BALL GROUND — Strong finishes on the back nine made the difference as Stephan Jaeger and Alex Smalley each punched their tickets to the U.S.Open, each shooting 7-under par at the U.S.Open sectional qualifier Monday at Hawks Ridge Golf Club.
Jaeger and Smalley each entered the afternoon round in contention – with Jaeger one stroke back after an opening round 67 and Smalley two back after 68 – and they hung near the lead until each was able to string together three straight birdies on the final nine to qualify.
"I had three wedges – one from 90 yards and two from 115 – and I hit them all inside 6 feet," Jaeger said of his second-round 70. "I managed to make those putts.I started poorly on the second nine.It's an awkward course.You can get in some spots where you're scrambling a little bit.I'm glad I rallied back at the end."
After playing bogey-free golf through his morning round, Jaeger, who won the rain-shortened BMW Charity Pro-Am on the Web.com tour last month, bogeyed two of his first four holes in the afternoon but played 4-under the rest of the way.
"I knew I was playing well," said Jaeger, the German-born player who now lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee. "If you know you're playing good, you can just kind of calm yourself.I had a good drive and 3-wood on the par-5 to get one stroke back there.I knew, if I kept hitting some good shots, I would make some putts eventually."
Smalley was 1-under through the front nine of his afternoon round before bogeying the par-4 10th.
It sparked a run, though, as the Duke sophomore from Wake Forest, North Carolina, birdied Nos. 11, 12 and 13 to pull even with Jaeger.
"I didn't know for sure until all the scores came in," Smalley said of his afternoon round of 69. "I asked my dad on the 16th tee box where I was.I had been in situations before not knowing where I stood, and I choked a little on the way in.He told me I was tied for the lead.I wanted to make another birdie to win to secure it, but I made pars coming in."
Smalley parred his last five holes of the tournament, while Jaeger parred his final three.
Both players said they wanted another birdie, but avoiding bogeys proved important, as Dru Love, a member of the Alabama golf team and son of PGA Tour player Davis Love III and J.T.Griffin, a former member of the Georgia Tech golf team, each finished a stroke back.Love, will be the first alternate and Griffin the second for the U.S.Open June 12-18 at Wisconsin's Erin Hills Country Club.
Jimmy Stanger of Tampa, Florida and Nicholas Reach of Scranton, Pennsylvania finished tied for fifth at 5-under and Benjamin Shipp of Duluth and Michael Nagy of Knoxville, Tennessee each finished at 4-under.
It will be the second U.S.Open for Jaeger, who missed the cut at the 2015 tournament after shooting 74 and 80.
"I hope I play a little bit better this year," said the German-born Jaeger. "I think I'm a better player than I was a few years ago."
For Smalley, it will be the first experience in a major.
He said he hopes his collegiate and junior tournament experience will help prepare him, but actually playing in the U.S.Open is a dream come true.
"I had a six-footer on the last hole to save par," he said. "I was thinking how many six-footers I've had on the practice green saying it was to win the Open.It was pretty similar, so it was a good feeling to make that to get in by one.It'll be a really cool experience coming up to Erin Hills."
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