PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Hugo Leon feared he might feel a little intimidated playing in his first major championship this week at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He'd never been around so many great players and he hadn't played in front of so many fans in the galleries.
But Thursday the 25-year-old pro from Santiago, Chile, didn't play like he was intimidated, carding a 2-over-par 73 at Pebble Beach GL that included a double-bogey 7 on his final hole after touring the tough seaside links in even par through 17. That effort put him only three behind the clubhouse leaders in the morning wave. Not bad for a player with no status on any tour.
Pebble Beach, however, did offer him one source of comfort that contributed to his solid round.
"Being here is something else. It's very similar to Chile with the weather and the trees and everything all around is very similar to my home, so I feel kind of comfortable here," said Leon, who might be the only player in this week's field who has most of his club adjustments and fittings done at an Edwin Watts near his home in Tequestra, Fla.
Leon, whose biggest claim to fame, perhaps, was appearing in Golf Channel's Big Break X, played well in qualifying for the Open, shooting 9-under 135 at the tough Columbus, Ohio, sectional to finish T-4. But he almost walked away from a chance to get there. He found himself in a three-man playoff for the first alternate spot out of local qualifying at The Club at Admirals Cove in Jupiter, Fla.
"It's funny how things work out," Leon said. "I almost didn't play in the playoff for the alternates. We went four holes and I finished second alternate. I didn't think it was going to get us there. But on Sunday right before the qualifier they said I had a spot in Columbus. Flew over that day and played really well, and here I am.
"I've been playing Monday qualifiers all year, so it was no big deal to go play another 36 holes in a qualifier."
Leon is hoping to use his experience at Pebble as a springboard to trying British Open qualifying in Scotland later this month. Then he has three starts on the Canadian Tour. "After that, I don't know, but it's nice to know where I'm going to be tomorrow, because I haven't had much of that all year."
-- Dave Shedloski