Golf / Sports

Open spot is wild ride for qualifier

PINEHURST, N.C. -- No matter how you do in a pickup game at your old high school, the NFL will not let you play in the Super Bowl.

No matter how many points you score in a pickup basketball game at the local Y, the NBA will not allow you on the same court as LeBron James during the playoffs.

This is why the U.S. Open is unique. A couple of Sundays ago, Clayton Rask car-pooled with his fiancee and Josh Persons, another former Minnesota Gopher. They finished a PGA Canada event in Vancouver, and drove through the night to a U.S. Open qualifying site in Oregon.

Only two of the dozens of players gathered would qualify for the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. Rask shot a 69 and a 72 and became the second of those two players.

"We drove seven hours, got about seven hours of sleep, and played the golf course blind,'' Rask said. "It was fun. Played good the first round and found out I was one out of the lead. I kind of had an up-and-down second round -- two double bogeys, an eagle and three birdies, and I found out I needed one birdie with three holes to go.

"Birded the seventh, birdied the eighth, parred the ninth, and here we are. It was the first time I had dealt with that kind of excitement, nerves, adrenaline, whatever you want to call it. It was pretty cool to have all of that going on.''

"Here,'' is Pinehurst No. 2. Rask, who attended Elk River (Minn.) High, played a practice round with fellow former Gopher Donald Constable. Rask ducked under the ropes after 13 holes to practice, while Rask played all 18.

It's been a pretty good week for former Gophers. Persons on Sunday won the Bayview Place Island Savings Open on Sunday in Victoria, British Columbia.

Rask, like Constable, has moved back to Minnesota. He lives in Plymouth and plays out of Riverwood National. Constable plays out of Spring Hill.

Rask had a few scholarship offers coming out of high school. Renowned coach Brad James, now the director of high performance at Golf Australia, still was running the Gophers golf team.

"Brad James made it easy for me to choose,'' Rask said. "He said I'd play against the best in the world, week in and week out, and play the best events. So I said, 'Sure. Sounds good, and I get to be close to home."

Reached via e-mail on Tuesday, James said, "One of my favorite memories of Clayton Rask was on his first trip with the U of M team. Clayton woke up early and cooked eggs for breakfast for the entire team. I thought Clayton showed great leadership qualities back then?...

"I can only imagine the entire Rask family driving down to watch him play, as they did for every college tournament.

"I am sure a week competing on the world's stage will inspire them to work even harder so this is not just a one-off experience.''

James began one e-mail with "G'Day.''

He ended another with, "Go Gophers!''

(c)2014 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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