The Loop

For Michael Allen, Olympic Club means much more

June 12, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO -- For Michael Allen, the 112th U.S. Open is both home game and old timers' day.

Although he now lives in Scottsdale, Allen grew up in the Bay Area and has been a member of the Olympic Club since he was 14, having played an estimated 2,000 rounds on the Lake course. At 53, the late bloomer and Champions Tour stalwart is the oldest player in the field.

In a championship with several feel-good stories -- from 14-year-old Andy Zhang to unheralded Ohio club pro Dennis Miller to disabled Oregon golf coach Casey Martin -- Allen became another when he successfully made it through a June 4 sectional qualifier.

This is Allen's sixth U.S. Open, but he didn't make the field in either the 1987 or 1998 Opens at Olympic, despite being first alternate in the latter.

"I just think this is going to be the most fun week I've ever had playing golf," Allen said Tuesday.

It's easy to see why. Beyond the long odds of a player his age making it into the field, there is Allen's deep ties to Olympic Club, where he shared many early-morning rounds with his late father, C.L. Allen, a real estate developer.

"We were a very poor family in a very nice neighborhood," Allen said earlier this year of his San Mateo roots. "My father made a lot of money at times, but also lost a lot at times. He had the first VW dealership in northern California after the war. He did a lot of interesting things."

Father and son "walked through the dew" often, Michael hatching a dream of being a professional golfer -- a dream that took life when he was about Zhang's age. "I remember the first time I ever broke par," Allen said, "I came out here with my father one morning at 5:30, total fog, couldn't ever hardly see my 7-iron land and I shot 68. Probably the only time I broke par until I was 16."

But Allen's link to Olympic goes back further than that. As a 7-year-old attending the 1966 Open, he got Arnold Palmer's autograph and picked up a couple of practice balls that had flown the range. He noted that the media center is where an old practice ground used to be, where "I have spent many, many hours sweating on, even in this cold temperature."

Part of Allen's local knowledge will be about club selection in the heavy air, especially in the wind. "It's amazing," he said, "how short the ball can go at times when it gets cool and breezy." He recalled hitting an 8-iron 110 yards at TPC Harding Park in one of the sectional qualifying rounds.

Come Thursday, Allen's adrenaline might mitigate meteorology. After a lifetime of practice, of competitive valleys and, more recently, peaks, Allen will get to taste what he always wanted -- no doubt with a collection of vocal friends in his gallery.

"It's probably going to be the first time I'm going to be extremely nervous teeing off," Allen said. "It's just going to be fulfilling for me, a life-long dream of being able to play in this championship [at Olympic Club]."

-- Bill Fields