Saturday night, June 4, Michael Tobiason Jr. drove from Wilmington, Del., down to Maryland for sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open. Having to make the top 10 out of more than 100 competitors, the teaching instructor with no history of success at this level wasn’t expected to make it.
At the time, nobody knew his name or his story. But after qualifying June 6 at Woodmont Country Club and having his emotional tale of losing his father to bile duct cancer and paying tribute to him, Tobiason has become something of a star at Congressional this week.
His best friend and manager, Kyle McMahon, put it best.
“In one week, he’s gone from someone nobody knows to a guy everyone wants to know,” he said.
Tobiason’s father — an avid golfer and his inspiration to start playing and keep playing — died last July of cholangiocarcinoma. But Tobiason got thrown into the spotlight in the past couple weeks largely out of happenstance. No one had chronicled his story until a story in The Washington Times two days after the teaching pro from Applecross Country Club at Rock Manor in Wilmington shot a 6-under 135 and got into the field for the U.S. Open.
Then, a funny thing happened: A producer from the Golf Channel did a Google search for guys who qualified and was so fascinated by Tobiason’s story that he called to see if he’d be interested in being the subject of a documentary this week.
“I was very, very surprised,” Tobiason said Tuesday. “I’m just your average guy — nothing special. But everybody’s got their own story, so they felt that I had a good story, which is really cool.”
Golf Channel cameras have been following him since Sunday in Wilmington. The network put tons of cameras in and around his car for the trip down and has been documenting his days preparing for the toughest tournament of his life.
“It’s been such an awesome experience, man,” Tobiason said. “Every day’s like I can’t wait to get out of bed.”
But Tobiason — still trying to honor his late father by performing well this week — hasn’t strayed from golf preparation. McMahon has taken over press duties, setting up radio appearances and courting sponsorships while letting his friend of 11 years focus on the course.
“He said, ‘I want to do both — you take care of it,’ ” McMahon said. “I’m exhausted; I can’t imagine what he’s going through.”
Exhausted and happy, though, because Tobiason’s story is being told: The show is set to air Sunday, with the exact time to be determined by how he does at the Open.
And while the great majority of fans at Congressional this week don’t know who Tobiason is, he and McMahon have noticed more attention and autograph seekers — including some who did know his name. And Tobiason hasn’t missed a chance to sign or greet his public; he’s just enjoying the ride.
Still, McMahon said: “He’s never gonna be big-headed. That’s just not the type of person he is.”
The chances of Tobiason being in one of the final groups Sunday are slim, given the level of competition he’s facing (he played his college golf at Division II Goldey-Beacom College), but that doesn’t mean the 27-year-old isn’t working tirelessly to get there. On Tuesday he worked out on the range, practiced hitting shots out of a bunker and polished his putting well into the evening.
Cameras are there, but Tobiason is getting used to that.
“There’s a lot of distractions, but that’s part of this tournament,” he said. “It kinda adds more variables to it, which is just that much more exciting, and that much more special. You gotta learn how to adapt to those types of things.”
So far, the smile hasn’t left Tobiason’s face either — except for when he’s focused on his game. And no matter what he shoots when the tournament starts, don’t expect his demeanor to change. His mother, Joan, arrives Wednesday to watch her son perform — and Tobiason anticipates giving her and the rest of the fans a chance to see him on the leaderboard.
“I feel as though there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be there,” he said. “Once again, I’m gonna keep doing what I’m doing, not get ahead of myself and keep my cool.”
With the cameras on him, that challenge has never been greater.
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