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At the US Open, two friends seek to channel Francis Ouimet

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BROOKLINE, Mass. — The golf ball was buried in a bunker behind the green, and Drew Cohen thought, “He’s in jail. He will need to pull off the bunker shot of his life.”

Cohen, a longtime friend and full-time caddy of amateur golfer Michael Thorbjornsen, then watched him approach within a foot of the hole. Thorbjornsen parned then birdied the next hole, and the two went on to the 2022 US Open, having survived an eight-man three-place qualifier on June 6 in Purchase, New York.

The couple soon descended on the Country Club on the outskirts of Boston, visiting the merchandise building as well as the golf course. There they bought matching T-shirts with a picture of Francis Ouimet, the 1913 US Open champion, and his caddy, Eddie Lowery.

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“We saw them and said, ‘Hey? Why not us?’” Cohen said Tuesday after he and Thorbjornsen traversed the first nine holes of the Country Club with Collin Morikawa and Nick Dunlap, the winner of the 2021 US Junior Amateur Championship. own story”.

That story would mean that Thorbjornsen, a star from Stanford University, does what Ouimet did: win the US Open at the Country Club as a 20-year-old amateur. Both entered their tournaments as defending Massachusetts Amateur champions.

“I think,” Cohen said, “that he has the ability to run this week.”

Cohen and Thorbjornsen have been inseparable friends since they met in high school. When Thorbjornsen left Wellesley, Massachusetts, a Boston suburb, after high school for IMG Academy in Florida to work on his golf game, Cohen followed. But while Thorbjornsen stayed three years, Cohen stayed only one.

“Drew was a good golfer,” said his mother, Lisa Goldberg. “He just wasn’t Michael-well.”

Cohen also missed hockey too much. And when Thorbjornsen returned to Wellesley to finish high school, Cohen, the varsity boys’ hockey captain, made sure his friend was named team manager.

But it is through golf that their bond has grown even stronger. Cohen started caddying for Thorbjornsen last summer and good things have happened. Thorbjornsen won the Western Amateur in July 2021. He advanced to the round of 32 in the US Amateur.

This summer, Cohen, a rising junior at the University of Wisconsin, had a choice to make: He could intern at an investment bank or continue walking courses with Thorbjornsen. With his mother’s blessing, he chose the latter.

“I told him he had plenty of time to sit behind a desk,” Goldberg said. “Go for it.”

That was fine with Thorbjornsen.

“He knows me better than anyone,” Thorbjornsen said. “As a person and a golfer. He knows when to leave me alone and he knows when to say something.”

On Thursday morning, the two will be on the first tee, where Thorbjornsen is scheduled to hit one of the first shots of the US Open 2022 due to his local ties. Another Massachusetts native, Fran Quinn, the oldest player in the tournament at 57, will start at the same time on the 10th hole.

Thorbjornsen has played at a US Open, in 2019 at Pebble Beach in California, where he made the cut. Cohen was not in his bag that week.

“I needed a professional,” Cohen said. “We were both 17 years old. You imagine?”

That tournament was Thorbjornsen’s coming out party in terms of national attention. He started playing golf at age 2, entered national tournaments at 6 and won them at 10. A spectacular junior career preceded a scholarship to Stanford.

“Michael always had excellent hand-eye coordination,” said his father, Thorbjorn, who also goes by the name Ted. During those years, the senior Thorbjornsen took his son to a state-of-the-art golf training center in Rockland, Massachusetts, about 30 miles from Wellesley, every day. They often returned home just before midnight.

“He would have to do his homework in the car,” said Ted Thorbjornsen. “All the teachers were angry. But all this time, I’m thinking this kid is smart and you’ll never get that time back.”

Father and son had not seen each other for three years before this week, in part due to the pandemic. Michael Thorbjornsen’s parents are divorced and Ted lives in Abu Dhabi. However, the two men have communicated frequently during that time, with Michael sending his father golf videos of him and Ted criticizing them.

“Sure, we have the normal father-son friction,” Ted said, “but never when it comes to golf. It’s kind of a code language that we have. He never argues. He confides in me.

He also trusts his caddy.

“Drew is the calm to Michael’s storm,” said Goldberg, who put them up at his Wellesley home last week before moving into a hotel for the tournament.

Cohen and Thorbjornsen will be in Connecticut next week for the Travelers Championship. The tournament extended an invite after Thorbjornsen qualified for the US Open. The two will then travel to Scotland for British Open qualifiers and Switzerland for the Arnold Palmer Cup, and perhaps Greece for some downtime. Then there are the two big amateur tournaments in August: the Western and the US Amateurs.

Thorbjornsen said that he planned to return to Stanford for his junior year. The Cardinal had a disappointing season last year but, Thorbjornsen warned, “watch out for us next year!”

That’s not to say he’s not focusing on what’s directly in front of him.

He peppered Morikawa with questions Tuesday about life on the PGA Tour. Morikawa, who has been a pro since 2019, said the amateur experience at an event like this could be “overwhelming”.

Morikawa continued, “It was great to go back to how I prepared myself in college, how I prepared myself in my third year. I think the biggest thing is just learning your routines and coming to these places and figuring out the ropes. You have to learn to stay in your own lane.”

Thorbjornsen is aware of financial incentives from the new Saudi-backed LIV Golf series, but said his career plans were on hold. However, he did offer a suggestion to the PGA Tour to attract top college kids like himself.

“Maybe they could do something like offer PGA cards to the top five college players,” Thorbjornsen said. “That would provide an incentive.”

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