The USGA added 13 players to its roster of national champions in 2013, but some of our favorite stories of the year weren’t necessarily about the winning putt or the turning point in a match. This is the first in a six-part series that reviews some of the compelling stories that you might have missed in our 2013 championship coverage.
It has earned the moniker “Golf’s Longest Day” for a reason.
U.S. Open sectional qualifying is 36 holes of grueling, pressure-packed competition with only a handful of available spots into the championship field.
It’s as arduous as it is agonizing.
But Zack Fischer and Ryan Palmer added a new level to the proceedings when they dueled for the fourth and final qualifying spot among 68 players at Lakewood Country Club in Dallas on June 3 – and June 4.
In what is believed to be the longest playoff in U.S. Open sectional qualifying history, Fischer, who turned pro in 2011 and primarily competes on mini-tours, outlasted Palmer, a three-time PGA Tour winner, in an epic 12-hole playoff.
The playoff was suspended after eight holes on Monday because of darkness, and Fischer finally prevailed with a birdie on the fourth hole of the morning, the par-4 18th.
Fischer, 23, of Wake Village, Texas, went from an obscure professional to a media darling. Dozens of interview requests piled in as if he’d just won the Texas Lottery.
“I’m not a huge talk-on-the-phone kind of guy, but it’s been good just getting my name out there,” said Fischer, who played collegiately at the University of Texas at Arlington, where he was an All-Southland Conference performer. “No longer am I the guy in the orange shirt in the playoff. People sort of know me now as Zack Fischer.”
Fischer nearly missed out on his newfound notoriety. With six holes remaining, he stood at four under par following a pair of bogeys. Figuring seven under might be the target score, Fischer calmly gathered himself and holed a 25-foot, right-to-left putt for birdie on his 31st hole. He followed with a 6-footer for birdie on the next hole to reach six under. Still at six under on his final hole, the par-5 ninth, Fischer found the top of a greenside bunker with his second shot. He blasted to 10 feet and made the birdie.
Palmer, playing a group behind him, also birdied his final hole to tie him at 7-under 135 to force the playoff.
“When I found out I was in a playoff, I wasn’t crazy nervous,” said Fischer. “I knew I had to hit good shots, but I really felt like it was my time.”
He just didn’t realize how much time it would take.
On the seventh playoff hole, Fischer missed a 12-footer and thought his day was over. Palmer, however, failed to connect on his 6-foot birdie attempt.
“When I looked up and didn’t hear anyone cheering, I knew he had missed,” said Fischer.
Darkness eventually forced the proceedings to Tuesday morning, where Fischer made a jaw-dropping 25-foot par putt with 12 feet of break on the 10th playoff hole to stay in it. He finally sealed his spot at Merion with a birdie two holes later.
“This definitely goes down in the memory books,” said Palmer, who would eventually get into the U.S. Open as well when an alternate spot became available six days later.
Neither player made the cut at Merion Golf Club; Palmer shot 75-79 and Fischer 82-76.
Nevertheless, it was a week Fischer will never forget.