Sectional Qualifier's 'Tin Cup' Runneth Over June 27, 2017 | PEABODY, Mass. By David Chmiel, USGA

Ricky Arnett is living a dream by earning his way into the field at the 38th U.S. Senior Open. (USGA/Jeff Haynes)

About 20 years ago, Ricky Arnett was the golf professional at a West Texas driving range. Not surprisingly, some of his patrons dubbed him “Tin Cup” for the character played by Kevin Costner in the 1996 film of the same name.

The laconic Arnett, 52, has no problem with the label – especially considering that he earned his way into the 38th U.S. Senior Open by shooting a 3-under-par 69 at Deerwood Golf Club, the Kingwood, Texas, course where the pivotal scene in “Tin Cup” was filmed.

“So there I was, playing the hole, which is actually the fourth hole, a long par 4,” said Arnett. “I didn’t think about the movie [in which Costner’s character deposits a few golf balls into the pond fronting the green on the fictional par 5] and I got it over. I made bogey, but I didn’t get it wet.”

Clearing the pond is something of a metaphor for Arnett’s history of attempting to play in a USGA championship.

“I’ve been trying to qualify for a USGA event for a long time,” he said. “I made it to [sectional qualifying] for the Open five or six times, but I stopped trying about 10 years ago. I’ve tried to qualify for the Senior Open since I was 50. I had the last tee time this year and, by the time I had four holes left, I knew what I needed to do.”

So he did it.

“I haven’t been able to sleep for three weeks,” said Arnett, who has been the head professional at Great Hills Country Club in Austin for 18 years. “I just can’t believe I am here.”

Arnett is here with a little help from his friends, who helped to offset the costs for his opportunity at Salem Country Club with a fundraising scramble event, which was organized within two days of him qualifying. “It was pretty overwhelming, how much support I've got. It feels good to feel appreciated.”

Arnett said that he feels a little out of sync not handling the typical tasks of a club professional.

“It’s what I do. It’s what I know,” he said. “We have a great membership. I will miss the 20th anniversary event of our women’s group. But our members promised to be on their best behavior and the assistants will do a great job. I will probably make a few calls or send a text or two, though…”

Arnett’s wife, Shannon, a former player and assistant coach at TCU who helps with lessons and the junior clinic at Great Hills, stayed home in Texas with their two children, Eric and Caroline.

“They are in Fort Worth at my son's baseball camp,” said Arnett. “If I play well, I told them I'd ship them up here. We'll see what happens.”

Arnett, who didn’t play much college golf and has had little formal instruction, is getting some familiar – and familial – support this week, in his typically atypical fashion.

“My father-in-law, Johnny Fisher, is caddieing for me,” said Arnett. “He knows my game very well. We play together a little bit during the week, and his yardages are pretty close to mine. So I ask him what he would hit on a hole. That's pretty much what I'm going to hit.”

If he finds himself in Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy’s shoes on Salem’s closing par-4 hole, which is similarly fronted by a pond, life will not imitate art.

“Oh, I would definitely take a drop after the first one,” he said.

David Chmiel is manager of member content for the USGA. Email him at dchmiel@usga.org.

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