WASHINGTON D.C. - The initial goal was simply to follow recent Rice graduate Michael Whitehead in his second round at the U.S. Open near Washington D.C. and, on the off-chance he made the cut, his subsequent rounds on Saturday and Sunday (June 18-19). Michael just missed making the cut, but it turned-out there was still time to improvise another Rice-related sports outing at the nation's capitol that weekend.
In fact it was almost on the steps of the Capitol Building itself.
First, give Michael his due. This was not a summer outing at the local par-three pitch & putt, nor some video game where you can adjust the speed of the greens and the amount of wind with which to contend.
The United States Open has been around 111 years and as the country's national championship it is one of the toughest and most-prestigious golf events on the sports calendar. The tournament features the very best players from all over the world, and it is older than the invention of paper clips and cotton candy. The 20th century was still years away when the U.S. Open was held for the first time. There are many vey talented professionals who have never had (nor will ever have) a chance to play in the U.S. Open, so it was indeed very special for the Sugar Land, Tex., native who had just turned 23 a few weeks ago - and who had graduated with his Will Rice College classmates a few weeks before that.
Michael shot a six-over 77 on Thursday's opening round, then moved to seven-over after the first five holes on Friday. At the 636-yard par 5 sixth, he aggressively went for the green in two over a water hazard. When his ball landed safely on the green the biggest gallery he had ever played in front of, surrounding him on the fairways and stacked high into bleachers around the putting surface, burst into applause. The crowd collectively sighed as he narrowly missed his putt for eagle, but then cheered his tap-in for birdie to get back to even-par for the day. Michael retrieved his ball and gave the fans a wave, a very sporting gesture to an applauding gallery at the 111th United States Open. He went on to finish the tournament at 10-over par. Ten-over or not, it was a memorable way to make your debut in professional golf.
The goal of following Michael for as long as possible was accomplished, but upon leaving the Open there was a flashing motorist-alert sign that advised certain roads would be closed on Sunday due to the Washington D.C. Triathalon.
The Washington D.C. Triathalon? Former Rice swimmer Natalie Kirchhoff (Baker, '09) competes in triathalons these days and is regarded as an up-and-comer in the sport? Maybe she's in this one because it's not terribly far away from where she now lives on the east coast. It's a good reason to text her and see how she's been doing.
Only a short time later Natalie responds back she is indeed entered in a race consisting of a 1.5-k swim in the Potomac River, a 40-k bike and 10-k run near the city's various historical landmarks to finish it out. There was a small group of professional triathletes starting a different level race at 9 am, but she wasn't competing in that meet. Natalie's race began at 6 am Sunday morning and she stated that she expected to cross the finish line around 8:20 am - or better. Michael's U.S. Open was completed, but now making it out to the finish line for Natalie's triathalon was a neat new option that would show some support for another former Rice student-athlete.
There were close to 1,000 entrants in the women's race and more than 2,000 in the men's. At around 7:50 am, some of the men's triathaletes began to make their way down the meandering route near the U.S. Capitol building toward the finish line on Pennsylvania Avenue. Then a little after 8 am, the first woman runner appeared. She was trailing a couple of the men, but leading a lot of other men and all the other women. The leader of the women's race was Rice grad Natalie Kirchhoff.
Natalie still had a ways to go on the course, which now was a series of loops and zig-zags on an open, central area near the finish-line. Natalie looked strong and fit. She was running with no signs of fatigue nor stress.
There was roughly still less than 1,000-meters left to run in the race, but something suddenly went amiss. Instead of running the last remaining portion around the turns and zig-zags, Natalie somehow now only needed to cover a few more meters up to the finish line. The meet announcer spotted her heading toward the finish and said over the public address, "let's have a hand for our women's winner from Clermont, Florida, Natalie Kirchhoff with a time of two-ten, twenty-five (2:10:25)."
There was a nice round of applause from spectators around the finish area but, again, something was a little off. Natalie had inadvertently made a wrong turn on the very final, zig-zagging portion of the course, and then crossed the finish line before she had a chance to correct it in the race. She went from being in first place and having a chance to win the women's event, to being listed as disqualified. Short of the professional women triathletes who started the later event, Natalie was otherwise the best one there.
The final outcome for both Natalie and Michael was not the ones they had hoped, but it's not quite the end of the road. A closer look at the circumstances surrounding each one was certainly in order. From their respective careers as a student-athletes they would no-doubt be among the first to say that competition has its ups and downs. Dealing with adversity is part of the process, and one of the ways people grow.
Paul Salata presents Cheta Ozougwu the Lowsman Trophy, which is presented each year to the NFL's final draftee at the Irrelevant Week All-Star Lowsman Banquet. (Don Leach photo)
Cheta Ozougwu's week in the Califronia sun came to a close on Wednesday night when he was roasted by a number of NFL veterans during the All-Star Lowsman Banquet at the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa on Wednesday.
Dominique Harmath spoke with OnCourt.ca, a web site that covers Canadian tennis and relfected on her decision to come to Rice and on her experiences in her first year on South Main. Harmath finished her first season of collegiate tennis by posting a 15-8 record while playing primarily at the #2 singles position and a 14-9 mark in doubles this past spring. Thanks to OnCourt.ca for allowing us to reprint her reflections.
My decision between attending a university or playing on the professional circuit was not easy. I took the time to put things into perspective and to set my priorities straight. I contemplated what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and knew that I wanted it to involve tennis.
Even so, I needed a backup plan if playing professionally did not work out or if I simply decided I wanted to do something else with my life. The option of attending a university with a scholarship looked like the perfect plan.
By enrolling in a university, I would be able to play just as much tennis and continue with my intense fitness and strengthening program. On top of that, I would receive an excellent education. With that education, I would have many more opportunities throughout my lifetime. After graduating from a university, I could become a professional tennis player, find a job, or go to graduate school.
With these considerations, I chose Rice University in Houston, Texas, for its academics and top tennis program. I went into my freshman year at Rice believing that I would improve my tennis and grow intellectually. Thankfully, I was wrong; it was much more than that. I was able to experience the thrill of competing on a team in a traditionally individual sport. No feeling can compare to the one when you are playing the deciding match against another college and all of your teammates are cheering at the top of their lungs. You see them jump up and down with encouragement and exhilaration after you win a big point and you use that to win that next point.
The intense energy that your coaches and teammates bring to the match creates a new kind of fight and drive inside of you, and when you win, you no longer win only for yourself, but you battle to win for the entire team. You strive for the moment when all of your teammates are racing towards you ready to embrace you with excitement.
Along with these incredible tennis experiences, I had many more off the tennis court. From parties to sporting events, to the epic annual Rice traditions, I had the time of my life last year. However, I still am intently focused on my tennis and have not given up all of my hopes of going pro. I learned how to manage my time wisely between tennis, studying, and socializing. I worked hard every day with my team and we pushed each other to reach our potentials. Then, after a tough day of training, we would hit the books to maintain one of the highest GPAs in our conference. If by the end of the week we felt we had done our jobs, we would relax for an evening before continuing the cycle.
Going to university is giving me the best of both worlds. Each summer, I will still have the opportunity to play professional tournaments before continuing my studies and the collegiate tennis season in the fall. I do not regret my decision at all. People call it the best four years of your life for a reason, and I simply did not want to miss it.
Rice's Cheta Ozougwu sports his #254 jersey, signifying his status as Mr. Irrelevant XXXVI, as he began a week of activities in Newport Beach, California with a kickoff reception at the Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort and Marina. Turns out the celebrated jersey could not accomodate the size of Ozougu's arms, and Cheta had to cut the sleeves in order to wear it.
Ozougwu kicked off his reign on Monday and will make an appearance today at Disneyland. Festivities wrap up on Wednesday night with a banquet. Then, it's back to lockout limbo, at least for now.
Shortly before 9:12 Thursday morning, Michael Whitehead will be introduced to the U.S. Open gallery. He will sit his ball on the tee, step back and take a deep breath then focus on his first career shot in a professional tournament.
Last week's sectional qualifier in Dallas was actually Whitehead's professional career debut. He birdied three of his final four holes at the 36-hole tournament to force a three-for-two playoff to advance to this week's open. While he lost the playoff, a day later as the first alternate out of the Dallas tournament, he received an invitation to play in this week's event.
So tomorrow morning, right before addressing his ball, he will vision that first career shot and clearing the water which stands between him and the water at the par 3, 218-yard 10th hole.
During a Tuesday afternoon press conference at the U.S. Open, Whitehead was asked to describe any first tee jitters and if they were accentuated by the fact he would be playing his first shot over water.
"I don't think they're accentuated because of the hole," he said. "I think they're accentuated because it's the U.S. Open and I'm about to hit my first shot as a professional in a real tournament. Hopefully I just make solid contact."
Whitehead is back at Congressional Country Club today getting ready for what lies ahead and on Thursday joining 155 of the world's best golfers vying for a title at golf's national championship.
The tournament moves annually to the nation's best golf courses. It just so happens the 2011 U.S. Open is being played at a course Rice alumni are quite familiar. Trevor Randolph (Brown '96) is the defending club champion at Congressional. Jim Duke (Lovett '97) is also a member of Congressional and is volunteering as a marshal at this year's event.
Obviously, both can offer Whitehead local knowledge about the Blue Course at Congressional which is hosting its third U.S. Open. And few people may know the Sugar Land native better than former Rice golf coach Drew Scott (Wiess '98), a collegiate teammate of Duke and Randolph, who this week is serving as caddie for Whitehead.
"I sent my advice to Drew in a text," Randolph said. "I didn't want to send it to Michael because Drew knows Michael. I figured I would let him filter it or not pass it on at all."
Randolph described the picturesque No. 18 as being long and demanding but said there were definitely tough holes other than 18.
"No. 14 is one of the more difficult holes and I think No. 2 is a really tough hole as well," he said. "No. 2 is a par 3 that plays uphill. It can play 250 to 260 yard in the wind depending on where they play the tees from. No. 14 is probably a 480 to 500-yard par 4 downhill, uphill but very narrow. You have a 200-yard plus shot into the green."
Duke last played Congressional just a couple weeks ago in a member/member tournament.
"The greens are really hard," he said. "They will play very fast. They were as hard as I have ever played before. It was like the ball was bouncing on concrete.
"If you get in the wrong spots, like a true Open course, you are looking at a three putt, maybe a four putt.
So what kind of advice would each offer their fellow Rice alum?
"If you look back over the history of Congressional and the majors that have been played there and even going back to when the Kemper Open was played there, the people who have won the tournament have always been high-ball hitters and they have always been very long," Randolph said. "People from Greg Norman to Fred Couples to Tom Weiskopf, every one of them hit the ball very long and very high.
"One advice for Michael is you can't necessarily manufacture long but you can certainly work on hitting high shots. And then, 80 percent of the chips at Congressional are up hill because of the elevation changes and the greens tend to be sort of sitting up."
Duke added, "My advice to Michael would be to keep it in the fairway, aim for the right parts of the green and putt out of your mind."
Pictured top right from earlier this week at the U.S. Open: Drew Scott, Jim Duke, Michael Whitehead and Trevor Randolph
When Jim Duke ('97) stood up at a function for Rice golf lettermen this past March and announced he would be happy to provide accommodations for anyone playing in the U.S. Open which is taking place this week in his hometown of Bethesda, Md., no one probably ventured to guess his phone would ring a week before the championship and the caller would be looking for a place to stay.
Last Monday, playing in a 36-hole Sectional Qualifier in Dallas, Michael Whitehead birdied three of his final four holes to force a playoff with two U.S. Open veterans - professional golfers Harrison Frazar and Greg Chalmers. Of the three, two would advance to golf's national championship, the other would be a tournament alternate.
Whitehead would lose on the first playoff hole. He made peace with being as close as he came and had moved on. Less than 24 hours later, Whitehead would receive a call from a U.S. Open official who told him injuries had forced Tiger Woods to pull out of the tournament and he was still interested in playing in the tournament.
News travels fast. Among Rice golf lettermen, the news of Whitehead making the 156-player field traveled at 4G speed.
"I sent him a text message, 'nice job,' after hearing he got in," Duke said. "He called me and said he would like to take me up on my offer. I knew my mom's neighbor lives by herself, has enough space and we were able to work it out. So he's staying two doors down."
From the Duke's neighborhood, it is a 10-minute walk to Congressional Country Club, which is playing host to the U.S. Open for the third time.
Duke grew up playing Congressional Country Club. He's won on the course. He was a junior club champion and back in the mid-1990s, he teamed up with another Rice Owl, Tim Carlson ('97), and won the Congressional Four Ball Championship.
"Four Ball is a very competitive event," Duke said. "All the players came from top clubs. I think Tim and I shot about a five-under. We really played well. It was a pretty good accomplishment for us way back when."
Just down the road from the Dukes another Rice letterman grew up. Trevor Randolph ('96) was a member of the Owls' 1991 NCAA Tournament team. And today, he too can certainly offer local knowledge about successfully playing Congressional Country Club.
Randolph is the defending Congressional club champion.
It went to the 24th hole of match play last August before Randolph beat Tony Russo, a vice president for Verizon who GolfDigest ranks No. 1 on a recent list of Washington's best and avid golfers.
With the success Owl lettermen have had playing Congressional Country Club, it is little wonder another Rice alum, Matt Williamson ('95) has dubbed the course the Owls' Nest heading into Whitehead's professional debut.
Whitehead is expected to have a healthy gallery this week when he becomes the first Rice golfer to play in the U.S. Open since Brad Lardon ('88) in 2004.
"I have already sent an email out to all the golfers I know at Congressional saying go root for this guy," Duke said. "I think he is going to get a good following. It should be pretty loud when they announce his name on Thursday."
Whitehead will begin play at the U.S. Open with a 9:12 a.m. ET tee time off No. 10 on Thursday. He will tee off from No. 1 for his second round Friday at 2:52 p.m. Whitehead has been paired with a couple other young pro golfers. Will Wilcox originally played collegiately at UAB before transferring to Clayton State. He turned pro in 2009. John Ellis played collegiately at the University of Oregon before turning pro is 2003.
Duke is a volunteer at this week's championship, serving as a marshal on the 18th hole. His responsibilities have him working just through Thursday and he plans on following Whitehead as much as he can.
So will Randolph who had already purchased tickets for the entire week.
"I have traded some texts with Michael so I hope he knows how excited I am for him," Randolph said. "The enthusiasm coming across from all the team alumni has been great. We have been trading emails all week. Everyone is just so excited for him not just because he is a Rice player, but some of us have got to know Michael over the past few years at booster events, and he is such a great kid."
"We are still connected to the team," Duke added about the program's ties to its alumni. "We have awareness about the program and now we have someone to go root for in the national championship. It is a pretty cool feeling."
Check out the 'R' blog tomorrow. On the eve of the U.S., Open Duke and Randolph give assessments about playing Congressional Country Club.
Rice's incoming football freshmen will start summer classes next Monday, but three of them will spend the night before moving into campus housing by playing in the Bayou Bowl at Stallworth Stadium in Baytown. Julius White, Ross Winship and Caleb Williams will suit up for the Texas squad that will meet a team of all-stars from Louisiana. Game time is 7 pm and the game will be broadcast locally by Ch. 13 in Houston.
In advance of the game, here's a quick feature Ch. 13 did on Caleb Williams
Rice University senior track and field athlete Philip Adam competes Wednesday and Thursday at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championship in Des Moines, Iowa. Adam, from Santa Maria, Calif., competes in the decathlon at Drake Stadium on the campus of host institution, Drake University.
Adam will be making his third appearance at the NCAA Outdoor Championship in the decathlon. In 2009, he tallied 7,358 points to finish 14th and in 2010 he scored 7,415 points in placing 10th and earning All-America status. He scored a personal best 7,514 points in winning his third Conference USA decathlon this year.
Adam's 2011 Decathlon Results
6,626 points - Top collegian at Rice's Shirley Crowe Multi-Events
7,327 points - 7th CA Invitational/Mt. SAC Relays
7,514 points - 1st Conference USA Outdoor Championship
This is the third time the NCAA Outdoor Championships will be held in Des Moines (1970, 2008), and the event is scheduled for Drake Stadium again in 2012. The entire NCAA Championships will stream live online at NCAA.com, and feature two separate streams to cover the majority of the action both on the track and with the field events.
On Wednesday, the 24 decathletes will compete in the 100m (noon), long jump, shot put, high jump, and 400m. The final five events on Thursday are the 110m hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, and 1500m.
DepartedRiceUniversity senior golfer Michael Whitehead was the odd man out in a three-golfer playoff for the final two spots to play in the U.S. Open through the 36-hole Sectional Qualifier played on the Blue Course at the Dallas Athletic Club on Monday.
Whitehead birdied three of his final four holes of golf in regulation to get to four-under par for the day (136) and set up a playoff with Harrison Frazar and Greg Chalmers. Both Frazar and Chalmers advanced out of the playoff and will compete at the U.S. Open June 13-19 at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. Also qualifying for the U.S. Open out of the 71-player event held at the Dallas Athletic Club were Michael Smith who fired a seven-under par 133 and 2004 British Open champion Todd Hamilton who shot a 135.
Justin Leonard, who won the 1997 British Open, is the second alternate out of the Dallas Sectional Qualifier.
Whitehead bogeyed his second hole of the Sectional but came right back with a birdie on his next hole. He also had two birdies on the back nine to finish the morning round with a two-under par 68.
Starting the second round from the 10th tee, the SugarLand native came back from a double-bogey on the par 3 No. 16 and a bogey on 18 to shoot four-under on the Blue Course's front nine to advance to the playoff.
The U.S. Open Sectional Qualifier was the first professional tournament for Whitehead who recently completed his career at Rice. He was the 2011 Conference USA Golfer of the Year.
Also Monday at the U.S. Open Sectional Qualifier played in Columbus, Ohio, 2006 Rice graduate Parker La Barge shot a 140 (68-72) to miss the U.S. Open cut by three strokes.
Installation has been completed on the new playing court in Tudor Fieldhouse. The new floor includes subtle graphic changes such as a larger, Old English 'R' at center court, a standardized 20-9 three-point line for men's and women's basketball and a new 3-foot Restricted Area Arc for the men's game.
The NCAA Men's Basketball Rules Committee voted earlier this year to add a no charge zone. Inside the 3-foot arc, a secondary defender will not be able to draw a charge. The rule goes into effect for Division I in the 2011-12 season and for Divisions II and III for the 2012-13 season.
Michael Whitehead, who graduated last month from Rice University following a stellar collegiate career, will make his professional debut on Monday when he takes part in the U.S. Open Sectional set for Dallas.
ABC 13 caught up with the former Owl at Westwood Golf Club.