By Mike Dougherty
PURCHASE — The familiar surroundings gave Max Buckley some needed confidence, but the 23-year-old amateur from Rye never quite settled into a comfort zone.
Only a few very fortunate players do in the midst of U.S. Open qualifying.
Buckley climbed the leaderboard Monday afternoon, following up a 2-over 72 at Old Oaks Country Club with a 3-under 68 at Century Country Club, leaving the Southern Methodist University graduate tied for sixth. He lost in a playoff for the second alternate spot with Sunny Kim and Brad Faxon.
There were four spots in the field at Merion Golf Club on the line at the sectional.
Gavin Hall, a University of Texas signee from Pittsford; Jesse Smith, a mini-tour player from New Hampshire; and Geoffry Sisk, a former Web.com Tour player from Massachusetts, tied for medalist honors at 4-under 137.
Jim Herman, a PGA Tour player, got in with a 138.
“I had to shoot a low number so I was thinking 5-under,” said Buckley, who started on the back nine at Century. “I was 3-under this afternoon through six holes and stayed aggressive, then I had a bad chip on 16 and made a bogey, then I three-putted 17 and that sort of put the brakes on the round. I’d get the momentum going and then stop.”
The recent Southern Methodist University graduate took lessons from Century teaching assistant Frank Bensel for years and has played the course many times.
“I love this course,” he said. “I sort of knew where I was at the end. I didn’t know exactly, but I thought birdies on the last three holes might give me a chance to get first alternate or maybe the last qualifying spot. I birdied Nos. 7 and 8, then I had a really long putt on 9 that was right in the heart, but ended up two feet short. I was proud of how I rebounded.”
Metropolis assistant Colin Amaral was in the hunt most of the day, but a double bogey late in the round left him tied for 11th at 1-over 142.
St. Andrew’s assistant Greg Bisconti wound up tied for 18th at 3-over 144.
The day almost ended before it started for Brewster amateur Mike Miller, who got to the first tee minutes before his scheduled tee time.
“I misjudged the traffic and was lucky to get on the first tee,” the reigning MGA player of the year said. “I striped the ball right down the middle, hit it to 10 feet and three-putted. It was just one of those days. The putter, I just had no confidence there.”
Miller switched his putting grip 14 holes into the round and saw improvement, but finished tied for 38th.
“I just putted so poorly,” he said. “I shot a 77 in the morning at Old Oaks and hit the ball very well. And then in the afternoon, I hit it even better and was 1-over.
“I’m disappointed, but I’m looking forward to playing in the Anderson this week at Winged Foot and next week in the Sunnehanna Amateur.”
U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying
At Old Oaks (par 70) and Century (par 71)
T1. Jesse Smith (Dover, N.H.) 70-67-137
T1. Gavin Hall-a (Pittsford) 70-67-137
T1. Geoffry Sisk (Marshfield, Mass.) 68-69-137
4. Jim Herman (Palm City, Fla.) 70-68-138
5. Brandon Matthews (Dupont, Pa.) 72-67-139
T6. Sunny Kim (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.) 72-68-140
T6. Max Buckley-a (Rye) 72-68-140
T11. Colin Amaral (Metropolis) 70-72-142
T18. Greg Bisconti (St. Andrew’s) 73-71-144
T23. Rob Labritz (GlenArbor) 75-70-145
T28. Brian Bartow (Apawamis) 74-72-146
T31. Paul Selvaggio (Wykagyl) 76-71-147
T34. Grant Sturgeon (Winged Foot) 76-72-148
T38. Mike Miller-a (Brewster) 77-72-149
T38. Brian Mackey (Dominican College) 74-75-149
T58. Mark Ledom (Sunningdale) 80-74-154
T66. Anthony Casalino (Willow Ridge) 78-78-156
T71. Stephen Clark (Westchester) 76-82-158