By Rob Daniels
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Old Macdonald has a golf course. And Robert Hoadley's going to play it.
(This is the part where you dismiss the five consecutive vowels in your head and replace them with UNCG and USGA. Got it? Good.)
Hoadley, the Spartans' two-time Southern Conference honoree, has earned a spot in the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, to be conducted at the end of the month at an Oregon track known as Old Macdonald. If not exactly a farm, the venue will at least provide Hoadley with different challenge from the one he faced in the event two years ago in Norman, Okla.
"It's set up what Scotland looks like," said Hoadley, a rising junior from Southern Pines, N.C. "A lot of hidden slopes. Windy. No trees. They're going to be unique conditions, and as a golfer, you want to try all sorts of conditions."
And, as is the case with all USGA-sanctioned events, getting there is more than half the work. Starting last month, 2,809 players teed it up at 58 sites nationwide in search of 143 spots in the field. That works out to a 1 in 20 chance for any individual competitor.
Hoadley took his shot at Oak Valley Golf Club in Advance, N.C., and shot a 67 in the morning round. He figured he'd need to break par again in the afternoon to earn one of the two available positions in the APL.
"I birdied the first hole and proceeded to make 13 straight pars," he said. "So I'm sitting on 14 and a little frustration's starting to creep in because in a qualifier, it's about making birdies and here I am making as many pars as possible, and that's just not the game."
Hoadley never faded, and with UNCG teammate Colin Chapman on the bag, he finished strong with birdies on 17 and 18.
"Walking to 18 is when the nerves started rockin' around," he recalled.
But he made it by one stroke and is off for an interesting adventure in a state he has never seen.
The Public Links is a week-long competitive test that starts normally enough when the competitors play two stroke-play rounds – one at Old Macdonald, the other at companion course Bandon Dunes. The top 64 survive to match-play action. In all, players will represent 39 states and three foreign countries.
The Golf Channel provides live coverage of the final three days of match play, including the final match on July 2.
Old Macdonald is named for Charles Blair Macdonald, who is said to have built the first 18-hole golf course in the United States and who helped create the USGA. It's 525 miles of Pacific coastline north of Pebble Beach. An especially hooked drive on a couple of holes will deliver the ball to 50-degree waters and compel hosannas for the sanctuary of a stroke penalty.
Although not as arduous as venues for the U.S. Open, Bandon Dunes has been tweaked to meet specifications for the challenges of a USGA championship. The Spartans play a national schedule that routinely takes them to a variety of tracks, but the links course is still a rarity in the college game, which makes this a potentially important developmental opportunity for Hoadley.
"They don't want to see anybody struggle terribly, but they want to make sure that if you're on the golf course, the only way you're going to shoot a good number is if every aspect of your game is on that day," he said. "If you can't hit an iron shot, you're done. No chance."
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