LA JOLLA, California – Sunday’s US Open is all about crowning a champion. Saturday is our chance to celebrate the qualifiers who made it, these ambassadors for the greatest performance class in sport. There’s 19-year-old Akshay Bhatia, an up-and-coming phenomenon who paced up and down the 36th hole to cut the number and delighted his father as an early Father’s Day present. Or Grayson Sigg, the best player you’ve never heard of who put out 17 top 25 players on the Korn Ferry Tour this season.
And of course we have Richard Bland, the well-traveled 48-year-old who ran two rounds in the ultimate rags-to-riches story. But Bland is a new European Tour winner and a well-known asset. If you had to pick one player to fly the flag for underdog qualification at the 121st United State Open, it has to be Kyle Westmoreland, the Air Force veteran who made the cut on a course on the fighter jets routinely roar over them. With rounds of 71-73-78, Westmoreland won’t take the result into account, but his breakthrough is the kind of story to be celebrated at the National Open.
On Saturday he wore shoes with stars and stripes; a braided red-white-blue belt; white pants, blue hat and a red shirt with screaming eagles. His gallery was two dozen strong, including four tattered, tattooed badasses flying F-35, F-22, and F-16 together. After the round, Westmoreland took a series of group photos like it was his wedding day.
“Oh man, what a great experience that was,” he said. “The support was incredible. To play in my country’s national championship, in a great military city like San Diego, with so many friends and family out here cheering me on … it really is a dream come true. “
Westmoreland, 29, enjoyed a blockbuster junior career growing up in Katy, Texas and was wooed by many top college programs, but he chose the Air Force Academy knowing full well that he was after his Graduating would be five years of service. It was an easy choice. “I love my country and wanted to serve,” he says. “I wanted to challenge myself too.”
The Air Force golf team is Div. 1, plays in the Big West alongside UNLV, San Diego St., New Mexico, and other legitimate programs. Westmoreland won five times in his career, despite having to get up at 6 a.m. each day to march with his peers and all the other demands of military life. How did Westmoreland succeed despite these challenges? “Guy’s a freak,” says college teammate Ryan Kramer, who was a caddy at Torrey Pines for Westmoreland. “His wish is off the charts. It’s laser focused and really does work. ”Westmoreland bench presses upwards of 375 pounds. and squatted over 500. He is a longtime student of kickboxing and muay thai, and taught hand-to-hand combat at the Air Force Academy. His fellow Novas knew there would be consequences if their game or efforts were deemed inferior by their discerning teammate. “Oh yes, he loved throwing us around,” says Kramer. “We always fought”
After graduation, Capt. Westmoreland as a tax clerk while working under the light on his lunch break or hitting balls on a driving range to keep his golf game up to date. Operations required him to be more inventive. On the way to his deployment in Africa, he made a stopover in Roda, Spain, where the local course only rented him one club per day. Most of the greens he put on were smooth as cottage cheese. But Westmoreland stuck to his dream of playing professionally one day. He turned pro in 2019 and earned status in Canada with some strong games at the Mackenzie Tour Q School, but those plans were dashed by Covid. Westmoreland has since followed Minis and Mondays, with the Forme tour currently serving as its home base. (Westmoreland’s wife, Erin, works in the food industry and sells brands to major grocery chains.) He made his big break at Torrey Pines largely by shooting 29 to begin his second round in US Open qualifiers in Dallas. Westmoreland’s game is built to an astonishing length, refined with the help of Alan Terrell, who trained the well-known ball bat Dustin Johnson in Coastal Carolina. His strong start at the US Open was based on a great iron game, but after struggling in the third round, Westmoreland said, “I thought I was a better ball driver than me. I haven’t hit nearly enough fairways. “
So Westmoreland is not going to join the pantheon of US Open champions that includes Lee Trevino (1968), a former Marine, and the Army veteran, nicknamed Sarge, Orville Moody, who won the trophy a year later. But one bad lap is hardly going to stop these die-hard ex-soldier from becoming a constant contender. “I got knocked out today, but I’ll be back,” says Westmoreland. “I’m always ready to show up and give my all. This is what the military is teaching you and that’s what I’ll do. Tomorrow and every other day that follows. “