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AUTHOR : MARK BUTTON

author-mark buttonMark Button has spent the past 17-plus years writing about sports for newspapers, magazines and the Internet. He's worked for the Dallas Morning News, Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Rocky Mountain News, CNN/SportsIllustrated.com, Mobile Press-Register and Avid Golfer.

Originally from Kansas, Button has worked for Texas Links since 2008. He published his first children's book in 2011. "Finding Ti Ming & Tem Po, Legend of the golf gods" is a magical journey filled with character-building life lessons. Button plays golf about four times a month and carries an 8.7 GHIN handicap index.

He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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All or Nothing

Written by Mark Button on 01 June 2008.

Cory Whitsett often is a young man of few words. No matter. Sometimes it doesn't take verbosity to drive home a point.

When asked for his thoughts about being exempt from qualifying for the 2008 U.S. Junior Amateur following his 2007 title, Whitsett offered all of four words.

"It's good," he said. "Qualifying sucks."

An abrasive statement, sure. But it speaks to the harsh nature of USGA qualifiers, where fields of 80 golfers or more compete for six or seven spots or less to advance to national championships that feature even greater competition and less chance for success.

Tens of thousands of golfers share the dream of playing for one of the 13 annual USGA championships. The reality is only an infinitesimal percentage get the opportunity each year. Qualifiers separate the contenders from the rest.

And that, well, sucks.

It also makes it that much sweeter for those who advance.

"It's a real high. It's vindication," said three-time Houston City Amateur champion Mike Booker, who has made it through seven USGA qualifiers in about 12 tries during the past 10 years. "If you play competitive golf, you're going to have a ton of disappointment for every pound of success. That's a given. When you make it through (a qualifier), it's an affirmation for all the work you put in. It makes it all so worth it."

As May turns to June, we arrive at the thick of "qualifier season." During the next four months, the USGA will hold 44 local and sectional qualifying tournaments in Texas, 13 of which will take place around Houston. That includes two U.S. Open qualifiers (a local at Lakeside Country Club on May 19, and a sectional at Shadow Hawk Golf Club on June 2 and two U.S. Amateur sectionals (July 30 at The Woodlands and Aug. 4 at Miramont CC).

For those who don't compete at such a lofty level, qualifiers can best be described as a polite, organized fight for the final few life jackets on a sinking yacht. Everyone wants to remain poised and courteous—the elite like to maintain dignity even in the throes of panic—but in the end, you beat out everyone in sight and grab a preserver, or you drown.

In qualifiers, there are only two fates. Survive and advance or go home and wait until next year.

"Your mistakes are more devastating," said Booker, who won medalist honors in 2001 at a local U.S. Amateur qualifier. "It's more of a one-shot deal than a four-day event, where you can have a 'screw up' here or there and still come through. Because it's such a razor-sharp competition, you can't afford a big mistake. One bad swing can knock you out of the whole thing."

Survival comes down to a nerve-rattling numbers game.

The spots available at each qualifier depend on the number of players in the field. At Houston's 2007 U.S. Mid-Am Qualifier, for example, 126 men vied for seven golden tickets to the national stage. A year earlier, a field of 96 competed for five spots to advance.

"It used to be, 10-12 years ago, you could shoot around par and most likely get into a U.S. Mid-Am, but that's not true anymore," Booker said. "The number of spots available stay about the same, but the field improves significantly each year with all the new high school and college players. You have to pretty well shoot par or under on a pretty tough golf course just to have a chance."

Even so, Houston qualifiers recently have produced more than our share of national champions. Whitsett won the 2007 Junior Amateur after qualifying at Memorial Park. Colt Knost qualified there last year, too, on his way to the U.S. Public Links title and later went on to win the 2007 U.S. Amateur. Champions member Mike Rice qualified in Houston en route to the 2005 U.S. Senior Amateur title.

"It shows what great players we have," Booker said. "We've always had that reputation going back to Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan, as far as Texas goes, but this really puts it on Houston. Anyone who has played competitive golf in Houston long enough knows that. It's really wonderful to see it highlighted at the national level."

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