Valspar Championship

Innisbrook Resort (Copperhead Course)

The Loop

Mizzou's little road trip

August 26, 2006

__CHASKA, MINN.—__Twenty minutes. That’s how long it took from when John Kelly closed out his quarterfinal match Friday afternoon against Trip Kuehne to when his Missouri teammates Bud Reynolds, Ryne Fisher, Michael Unger and Trent Twaddle hopped into a Toyota Forerunner and were on their way from campus in Columbia, Mo., to Hazeltine National GC. After all, their buddy was trying to make some history at the 106th U.S. Amateur Championship and damned if they weren't going to be there to catch a glimpse.

“We just threw some stuff in a bag and hit the road,” Reynolds said. “Trent’s dad [Bruce] came too, so we had three deep in the back. How could we miss this?”

The golfers reached their destination at 2:30 a.m.—almost nine hours after they left—caught a little sleep and were out in force Saturday morning to cheer on Kelly in his semifinal match with Ryan Yip. Interestingly, while the 21-year-old Tiger senior looked quite poised en route to a 2-and-1 victory, the same couldn’t be said for his fan club.

“It was pretty tense out there,” said Reynolds, like his friends clad in Missouri black and gold. “I mean, you know what he was playing for.”

Just in case you don’t, by virtue of getting to the 36-hole final, Kelly earned an invitation to the U.S. Open and a likely one to the Masters (Augusta National traditionally invites Amateur finalists to the tournament).

Come Sunday, Kelly will face Scotsman Richie Ramsay for the Havemeyer Trophy and a spot in the British Open. If Kelly were to win, he’d also almost certainly secure a spot on the three-man U.S. squad that will compete in October’s World Amateur Team Championship in South Africa.

“It was great to see these guys,” Kelly said after the round of his road-tripping teammates. “It’s nice they would come all this way to provide this kind of support. It means a lot.”

What the Mizzou golfers did, though, was really just be good teammates. And isn’t this what college is all about anyway? Hanging with your friends, driving at all hours of night, making memories while laughing about the silliest, stupidest things.

“We watched the worst movie in the world,” said Peter Malnati, another Tiger who had been staying with Kelly all week (even though school started the previous Monday) after failing himself to advance to match play. “But the last thing I wanted him to think about was golf.”

So rather than bring up the possible appearances in the Masters or U.S. Open, Malnati swung the conversation with Kelly on Friday night to something else near and dear to college guys. “I just tried to tell him it’s got nothing to do [with the golf]. Think of all the girls you’re going to be able to get [being on TV].”

The Missouri guys were about ready to jump out of their shoes on the 16th hole, when Kelly had a five-foot par putt to close out the match. The ball lipped out of the hole, and no group of spectators looked more disgusted. Their anguish was replaced with ecstasy, however, on the 17th, when Kelly closed out the match with a par. The road trip would have been worth it even if Kelly hadn’t won, but it made things a whole lot more enjoyable.

“It’s remarkable,” said Missouri coach Mark Leroux, who flew in for the match but because of delays didn’t arrive at Hazeltine until just as the match concluded. “And unexpected. He’s not among the top ranked players out there. But he’s steadily progressed through out his career and this is another step.”

A big one at that.