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Hossler’s rare feat almost overshadowed at US Open

- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 13, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - At 17, Beau Hossler is almost old news at the U.S. Open.

That's what happens when a 14-year-old gets in the field at The Olympic Club and all Hossler has done is qualify two straight years as a high school amateur.

Even Hossler's dad said all the media attention on Andy Zhang this week was warranted.

"I understand the crowds around a 14-year-old getting in. That is incredible," Beau Hossler Sr. said Wednesday. "He deserves that attention."

While Zhang will be battling the nerves of a first-time competitor, Hossler is feeling right at home.

He and fellow amateur Alberto Sanchez took money off Phil Mickelson and Mark McCormick on Tuesday in a little old-vs.-young match-play competition.

And Wednesday, Hossler was playing a relaxed practice round with Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk and Zach Johnson _ who have a combined 41 previous U.S. Opens under their belts.

"It's pretty cool," said Hossler, who birdied two of his final three holes at the nearby Daly City sectional to qualify this year. "I feel like I'm a little more experienced this year. I feel comfortable out here."

That has changed his goals _ even if he shares the same braces-filled smile as Zhang.

"I want to be low amateur, and play the entire tournament," Hossler said about making the cut, which he failed to do last year in shooting rounds of 76-77 at Congressional.

That would mean faring better than Walker Cup players Patrick Cantlay and Jordan Spieth _ the latter a big reason Hossler committed to play at Texas in 2013.

"I think (Olympic) suits my game better in that it's very difficult off the tee and plays hard and fast," Hossler said.

Of course, just a few years ago getting off the tee was hardly Hossler's strong suit.

"I'm going to say he was 5-3, 130 pounds, and that might be pushing it," his father said about his son competing as a 14-year-old in his first U.S. Amateur. "It was impossible. He had to lay up at seven of the par 4s."

The kid from Rancho Santa Margarita in Orange County finally shot up at age 16, which left him feeling less-than-coordinated at last year's U.S. Open.

Now he's steady at 6 feet and 190 pounds.

Swing coach Jim Flick, best known for working with Jack Nicklaus, estimated that Hossler's game is 10-15 percent stronger this year, and he's more of a complete player.

The kid high school teammates dubbed "laser" because of his pinpoint accuracy just doesn't always show it in practice.

Flick likened Hossler to NFL player Tim Tebow.

"Tebow seemed to practice poorly and play well when it really counted," Flick said. "Beau seems to enjoy the challenge, and mentally seems to go through a transformation when it comes time to play."

Flick, who spent two days earlier this week working with Hossler at Olympic, said being a late-bloomer and a short-hitter only helped Hossler hone his short game.

That practice round Tuesday with Mickelson, Hossler's idol, might have been even more important.

"Phil is like his guy and he's been his guy since Beau was 5 or 6 years old," his father said. "He was engaging and needling the boys and couldn't have been any better. Considering he's one of the favorites to win this thing, for him to take the time to do that was something Beau will never forget. You could see when he walked off and Phil gave him a pat on the butt, he was like, `Hey, this is neat.'

"I'm sure it helps his confidence a lot."

It also will help having more than two dozen friends cheering him on from outside the ropes.

Jeff Higashi, a family friend for years, wasn't surprised Hossler survived local and sectional qualifying again to get into another U.S. Open.

"He's mentally so superior," said Higashi, who remembers seeing Hossler reading golf magazines when he was 10. "He's not caught up in it all. He's not just here to play. He wants to succeed."

Considering how hectic his life has been _ he recently finished taking finals in Latin and other advanced placement courses to complete his junior year _ Hossler was cool and collected on Olympic. Off No. 1 on Wednesday, he hit a perfect drive, sitting side by side with Furyk and Johnson in the fairway, then followed with a pin-high approach and two-putted for an easy par.

"He is a special player who we're going to be reading a lot about in the next three years," said Chuck Morales, Hossler's high school coach.

Hossler is planning to make it three U.S. Opens in a row next year.

But the University of Texas also awaits after he finishes his senior season early. Then, hopefully, a long pro career.

"I know I can compete," Hossler said. "I've just got to believe in myself and keep working. It's not going to happen overnight."

But it makes this experience that much more valuable.

As for being overshadowed by a 14-year-old, practice partner Furyk found it difficult to rate which was more impressive.

"They're both impressive feats," Furyk said. "Now if both make the cut, it will be another story line."

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