Hampton grad competes at U.S. Open qualifier, NCAA tournament in golf season to remember

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Saturday, July 3, 2021 | 10:01 AM


Hampton graduate Ben Huber this spring was part of the best golf team in Carnegie Mellon history and struggled to an 80th-place finish at an event in Columbus, Ohio.

He will remember both just as fondly.

Three weeks after helping CMU to a program-best fourth-place finish at the 2021 NCAA Division III championships, Huber competed in a loaded U.S. Open qualifier, sharing the course with a field stacked with PGA Tour players.

“I don’t really think I was star-struck,” Huber said. “I tried to go in with the attitude that I was just going to enjoy it. Obviously, I knew going in that it was going to be very tough to make it (to the U.S. Open). … I just wanted to have fun and soak in the experience, which I think I did a good job of.”

Huber, who graduated from CMU in May, finished 12-over 156 at the 36-hole event at Lakes CC and Brookside CC on June 7, one of nine qualifiers across the nation to fill the U.S. Open field.

The Columbus qualifier was the largest, and the 120-player field included five-time PGA Tour winner Rickie Fowler, three-time major champion Padraig Harrington, former Masters champ Charl Schwartzel and former PGA champions Keegan Bradley and Jason Dufner.

The top 16 qualified for the U.S. Open held June 17-20 at Torrey Pines in San Diego.

“Looking down the list, it was pretty crazy to see some of the players there,” said Huber, a 2017 Hampton graduate. “It was really cool to watch those guys. … We saw Keegan Bradley and Jason Dufner on the putting green. I think Keegan Bradley was two groups in front of us.

“We turned around the next week and were watching the U.S. Open, and the guys that qualified were all playing pretty well. It was really cool to see that.”

Huber was paired with Woody Austin, a longtime PGA Tour player who now competes on The Champions Tour, and Andres Gonzales, who has three top-10 PGA Tour finishes.

“That was extremely cool to get to play with those guys and hear some stories from them all day,” Huber said. “It was awesome. It was a super fun day.”

Huber, whose opening round was interrupted after eight holes by a three-hour thunderstorm delay, shot 76-80.

“There were definitely some nerves,” he said, “just being on that stage for the first time.”

Huber had advanced to Columbus by finishing tied for second with an even-par 70 at a local U.S. Open qualifier at Butler Country Club on May 5. The top four golfers in the 77-man field advanced.

After a four-hour rain delay to start his day, Huber chipped in for birdie on the first hole and went on to put together one of the best rounds of his life.

Only six days later, Huber was playing with his CMU teammates at the NCAA D-III golf championships from June 11-14 at Oglebay in Wheeling, W.Va.

Huber, who placed fifth in the WPIAL and reached states as a senior at Hampton, finished 93rd in the field for the Tartans. Carnegie Mellon had never finished better than 11th in three previous trips to the NCAA championships.

“That was an unreal experience,” said Huber, who averaged 78.8 per 18 holes and was named first-team all-conference. “It was one of the coolest things ever.”

Said CMU coach Dan Rodgers, “He was a huge part of this season for a lot of reasons. He is such a team-oriented kid. Having him there helped keep everyone motivated. And he really played well. He did his part to really help our team get to where we were.”

Huber isn’t finished with collegiate golf. After gaining an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic, he will play next season at Division III Earlham (Ind.) while pursuing a master’s degree. Earlham is coached by JD Fletcher, an ex-CMU assistant coach and former director of player development at The Pittsburgh Field Club.

“Playing in (the U.S. Open qualifier) is something that’s going to stick with him forever, and it’s also going to be a massive confidence booster,” Fletcher said. “The fact that he even got into that tournament is not easy. … I think his future is really bright and some of his best golf is still ahead of him.”

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