In the 2 1/2 years since Nate Tyler left the UA and turned pro, he has played on the PGA Tour, the Nationwide Tour and the Gateway Tour. This year, Nike put him on the payroll, which accounts for the swoosh on his slacks, his shoes, his belt buckle and his 5-iron.
As a pro, Tyler has earned in excess of $200,000, but nothing shouts "big leagues" more than the magnetic U.S. Open ball-marker that he clips to his Nike-sponsored cap.
You cannot buy those ball-markers for $8 at any pro shop. They were presented to the 156 men who qualified for the '09 Open at Bethpage Black, a select list that included Tyler, a Sabino High grad who wants in the worst way to acquire another magnetic ball-marker, this one from the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
"I shot 69 in the Open and during a rain delay, ESPN had me on camera for about 45 minutes, showing me as I chipped in on the 18th hole," he said. "But I missed the cut. That's what I remember. That's why I've got to get back there. I know I can compete at that level."
On Monday at Tucson Country Club, the site of his runaway victory in the 2007 Arizona Amateur, Tyler made a bold move toward Pebble Beach by shooting 68. He was one of the six survivors from a one-round shootout among 100 pros who will advance to a U.S. Open sectional later this month.
"There is more pressure in these qualifying rounds than there is in the tournament itself," he said. "It's brutal."
Nate Tyler is one of four Tucson-bred golfers who have played in the U.S. Open. It's an honored fraternity that includes CDO's Jake Rogers, Tucson High's Bob Gaona and Sabino's Willie Wood. That's why it seemed fitting Monday that Tyler and Rogers, with twin 68s, were among the six who survived and advanced.
Rogers played in the 2007 U.S. Open on the hallowed turf at Oakmont Country Club, a career highlight for an ex-Dorado who has won events on the Pepsi Tour, the Gateway Tour and the Golden State Tour, a one-time prodigy who, at 16 in 2000, became the youngest person ever to qualify for the PGA Tour's Tucson Open.
"I'm too good not to be playing golf for a living," Rogers said candidly on Monday. "But I'm 26. I'm getting old. I need to get something going."
As crazy as it might seem, the U.S. Open is the most reachable of all golf dreams. It's more attainable than getting a berth in the John Deere Classic or the Waste Management Open. If you can break par and go low once in the local qualifier and twice in the 36-hole sectional, you're in.
But you've also got to have good fortune and, perhaps most important, good timing. The 100 men who paid $150 to play at Tucson Country Club on Monday did not include three of the leading names of Tucson golf: Brian Prouty, Matt Rosen and Creighton Honeck.
As part of a dues-paying journey they hope is ultimately rewarded with a PGA Tour card, Prouty, Rosen and Honeck qualified for the 2010 Canadian Tour. Ironically, the Canadian Tour begins with two events in Mexico, and after that trio played near Mazatlan a week ago, they were in the wrong place at the worst time. On a trip to the airport, the car they were riding in rolled seven times.
Prouty broke his hand, Rosen broke his thumb and Honeck broke his leg.
In their absence, UA senior Rich Saferian won Monday's qualifier with a 5-under-par 67. Then, at 68, came Rogers, Tyler and Safford pro Tommy Medina.
Four men tied at 69, requiring a playoff. Tucson firefighter Grant Cesarek, who was in the same situation last year, was again a stroke short of advancing. Those berths went to Phoenix pro Eric Johnson and New Jersey's Tyler Hall.
"It's just a crapshoot," said Cesarek, a Sabino High grad. "I played well. But in a one-day shootout like this, playing well doesn't always win."
No one in Tucson has more recent experience at the one-day shootouts than Tyler. Three months ago in San Diego, he qualified for the PGA Tour's Farmers Insurance Open when, in a sudden-death playoff, he chipped in from 52 yards.
A few weeks later, at a Nationwide Tour Monday qualifier in Hayward, Calif., Tyler was a two-putt par from getting in that field. Alas, on a rainy and windy day, with his ball resting against the fringe of the green, his putter inadvertently touched the ball.
"I called a penalty on myself," he said. "It put me out of the tournament."
Now he's back in. The crapshoot rolls on.
Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or firstname.lastname@example.org