Sure, Tiger's line about a 10-handicapper not breaking 100 at Oakmont in 2007 has helped fuel the Golf Digest U.S. Open Challenge, but this contest was never only about proving him right or wrong. The bigger objective for Golf Digest, the USGA and NBC Sports has always been to show the wonderfully open world of golf. The game sometimes has a stuffy image, but that evaporates when you meet some of the nearly 200,000 golfers who've entered our contest in its three years. We marvel at the number of self-proclaimed average golfers desperate to risk their ego in a count-every-stroke round on the U.S. Open setup. (And the thousands of moms, dads, kids and grandparents who think their loved one should be there.)
That this year's winner will be playing at Pebble Beach, in a group with New Orleans Saints quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, and actor/producer Mark Wahlberg, in front of a gallery and with a USGA official calling the rules merely enhances the prospect. Did we mention that NBC Sports will record it for a 90-minute special that will lead into its final-round telecast of the 2010 U.S. Open?
"You couldn't buy this experience," says Seattle's Andy Breidenbach, one of the many golfers we met during a cross-country search.
If you're unfamiliar with the Challenge, it debuted in 2008 at Torrey Pines. Contest winner and 8-handicapper John Atkinson, who died from lung cancer a year later, shot 114. Tony Romo managed an 84, Justin Timberlake 98 and Matt Lauer 100. At Bethpage Black last June, Larry Giebelhausen, a Phoenix police lieutenant and 8-handicapper, shot 101. Ben Roethlisberger amazed with an 81, Michael Jordan had 86 and Timberlake an 88.
In this year's 60-word essay contest, we heard from teens and great-grandparents and every age in between. Men and women. Happy and sad. Wealthy and poor. Some told us they were scratch players, and others admitted they've never broken 100. Their message was consistent: I am your golfer for Pebble Beach.
Or in the case of Joe Caselli, one of the 13 semifinalists who won a trip to Orlando's Reunion Resort for a trial run, the message came from his daughter Allie: "I'd like to enter my dad in this contest because his 50th birthday is coming up. He does everything for me, so I thought this would be a good way to show my appreciation."
After our weekend in Orlando, we faced our most difficult choices yet. So many compelling stories, and only five spots on the voting site. In the end, we're left with the most diverse Final Five we've ever had for voters. There's a choir teacher/golf coach from El Paso, a plumber from Boston, a former sports-team mascot from Seattle and a young attorney from California who lives in New Jersey. And for the first time, we've included a woman--an unemployed sales manager and club champion who might be the best golfer of the five.
"She gives this entire contest a new shot of life and purpose," says USGA Chief Business Officer Pete Bevacqua.
Now, the choice is yours. Starting March 31 and ending April 30, visit gdopencontest.com, watch video profiles of the five finalists and vote for the golfer you think most deserves the opportunity to play Pebble Beach under U.S. Open conditions. You can vote once a day, and every time you do, you'll receive an entry into our sweepstakes to win an all-expenses-paid golf vacation for two to Pebble Beach.