NORMAL, Ill. — A comment made by his playing partner, who happens to be a future college teammate, resonated with Quincy golfer Alex McCulla.
Parker Wisdom told McCulla he preferred not to do any scoreboard watching during a round.
“He said then you put a number in your head instead of just playing how you’ve been playing all day,” McCulla said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s a real good point.’”
So on the final nine holes of Wednesday’s 36-hole U.S. Amateur qualifier at Illinois State University’s Weibring Golf Club, McCulla didn’t take a peek to see where he stood. Instead, he felt like he had a score good enough to possibly advance and didn’t want to risk any danger.
That led to playing with a steady hand and not trying any “hero shots.” It worked well.
McCulla, a 2021 graduate of Quincy Notre Dame who will be playing at Illinois State University this fall, ended his round with seven consecutive pars, posting a 3-under 68 in the second round and a 5-under 137 total.
It secured a second-place finish and one of two spots in the 121st U.S. Amateur being awarded from this 84-golfer field with participants from nine states.
Jake Hennessy, of San Antonio, Texas, was the medalist with a 6-under 136 despite playing his final six holes in 2-over. He joins McCulla in the U.S. Amateur field.
“Besides the U.S. Open, I don’t think there’s any tournament in the world that’d be a bigger deal for me personally where I’m at to qualify for than this,” McCulla said.
McCulla will tee it up at Oakmont Country Club and Longue Vue Club, which are both 20 minutes outside of Pittsburgh, beginning August 9. The top 64 golfers from a field of 312 after two stroke-play rounds advance to match play.
Oakmont is dripping in golf history, having been the site of five U.S. Amateurs and nine U.S. Opens. Legendary golfers such as Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Ben Hogan and Tommy Armour have won Open titles at Oakmont.
“Yeah, this is a big deal,” McCulla admitted.
He had to earn it, especially after some hiccups down the stretch in the first round.
His birdies at Nos. 15 and 16 were offset by three bogeys, resulting in a 1-over 36 on the back nine and a 2-under 69 for the round. It left him two strokes off the pace and tied for fourth overall.
McCulla started the second round on the back nine and changed the tone entirely with a birdie on the par-4 10th. He again birdied Nos. 15 and 16, but eliminated one bogey with a par on the 14th hole and added a birdie on the par-4 18th.
His 2-under 33 on the back was a three-stroke improvement.
He added a birdie on the par-5 second hole, which put him two shots ahead of the field, and he avoided trouble down the stretch by understanding pars were good enough as he rolled in seven straight par putts to finish a 1-under 35 final nine.
“I played middle-of-the-green golf coming in,” McCulla said.
He was able to do so because of the trust in his putter. He made 12 birdies and missed only two putts inside of 10 feet.
“I kind of putted the lights out, honestly,” McCulla said. “I made a lot of mid-range putts that were pretty big. I was pretty solid from 15 feet in.”