Joe Neuheisel played his first round of the US Open in Torrey Pines.
Only his was three days ahead of everyone else.
Neuheisel, son of former UCLA coach and quarterback Rick Neuheisel, was a substitute for the tournament after nearly reaching the field in Rolling Hills qualifying. He played a practice round on the south court on Monday – one he treated like the original – and was on hand for the first round on Thursday in case the players should withdraw.
“I came here just before the first tee just in case someone pinches an ankle,” said Neuheisel, 24, who played collegially at Boise State. “But my brother and I just sat there in the grill and waited. It feels like the NFL draft, like Aaron Rodgers waiting in the Green Room.
“I keep checking my cell phone like someone is calling me, but we’ll see.”
It wasn’t just brothers Joe and Jack waiting with crossed fingers. Parents Rick and Susan did the same.
“We were three touchdowns behind in Washington State with six minutes to go and we came back and won in triple overtime,” said Susan, referring to an epic comeback her husband orchestrated as a coach at the University of Washington. “So we don’t give up until they whistle.”
Regardless of the outcome, the family had already had some sweet memories. That includes son and father – players and caddy – arriving at Torrey Pines on Tuesday afternoon and improvising when the starter told them they were late for a training round.
“My dad and I just went to # 2 and started playing,” said Joe. “By ourselves. With Torrey. During the US Open. “
Rick said, “I said, ‘We’re not sure we’re going to play so let’s just keep the score today like it’s our opening round.’ We were the only guys on the golf course for the last five holes. Everyone else had rested and we’re alone on the US Open. It was so cool. “
That was just the beginning of the Zwickel moments for the younger Neuheisel, whose red-cheeked, boyish appearance resembles that of his father.
Joe shagged Birdy on the picturesque par-three hole over the Pacific and landed his tee shot within two feet of the cup.
Rick and Joe Neuheisel overlook the driving range at Torrey Pines on June 17, 2021.
(Sam Farmer / Los Angeles Time)
Then, as the sun set on par-five 18, he crushed his drive and was in position to hit the green in two. A fellow golf colleague practicing his chips waved him up, and Neuheisel responded by tying a three-iron that left him a 35-foot putt for the eagle.
It wasn’t until he jumped up the fairway and approached the green that Neuheisel realized that the player waiting for him on the green was Matt Kuchar, a nine-time PGA Tour winner.
“Will you be dialed in?” Kuchar asked him.
“I’m an alternative,” said Neuheisel.
This brief exchange will be remembered by the budding professional.
“It was cool to be approached by such a famous guy at the tournament,” said Neuheisel.
It would get better. Neuheisel hit practice balls in addition to the great championship titles Francesco Molinari, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose and Collin Morikawa. When players are on the range, they have a sandwich board behind them with their last name on it.
While Joe was training with Rick standing behind him, Jack filmed a video of them from the stands.
“I get a call and it’s Jack,” said Rick. “He said, ‘Take two steps to the left.’ Because I was in the wrong place and covered “Neuheisel” on the board. “
Jerry Neuheisel, the eldest of the three sons, was monitoring the situation from Los Angeles. He’s now the wide receivers coach at UCLA, and Rick said if Joe got the call, Chip Kelly plans to bring the entire Bruins coaching staff to San Diego on Friday to watch the second round.
That call never came. Two substitutes got on, but Neuheisel wasn’t one of them.
He had been pretty close to making the field straight. He failed to drop into a playoff on the 36th hole of qualifying day and then watched the other two competitors play his birdie with putts of 50 and 25 feet. He was eliminated on the second playoff hole.
“The minute I missed the par putt on the 36th hole, I thought, ‘Well, I definitely have the game to be here,’” he said. “So I just can’t screw it up the next time I get a chance.”
VIDEO | 01:28
Rick and Joe Neuheisel talk about playing at the US Open
Joe Neuheisel narrowly missed the cut for this year’s US Open, but he and father Rick talk about the experience and hunger for wanting more.