MANATEE COUNTY — Jeff Leonard looked like he forgot to shave on Wednesday, and his light graying stubble was an indication that he was older than most in the local qualifying field for the U.S. Open at Waterlefe Golf and River Club.
Seath Lauer of Bradenton tees off during a U.S. Open qualifier at Waterlefe Golf & River Club in Bradenton on Wednesday.
Sometimes age doesn’t matter in golf. Just ask Arnond “Bank” Vongvanij, Rigel Fernandes and Andres Echavarria.
Leonard, a 47-year-old program director of the First Tee of Tampa, and the father of two children, fired an 8-under-par 64 to earn medalist honors. He missed tying the Waterlefe course record set by former PGA Tour pro Robert Gamez by three shots.
He bested Vongvanij, 24 years his junior by one stroke; Fernandes, 32 years his junior by three strokes; and Echavarria, 23 years younger, by four strokes. They also qualified.
Plus, Leonard prevented a sweep of the four qualifying spots and two alternates by either current or former IMG Academy students and coach.
How did he do it?
For starters, Leonard didn’t make a bogey, rolled in a 25-foot eagle putt on the par 5 14th hole, and made five 3′s in a row on his back nine.
“I don’t have a lot of length,” he said. “I just try be steady and get by with my wedge and putter.”
Leonard said this was the third or fourth time he has qualified for the sectional, but has never played in a U.S. Open. However, as a younger player, he was good enough to play on the PGA Tour.
When Vongvanij, 23, saw that the local qualifying was scheduled for Waterlefe, his choice was a “no-brainer.”
Eight years ago, he qualified at the Manatee County course that winds through a golf and river community.
“It is not a long course,” he said.
For Wednesday’s qualifier, Waterlefe was set up for a modest 6,800 yards, but only nine of the almost 70 qualifiers broke par.
Vongvanij made five birdies and also eagled the short No. 14 hole. A 2011 University of Florida graduate, Vongvanij has two top 10 finishes on the Asian Tour, but he has yet to play in a U.S. Open.
At 15, Fernandes was the youngest qualifier, shooting a 67 with seven birdies. Prior to Wednesday, his major accomplishments were winning two American Junior Golf Association tournaments in the last two years.
Echavarria, 24, a native of Colombia and an All-American at the University of Florida, birdied four of the first five holes, but got some help from Kevin Collins, one his former coaches at IMG.
Both posted 68′s, but Collins, who has qualified at Waterlefe in the past, missed an 8-footer for birdie on his last hole, and three-putted from 2 feet earlier in his round. Then he lost the playoff for the final berth to Echavarria.
Mason Fox of Sarasota plays in a U.S. Open qualifier at Waterlefe Golf & River Club in Bradenton on Wednesday.
All four of the qualifiers advance to the sectional qualifier June 4 at Black Diamond Ranch in Lecanto.
Here are the results (those in bold are students, alumni or coaches at the IMG Academy golf program):
Waterlefe Golf & River Club, Bradenton 6,800 Yards
- Jeff Leonard, Tampa – 64 – Medalist
- Arnond Vongvanij, Gainesville – 65 – Qualified
- Rigel Fernandes (a), Bradenton – 67 – Qualified
- Andres Echavarria, Colombia – 68 – Qualified
- Kevin Collins, Palmetto, FL – 68 – First Alternate
- Jared Kobren, Lakewood Ranch, FL – 69 – Second Alternate
- Nicolas Echavarria (a), Colombia – 69
- Keagan Cummings (a), Ireland – 69
- Prem Samritpricha (a), Bradenton – 70
- Danny Walker (a), Bradenton – 72
- Mo Guttman, Sarasota – 72
- Phil Walters (a), Sarasota – 72
- Sean Jacklin, Bradenton – 72
- Seath Lauer, Bradenton – 72
- Byoung Jun Chung (a), Argentina – 73
- Gregg Edwards, Bradenton – 73
- Aaron Bishop (a), Ettrick, WI – 74
- Brian Schmidt, Sarasota – 74
- Casey Pyne (a), Bloomington, IL – 74
- Michael Colgate (a), Sarasota – 74
- Michael Visacki (a), Sarasota – 74
- Philip Pellerito, Naples – 74
- Daren Johnson, Tampa – 75
- Hunter Sagar (a), Lakewood Ranch – 75
- Jacob Abramson, Tampa – 75
- Jeffrey Gardner, Bradenton – 75
- Tzu Wei Lin (a), Chinese Taipei – 75
- Yuvish Singh (a), Bradenton – 75
- Zheng Liang (a), Ppls Rep. of China – 75
- Devin Spies, Sarasota – 76
- Jack Lyerly (a), Bradenton – 76
- Matt Lofthouse, Sarasota – 76
- Matthew Hicks, Sissonville – 76
- Steve Pleis, Bradenton – 76
- Blake Soni (a), Bradenton – 77
- George Blackshaw, Bradenton Beach – 77
- Hunter Talcott, Scituate, MA – 77
- Kevin Casey, Saint James City – 77
- Newportnewport Laparojkit (a), Bradenton – 77
- Stephen Sowards, Bradenton – 77
- Davis Miller (a), Tampa – 78
- Qiwen Wong (a), Bradenton – 78
- Rocky Khara (a), Sebring – 78
- Carl Eskew, Sarasota – 79
- Michael Muthreich (a), Germany – 79
- Tommy Villani (a), Sarasota – 79
- Tyler Witman, Bradenton – 79
- Adam Pettitt, Bradenton – 80
- Kevin Curtin (a), Palm Beach Gardens – 80
- Matthew Jones, Wales – 80
- William Lansdowne, Sarasota – 81
- Mark Bueby, Bradenton – 82
- Mason Fox (a), Sarasota – 83
- Jordan Miller (a), Bradenton – 84
- Jose Miguel Rosales (a), DeLand – 85
- Eric Thomas, Gainesville – 87
- Billy Glanden, Sarasota – 88