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BILL DWYRE

At U.S. Open, honors course awaits high schooler

Santa Margarita sophomore Beau Hossler, 16, is one of the youngest golfers to qualify for the U.S. Open, but his caddie says, 'He'll have no trouble handling all this because he's an old soul.'

June 15, 2011|Bill Dwyre
  • Santa Margarita sophomore Beau Hossler will be strolling the same fairways as Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood while playing in the U.S. Open, starting Thursday at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md.
Santa Margarita sophomore Beau Hossler will be strolling the same fairways… (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)

From Bethesda, Md. — The U.S. Open golf tournament is no place for child's play, but Beau Hossler will tee it up anyway here Thursday.

Go ahead. Be jealous. While this is going on, your 16-year-old will be shopping for pimple cream, oiling the wheels on his skateboard or texting his girlfriend.

Hossler, the sophomore golfing pride of Santa Margarita High School, will be strolling the same fairways as Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood; putting on the same greens as Martin Kaymer and Steve Stricker. They are the world's top players, all multimillionaires. Hossler is none of that, but he wants to be all of it.

You might as well start chasing your dream somewhere, and why not the 7,574-yard torture chamber also known as Congressional Country Club. No easing in for young Beau, among the youngest ever in this event. For him, it's straight from trigonometry to thumbscrews.

When he made it through the U.S. Golf Assn.'s sectional a week ago Monday at Glendale's venerable Oakmont Country Club, his dad, Beau Sr., said his reaction was, "This is one lucky kid."

His stepdad, Matt Balsz, who has been married to his mom, Amy, since Beau was 3 years old, said he was both "excited and overwhelmed" at first.

His caddie, Bill Schellenberg, who was a high school classmate of Beau Sr. and a former roommate of Matt Balsz, said he was "not surprised" because he has carried the bag a lot recently for the young Hossler and has seen his rapid improvement. "He'll have no trouble handling all this," Schellenberg said, "because he's an old soul."

The likelihood, of course, is that Hossler will shoot 85-84 and go home with lots of memories and, most likely, new resolve and understanding. Most amateurs and qualifiers, when faced with a U.S. Open that exists to be penal and pressure-packed, do exactly that. Just making the cut would be his U.S. Open title.

But as young as he is, and as much of a setup for disaster as this tournament can be, the people around Hossler say he has both a calm about him and a tunnel vision for his golfing goals that may make this more educational than catastrophic.

Balsz said that, once Hossler turned his back on baseball and set his sights on golf, there has been no slowing him down.

"He was a pretty good baseball player, strong, good hitter with good hand-eye coordination," Balsz said. "But he didn't run well and they made him into a catcher."

He was good enough to make the Little League all-star team, but he decided to skip the all-star game to focus on golf.

"That was when he was 11," Balsz said. "His mother and I couldn't believe what he was doing. We sat him down, talked to him, told him he might not get another chance to play in a big game like this. He wouldn't budge. We wouldn't call the all-star coach. We made him do it. I think some of the neighbors thought there was some bad parenting going on."

Balsz said that, since that day five years ago, his stepson has probably missed no more than five days of golf. That includes daily work with the Santa Margarita team, for whom he was chosen a second-team all-star golfer this spring by the Orange County Register.

That tells you all you need to know about newspaper all-star teams. It also prompted a classic email from a friend: "Congratulations on making second team all-county, and, oh yes, ON GOING TO THE U.S. OPEN!"

Balsz said he made one more try at reviving some interest in baseball, a year or so ago, when Beau had a broken finger and his golf was limited. But that didn't work out well at all.

"We went to Dodger Stadium," he said, "saw the game, came out afterward and his golf clubs had been stolen. Somebody broke into our car in the parking lot."

Dad, stepdad and caddie all agree that this U.S. Open appearance wouldn't be happening if Hossler hadn't had an enormous growth spurt in the last year.

"He grew six inches in the last six months," Balsz said. "I was standing next to him one day and he was eyeball to eyeball with me. I was stunned. Like, when did that happen?"

Hossler actually qualified for the U.S. Amateur tournament two years ago.

"He was 5-foot-3 or something then," Beau Sr. said. "He walked onto the first tee and they looked at him and asked who the player was. He had to say, 'It's me.' "

Then, he could drive it 230 yards or so. Now, he is closer to 280, on average. And he certainly needs to be, in a U.S. Open that has par-fours of 494, 490 and 523 yards and a par-five ninth hole of 636 yards.

Hossler's final preparation for the U.S. Open was nine holes Wednesday. At his scheduled tee time, his golf shoes were missing. He had left them with Beau Sr., who was stuck in traffic. He had no backups, the pro shop was closed so he couldn't buy new ones, and Anthony Kim was waiting on the tee.

"He isn't bothered by that at all," Schellenberg reported. "He's just going to play in his Vans sneakers. He says he'll be fine. Nothing bothers him. He's 16 years old."

Sure, it's only practice. But it's also the U.S. Open. Has anybody ever played a practice round in Vans?

Beau Hossler's golf shoes arrived in time for him to wear them for the fourth hole. On the third hole, a 466-yard par four, Hossler's drive was down the middle, about 290.

Ten yards back was Anthony Kim.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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