LA JOLLA, Calif. -- From the middle of the second fairway at Torrey Pines South, Gary Wolstenholme (right) was half a football field behind the balls driven by two of the United Kingdom's new generation, Paul Casey and Nick Dougherty. The young bombers hit 3-woods to the top of the crest of the fairway. Wolstenholme, a 47-year-old career amateur and U.S. Open first-alternate who had been waiting at the course since Sunday, hit a driver that died in the wind.
Wolstenholme, a five-time Walker Cupper, has the distinction of being the last player in history to beat Tiger Woods in match play (in the 1995 match at Royal Porthcawl). He also took Casey down to the last hole before succumbing in the English Amateur at Royal Lytham. "We played together on the '99 team that won at Nairn," Casey said, now at the green. "He was an old man then, but he's got a big heart."
Wolstenholme will need that big heart to take on the 15,000-plus yards he will face for the first 36 holes of the 108th United States Open. The Surrey, England, native's three-day wait was rewarded Wednesday afternoon when Sean O'Hair, the young American, pulled a chest muscle and withdrew. If the length of Torrey Pines doesn't get Wolstenholme this week, humble means will.
Unemployed, living with his mother in the town of Barrow-in-Furness in the northwest corner of England, Wolstenholme -- the first alternate out of the European qualifier two weeks ago at Walton Heat -- scraped together enough for the coach ticket from London, not knowing if it was a going to be a wasted trip or a chance to play in his first U.S. Open. "You have to be pragmatic about these things," he said after spending his first three nights in San Diego. "If I didn't bogey two of the last four holes at Walton Heath, I wouldn't have been in the position I was in."
The two-time British Amateur champion flew almost 6,000 miles on a literal wing and prayer that someone would drop out. He spent $1,200 on the plane flight, $100 a night at a Comfort Inn he found 30 minutes north of the Open venue, and $110 in cab rides. He saved a few dollars by eating sandwiches in the player hospitality tent, and the USGA let him use the range, the short-game area, the practice putting green but not the golf course. Wolstenholme was at Torrey Pines every night until 7 p.m. but had to wait until mid-afternoon on Wednesday to get the news from the USGA's Danny Cink that he was in the Open. "He's Father Christmas as far as I'm concerned," Wolstenholme said of Cink.
Wolstenholme starts on the 10th tee Thursday afternoon with Richard Sterne of South Africa and Hunter Mahan, who he played against in the 2003 Walker Cup. His caddie is Andrew Cotter, a broadcaster from the BBC. The USGA did finally give him a courtesy car, a Lexus that is standard issue for all of the Open contestants. It saves him on cab fare.
-- Tim Rosaforte
(Photo: Scott Halleran/Getty Images)**