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LENNY IGNELZI, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Jake Knapp (Estancia High) recently qualified for a spot in the U.S. Open for the first time in four tries.

Three's company for former O.C. stars at U.S. Open

STAFF WRITER

NEWPORT BEACH – Beau Hossler was standing in front of a group of reporters near the practice green at Big Canyon Country Club when Brian Campbell came up from behind and gave him a hearty congratulatory pat on the back.

Hossler turned toward his buddy and shook his hand, complimenting him on his success that afternoon, too. This was happening while Jake Knapp was getting ready to walk under the spotlight of a Fox Sports camera about 10 feet away.

They were the men of the hour on this June evening, having just survived 36 holes of sectional qualifying to earn spots in the U.S. Open, which begins Thursday at Chambers Bay Golf Course in University Place, Wash.

It was a different scene when they walked off the 18th green at Skylinks Golf Course in Long Beach four years ago. Only parents and coaches were waiting for them that day when the stakes were a CIF-SS individual regional title.

Campbell was a senior at Mater Dei High when he earned bragging rights among this golfing ratpack in 2012. He placed third, shooting a 2-under-par 70, while Knapp, an Estancia junior at the time, shot a 74 and tied for 12th, while Hossler, a sophomore at Santa Margarita, tied for 38th with a 78.

It was the last time the three Register All-County first-team players teed off in the same high school tournament. From the wind-swept fairways at La Purisima in Lompoc to the sun-baked greens at Tijeras Creek in Rancho Santa Margarita, they pushed each other while competing for CIF championships.

With each round their talent grew until they became some of the top junior golfers in the nation, each landing a Division I scholarship.

Something else happened out on the golf course. A friendship blossomed with ties so strong it survived their being spread across the nation. Knapp is at UCLA, Hossler attends Texas and Campbell just graduated from Illinois.

Qualifying for the U.S. Open is special for any golfer, amateur or pro. But Campbell said he will always cherish being able to share the moment at Big Canyon Country Club with two of his good friends.

“That is just awesome that we all three made it through. It will be cool to share it with them,” he said. “It shows how competitive we are because we all play against each other.”

It’s proof, too, of the level of talent in Southern California, Hossler said.

“You see so many guys on tour being successful from between Los Angeles and San Diego, and it’s nice to see success moving forward into the younger generation,” he said. “I am very proud to be a part of it. It is awesome to have two of my really, really good friends who I have grown up with going (to the U.S. Open). I am sure we will get a practice round in one day.”

Though he is the youngest, Hossler was the star among the trio. He qualified for the U.S. Amateur championship as a 14-year-old. He set a tournament record with a 9-under-par 207 while winning the prestigious Champions Invitational high school event in Indio. During his junior season at Santa Margarita, he carded 12 rounds in the 60s.

This will be Hossler’s third U.S. Open and he’s only 20 years old. The last time Hossler teed off in the U.S. Open, he created quite a buzz at The Olympic Club in 2012. Through his first 11 holes he was 2-under-par and moved past Tiger Woods to briefly take the lead. He finished tied for 29th. That performance earned him a sponsor’s exemption into the PGA Tour’s AT&T National at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., where Hossler made his U.S. Open debut in 2011.

“I am looking forward to having some experience and knowing what I am getting into,” he said. “I am feeling really good. I am comfortable.”

Campbell is a U.S. Open veteran like Hossler as this will be his second consecutive appearance in the tournament, so this time around he said he has more confidence “that I can go low in the first round.”

Knapp is a rookie, earning his first trip to the U.S. Open in four qualifying tries. After signing his scorecard for his sectional qualifier at Big Canyon last week, Knapp found his father, Bob, and they shared a tear-filled hug.

“It is very exciting. I’d see all of my buddies (Hossler and Campbell) make it and I was always wondering when it was going to be my turn,” Knapp said.

It looked like he was going to make it three years ago when he fired a 10-under 61 at Newport Beach Country Club, the lowest score in the nation in local qualifying. He won medalist honors by six strokes. But he struggled in the Bay Area sectional at Lake Merced Golf Club and TPC Harding Park and failed to advance to the Open.

Knapp made easy work of Newport Beach CC once again, shooting 7-under 64 to become the first-round leader in last week’s sectional with Hossler trailing by one shot. After playing 18 at Big Canyon, Knapp and Hossler tied for seventh at 7-under 136. Campbell finished his qualifying at Newport Beach CC and placed fifth with a 6-under 137. Six players from the sectional advanced to the U.S. Open.

“This is what you work for your entire life,” Knapp said. “I got a little hyped up (in qualifying), but I have been in positions like this so I know how to handle it.”

Contact the writer: ddottore@ocregister.com


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