Golf

West Florida Golf Tour regulars snag four of five U.S. Open qualifying berths at Sarasota's TPC Prestancia

SARASOTA -- At 45 years old and standing 5-foot-7, Jon Mansfield doesn't look like a golfer competing in today's youthful game.

But that's precisely what Mansfield is, and he can play it quite well.

On Monday, Mansfield maneuvered his way around TPC Prestancia's Stadium Course in South Sarasota with a sparkling 4-under par 68 to share medalist honors with Colorado native A.J. Morris in the U.S. Open local qualifier.

Only five qualifying berths were awarded to the sectional stage, with two additional berths for alternates.

Four players tied with 69s to go into a 4-for-3 playoff, but Mansfield was not one of them, thanks to his ball striking and familiarity with the TPC track.

"I hit it in play and hit a lot of greens, so that makes it easier," said Mansfield, who teaches at Clearwater Country Club and also plays the area's lone mini-tour, the West Florida Golf Tour. "... I stayed patient. Just tried to hit one shot at a time."

Fighting off a pinched nerve in his neck and some numb fingers, Mansfield hadn't played much golf leading into Monday's one-day qualifier.

In fact, he struggled posting a 76 in a practice round on Sunday.

But on Saturday, Mansfield discovered something that was lacking in his swing that he utilized in addition to his experience

of playing TPC Prestancia in competitive tournaments on the West Florida Golf Tour.

"I've kind of been swaying off the ball and been trying to keep my core a little tighter so I didn't sway," said Mansfield, who notched five birdies against one bogey. "Now all of a sudden I feel my arms kind of separating from my body and it felt good."

Meanwhile, Mansfield's co-medalist was newly-turned professional A.J. Morris, who plays the WFGT. Morris, who originally hails from Aspen, Colo., recently moved to the Tampa area from West Palm Beach after going to college at Southern Methodist University in Texas.

Morris was a walk-on his senior year at SMU, but attended the school mainly for college. He turned professional after school and moved to the Tampa area to take on the WFGT this summer.

Last month, he notched a victory in Valrico at River Hills Country Club and continued his scorching form to move past the local U.S. Open qualifying stage for a second straight year.

"I did really well on the front and on (No.) nine, I kind of pushed a drive and was able to make a birdie from there," Morris said. "And then I birdied 10. I birdied six out of my first 10 holes, so that was nice to get going that way."

Mansfield said his first choice for sectional qualifying will be the Columbus, Ohio, site due to the amount of berths up for grabs due to its proximity to the PGA Tour's Memorial Tournament on the calendar.

Both Mansfield - making his fourth trip - and Morris won't be playing the sectional stage for the first time.

Neither will Sam Osborne, who qualified for the sectional after a 4-for-3 playoff following a 69.

Osborne, who previously lived in Palmetto and qualified for the 2012 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, made par on the first sudden-death playoff hole to advance.

"It's the worst, because I've only ever had that once and I lost," said Osborne about a large playoff. "Because in playoffs, it's just bizarre. I was on the green in the one I played, it was for a Web.com event Monday in, and thought, 'Oh yeah, no worries. We're all going to get in, anyway.' First hole, I've got about a 20-footer. Guy holes a bunker shot. Another guy makes a birdie. Next hole, it's just me and another guy for one spot. We thought he hit out-of-bounds. It was OK. He made birdie, I made par and that was that. This time, I was bearing down trying to make birdie and let the rest of it take care of itself."

Osborne, who now lives in Sarasota, mainly practices and plays at TPC Prestancia and used his experience of the course like Mansfield did in generating a sub-70 score.

David Haley Jr., another WFGT member, and Argentina's Marcos Montenegro, an amateur from Howey-in-the-Hills, also parred the first playoff hole to advance.

Sarasota amateur Tommy Stirling was the first alternate after bogeying the 381-yard par-4 18th hole in the playoff, while Lakewood Ranch's Jared Kobren secured the second alternate following a four-way tie at 2-under par 70.

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