Last summer, Michael Tobiason Sr. walked off the golf course, his skin yellow, and soon after he died of cholangiocarcinoma — bile duct cancer. On Monday, Michael Tobiason Jr. walked off the golf course having earned a spot in next week's U.S. Open.
After about an hour of waiting for it to become official, Tobiason hugged his mother, Joan, as both exhaled knowing the significance of this day.
"It's sort of bittersweet. It's a good tribute to his dad that he finally did it," Joan said. "He didn't do it while he was here, but he's still watching."
For the 27-year-old Tobiason, it was the reward for 21 years of playing golf. Now he's a teaching professional at Applecross Country Club at Rock Manor in his hometown of Wilmington, Del.
Of course, it was Tobiason's father who got him involved in golf and kept supporting him and urging him to improve while playing competitively.
"If it wasn't for golf, we hardly would've spent any time together," Tobiason said. "He loved the game, and he loved to come out and caddy for me when he could and our bond got a lot stronger because of golf. That was really cool."
Tobiason shot a 6-under 135 Monday at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville to make the U.S. Open field, one of 10 to get in among 112 who gave it a shot at this sectional qualifying session. His family drove from Delaware on Monday to see it - even if they didn't want to think too far ahead about actually getting into the major championship.
After all, Tobiason came from Division II Goldey-Beacom College in Wilmington — hardly a place that churns out U.S. Open golfers - and plays on mini tours when his country club closes during the winter.
But he has eight victories and more than a dozen top-10 finishes on those tours, so Tobiason was hoping for the right mix in his 36 qualifying holes. He got it.
"Finally, the mental part of the game has come around," Tobiason said. "That's what separates all of us is the mental aspect, and that's starting to turn around for me."
Going up against the likes of Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Luke Donald and others at the top of the world rankings, Tobiason doesn't mind the challenge that awaits at Congressional.
"I'm looking forward to it," he said. "When you've been playing this game for so long, you want to play against the best."
But unlike those veterans, Tobiason and his mother didn't know much about tickets and accommodations and other logistics. Naturally, he had to find another instructor to cover his junior classes so he could keep working on his game in preparation for facing the best the sport has to offer.
What's not a concern is motivation - drawn from the loss of his father July 8, 2010. Tobiason held back tears talking about his dad after qualifying for the Open.
"It's not easy. There's parts that you wish you could hold him and see him," he said. "I'm lucky for the time we had together; I appreciate the time we did have together, and I know it's just a part of life."
Life for Tobiason now is getting ready for Congressional and the biggest tournament of his career.
"This has been the dream of his father," Joan said. "And to have him play on Father's Day is so appropriate because my husband was a big golfer, too, and he toured with Michael all the time."
The loss of Joan's father in November will make it "a tough one" on Father's Day. Tobiason will have to make the cut in the toughest field he's ever been a part of to even get to Sunday. Again the odds are long.
"I know my dad is here with me," he said. "That's the coolest part is you know he's not here physically, but there's still part of him inside me. I take him everywhere I go."
Next stop, the U.S. Open.
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