The last time I talked with PGA professional Andy Pope, he had just secured one of five spots (via a playoff) in the US Open Sectional Qualifier in a local qualifier at our home course in Orlando. He was hanging out with his young son in the club house at Orange Tree Golf Club like it was any other day. The reality was that Andy had just shot 70, one stroke behind medalist Robert Gamez, and was moving on to Sectional Qualifying. There were 111 sites across the U.S. where any male golfer with a handicap index of 1.4 or better could dream of making it into the prestigious field of 156 players at Chambers Bay. Andy, who plays on the Web.com tour, was now one step closer to that accomplishment.
I followed Andy’s journey through Sectionals on the internet letting out a private “yes” when I saw he’d successfully made the Open field. I then watched the standings during the U.S. Open to see how he was fairing. Andy made the cut and played great on the weekend including a highlight reel-worthy birdie putt on Sunday. A few weeks later, the congratulations banner was taken down at Orange Tree. Now it was time to catch up up with Andy once again and find out what it was like to play for our national championship.
Plugged In Golf: First off, Andy, thanks for taking time for this interview, and congratulations on making it to Chambers Bay and playing four rounds at the 2015 U.S. Open. You chose to play the local qualifier at your home course. Did that provide some comfort? Or did that bring more expectations?
Andy Pope: Playing at Orange Tree provides me with a lot of comfort. It is a course that requires you to hit it straight off the tee and be precise with your irons. I always look for courses where it takes a complete game and not just a wide open pasture.
PIG: This was your 6th straight year of making it to Sectionals. Did it seem like you would never break through to the U.S. Open?
AP: I wouldn’t say that it seemed like I would never make it, you have to play well in the Sectionals and unfortunately over the past few years I just didn’t show up with the game required.
PIG: And why did you pick The Bears Club in Jupiter Florida for Sectionals?
AP: I picked the Bears club for two reasons. I wanted to go to a place where the course was difficult and the greens were fast. Secondly I wanted to go far away from any PGA or Web.com events because it would mean I would be one of the guys playing at a higher level than most of my competition.
PIG: Did you know who else had signed up for each of the ten U.S. Sectional sites before choosing? Because when I saw names like Luke Donald and Chris DiMarco headed for Jupiter it made me nervous for you.
AP: You have an idea of who is gonna go to each place; the big names go to Columbus and Memphis while everyone else goes towards their home courses or towns.
PIG: So Sectionals are 36 holes in one day. You had the low round of the afternoon shooting 67, tied for medalist with Luke Donald and Jack Maguire, to gain a coveted spot in the U.S. Open. That must have felt amazing?
AP: After I two putted the last hole from 80 feet I knew it was good enough. I hadn’t seen the scores but I played well and with the conditions of the course I was confident that I had made it. It was a huge feeling of satisfaction, relief, and pure enjoyment.
PIG: Ok, now you’re in the field, but there’s some time before heading west to Washington. Did your daily routine change during that waiting period?
AP: Nothing changed for me. I went to Cleveland right away to play the Web.com event. Shot 68-75 and missed the cut. The only thing that changed was all the scheduling that comes with it. Hotels are expensive, family coming, and etc.
PIG: You’ve played in lots of tournaments. I’m assuming none bigger than The U.S, Open. Can you describe what it’s like arriving as a player? When did you get the Lexus courtesy car?
AP: When we landed at the airport [Sunday night] there was a young lady waiting for us. She showed us to our Lexus courtesy car and it was all smiles after that. The first time we arrived on the property of Chambers Bay and drove down the hill, everyone in the car (my wife and caddy Joe Hymel) were overwhelmed by the amount of people and tents. It was the first time it sank in that we were in the Open.
PIG: Does the USGA put you up in a nice hotel?
AP: The host hotel was nice from what I heard but when traveling with my family, renting a house provides a lot more space. We found a nice house close to the course and camped there for the week.
PIG: So, no free rooms. I always thought that was a perk. Did they at least feed you well?
AP: The food was good; they provided breakfast, lunch and apps in the afternoon. It was catered so it wasn’t anything fancy.
PIG: With Chambers Bay being purposely built to host a major, was the locker room nice?
AP: Unfortunately the amenities at Chambers Bay were not that great. The clubhouse is so small that it wasn’t even used. We were set up in a 40,000 square foot tent. That’s how everything was. No clubhouse or locker rooms.
PIG: Does someone stock your locker with fresh boxes of balls and gloves?
AP: I am on full staff with Titleist. So inside I found 4 dozen ProV1’s, a half dozen gloves, and hats. That is common for every event whether it is Web.com or PGA tour. After that we have access to the clubs and putters, but I didn’t want to change anything because I was playing great with the equipment I had already.
PIG: The behind the scenes activities fascinate me. But back to golf; you pulled off an eagle in the second round on the short par 4, 12th. Tell us about that sequence:
AP: I hit my drive up the right and it kicked hard left. It rolled onto the green 15 feet short of the hole straight up the hill. I had gotten off to a bad start so I knew if I made the putt it could change everyone. I hit an aggressive putt and it poured right in the middle. Made birdie on the difficult 13th next and kept it going most of the day.
PIG: You completed round two at +5 and were hovering on the wrong side of the projected cut line. Nick Hardy, an amateur who plays for Illinois, bogeyed his last hole late in the day Friday allowing 15 players, including you, to make the cut. Take us through the time from when you finished to when you were certain you had made it to the weekend.
AP: Sitting around on a Friday hovering around the cut line is something many people don’t know about. For me it doesn’t bother me too much since it can happen a lot. But with friends and family there we were refreshing every 10 minutes. Once it came down to the last guy it was nerve racking. While you never want to root against anyone it was a huge sense of enjoyment when Nick made bogey on his last hole.
PIG: Flashback; Andy Pope, 2002 Illinois Junior Player of the Year. Do you feel some redemption for Illinois not giving you a golf scholarship with Nick getting you to the weekend?
AP: No, coach Small and I didn’t really get along great during the recruiting process. I have a lot of friends who played for Illinois so I don’t have any regrets not getting a scholarship to play there. Actually while at Xavier I think we beat them more than they beat us. That was the redemption.
PIG: Making it to the weekend put you in a pretty elite field. It means you beat out the likes of Tiger, G’Mac, Bubba, Ricky and the list goes on. That is hard to get my mind around. How about yours?
AP: Beating some of the top players in the world just motivated me to more to get to the PGA tour full time. My game has progressed each year and I felt very comfortable playing in the Open and in Sea Island this year.
PIG: I’ve talked to several occasional watchers of golf on tv and they all stated how they were glued to their televisions during the U.S. Open. They were fascinated by the course with its brownness, hills, and strange looking greens. What was your impression of Chambers Bay?
AP: The course was great. The layout was awesome. I had never played a course like that so it was fun each time we teed it up. While having fescue throughout the entire course seems like a great idea I think they should change to Poa annua greens. The greens weren’t the best and were very inconsistent.
PIG: Did you get some good swag from the tournament?
AP: We got some neat stuff from the locals. Glass blown pieces with Chambers Bay on them. Titleist gave me a circle T headcover with the U.S. Open on it. That was probably the best thing.
PIG: How about some fresh gear from your sponsors? They must want you looking good on tv.
AP: Of course my clothing guys were excited. I wear QED Style and they hooked me up. I can’t thank them enough for the last three years. They have awesome products, especially their shirts. If you have a minute you should check out their website qedstyle.com.
PIG: I will definitely do that. And unless you have any more juicy inside the ropes tidbits to toss us, I’ll let you get back to the daily grind. Again congratulations on your U.S. Open success and best of luck the rest of the year.
AP: Thanks Matt. It really was a great experience. One thing most people don’t know about is that for practice rounds you have to sign up. So you can play with anyone you want to. I tried to play with Jordan but he bailed last minute because he played earlier in the day. To have Joe Hymel on my bag was so awesome. He is a great guy and player. And to spend Father’s Day playing in the U.S. Open and get to play with my son Tommy afterwards, I couldn’t have asked for anything else. I have to thank my wife Jackie for all her support along with my family.