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He Was Quitting Golf. Then He Qualified for the U.S. Open.

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Lower than a month in the past, Chris Naegel referred to as his spouse, Lindsey, with a lump in his throat. He was once executed, he informed her. He was once in a position to give up skilled golfing.

The admission didn’t precisely stun her. Naegel was once 35, a journeyman bobbing within the backwaters of the game, from the Hooters Excursion to the eGolf Excursion to the Adams Excursion to the Minor League Excursion. He had simply badly ignored the lower at a tournament.

“I used to be roughly, I don’t know,” Naegel mentioned. “Over it.”

He recalled that second as he was once in search of his ball Monday night time someplace at the 5th gap right here at Shinnecock Hills Golfing Membership, the place he was once practising along with his caddie for america Open, which begins on Thursday. It was once past due, the shadows had been rising lengthy and the barn swallows had been sweeping around the fescue. Only some golfers remained at the direction. Certainly one of them was once Tiger Woods.

Naegel stuck sight of a big crowd of lovers streaming down an adjoining fairway.

“Yeah, that’s were given to be him,” he mentioned, understanding the type of commotion that follows Woods.

They handed like ships within the evening — if one was once an ocean liner and the opposite a dinghy. However this week, they’re going to proportion the similar coveted waters.

The attraction of the U.S. Open is its meritocratic qualification machine, which permits peripheral gamers to dream of becoming a member of the elites. Any individual with a handicap beneath 1.four can position an access with america Golfing Affiliation to compete in sectional tournaments that resolve about part the Open box.

This week, there are faculty amateurs, membership pros and a Nationwide Hockey League referee teeing it up along the likes of Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Woods. In all probability the longest of the lengthy pictures some of the 78 qualifiers is Naegel, the long-thwarted professional from Wildwood, Mo., close to St. Louis. He’s ranked 1,098th on the planet.

He arrived at Shinnecock buoyed via a mystical three-week stretch that adopted his dour dialog along with his spouse. The couple agreed that he could be executed with the sport after he went to Texas to compete in a one-day, 36-hole sectional qualifier for the Open. That they had no reason why to be expecting him to succeed in Shinnecock, however he had already booked the travel.

Realizing that he would stroll away quickly, Naegel felt liberated. He began taking part in like an athlete with not anything to lose. A few days after the verdict, he competed in a Monday qualifier for the Nashville Open and carried his personal bag, forgoing the usage of a caddie. He shot a 64. He completed 7th within the event to earn excursion standing for the remainder of the 12 months.

On the qualifying sectional on June four at Shadow Hawk Golfing Membership in Richmond, Tex., Naegel wanted 4 birdies over 5 holes to power a playoff. Down via two strokes at the par-Five 18th, he made a 40-foot eagle putt, then birdied the primary gap of the playoff for his price tag to the Open.

Every week later, he and his caddie, Michael Wellington, pulled into Shinnecock in a while earlier than Five p.m. and briefly sped out to play 9 earlier than the solar sank into Peconic Bay.

Wellington, 40, who can not all the time trip with Naegel, had to make use of a chum’s frequent-flier miles to get to the sectional close to Houston.

“I informed him even earlier than we performed, ‘I’m going with you to Shinnecock,’ ” Wellington mentioned. “He is going, ‘I do know.’ ”

The 2 met and began taking part in in combination in 2002, no longer lengthy after Naegel picked up the game. He had by no means performed a spherical of golfing till spring destroy of his freshman 12 months in highschool.

“I almost certainly 10-fingered it and gave it a baseball swing,” Naegel mentioned.

However he fell headlong into the sport. He attempted to stroll onto the staff on the College of Mississippi however may no longer get taking part in time. So he went to Missouri Baptist, an N.A.I.A. college, and led the Spartans to the 2006 American Midwest Convention championship.

“I simply stayed with certainly one of my teammates in Chicago,” Naegel mentioned. “He sells insurance coverage.”

For Naegel, golfing has been an undulating go with the flow of teenage development and devastating setback, as it’s for plenty of golfers at the margins of the pro excursion. In 2017, he ignored complete standing at the excursion for the season via one stroke at qualifying college.

Pressured to play his manner into occasions with Monday qualifying rounds, Naegel shot 64 in a single however misplaced in a playoff. He shot 67 in some other however ignored via a stroke.

“It’s something to play poorly at those qualifiers and no longer actually have a probability,” Wellington mentioned. “He was once taking part in smartly.”

After incomes a place within the Internet’s BMW tournament in Greenville, S.C., remaining month, Naegel ignored the lower, beating just a handful of golfers. It was once, he mentioned, the worst he had felt as a qualified.

He referred to as his spouse and mentioned he would somewhat be house with their two boys. She may inform he was once critical.

“He’s like, ‘If I’m going to be grinding this, I’ve were given to peer one thing higher,’ ” Lindsey Naegel mentioned. “That’s one of the crucial pissed off I’ve observed him in a very long time.”

She informed her husband she supported his selection, both manner. However she additionally inspired him to rethink making any rash choices earlier than they’d an opportunity to speak issues via.

“Plus,” Naegel mentioned, “I don’t know what else I’d do.”

Simply earlier than darkness fell on Monday, he and Wellington made their manner down Shinnecock’s 9th fairway simplest to stare up on the face of a drastic elevation exchange resulting in the fairway.

“Holy smokes,” Naegel mentioned.

“Is that the fairway up there?” Wellington requested.

“I didn’t know there’s mountains on islands,” Naegel mentioned.

He controlled to deposit his shot inside birdie vary.

“I imagine in his sport,” Wellington mentioned. “Individuals are simply on the brink of know how just right his sport is. The entire guys in St. Louis, we find out about his sport. It’s no secret to us. We simply questioned when it was once going to be placed on complete show.”

As phrase were given out about Naegel’s incredible run, Wellington turned into an in a single day superstar in his personal proper. Fanatics on social media have bestowed a nickname on him, proper out of a golfing film that turns out aligned with Naegel’s journeyman narrative.

They have got been calling him Romeo, the identify of the caddie in “Tin Cup.”

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