, bringing the total to nearly $13 million.

STAT OF THE WEEK

Gary Woodland’s victory in the U.S. Open makes it 16 consecutive years that a player 35 or older has won a major championship.

FINAL WORD

“It’s not like I’m going to stop trying.” — Phil Mickelson after his 28th U.S. Open appearance without winning.

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