“It’s not an experience most people have,” said Jessie Mueller. “I like being able to talk to him and be on the field instead of behind the ropes.”
The US Open is the most democratic of the four major men’s pros. It’s open to any fan who can play, and about half the field this year are qualifiers.
It’s a memorable experience: a week for regular Joes to rub shoulders with golf’s elite.
Maxwell Moldovan, a rising junior at Ohio State and the 2019 American Junior Golf Association Player of the Year, is playing in his first professional event. Jake Conjerti, one of his old friends from growing up near Akron, is in the bag. They’ve worked together on a handful of big junior events, but nothing compares to playing a practice round on Tuesday with a Masters champion.
“We’re on the green right before, hearing Max’s name right before Scottie Scheffler’s,” Conjerti said. “I grabbed Max’s arm and said, ‘This is the time to pinch myself.’ ”
For most club amateurs and professionals on the course, the caddy is a close friend or swing coach. Wellesley’s Michael Thorbjornsen, a rising junior at Stanford, chose Drew Cohen, an old friend from the Boston golf scene and a classmate briefly at IMG Academy.
“We started becoming friends in seventh grade,” said Thorbjornsen, 20. “I think it was her mom that almost set up a ‘play date’ for us to play TPC Boston, and from there she just started.”
Caleb Manuel, a rising young man at UConn from Topsham, Maine, chose Nick Hampoian, former UConn teammate and North Reading native. Hampoian now has an apartment in South Boston and has been sleeping in his own bed this week.
“I just graduated, started my real job on Monday, really good last week of freedom,” said Hampoian, who will work as an IT staffer at TekSystems in downtown Boston. I have played here [at TCC] a couple of times, just being from around here. He wanted someone who knew his game and could have fun with him, and he chose me. So he was psyched up.”
Charlie Reiter, a rising youngster at the University of San Diego, chose his new swing coach, George Gankas, after Reiter’s father caddyed during qualifying. Gankas and Reiter have not worked together for a long time and are still getting to know each other.
“Dad did all the hard work and got him into the tournament,” said Gankas, who also caddyed for Jake Rogers at the 2007 US Open in Oakmont. “But we are having a good time. I’ve only been with him for a couple of months, so it’s good for me to be in the bag so I can learn the game from him later on.”
Ryan Gerard, who just turned pro after graduating from North Carolina, chose his varsity teammate Luke Edwards.
“I just have a lot of confidence in him and his abilities,” Gerard said. “I understand what I’m getting with him. He is going to be very honest and he will help me this week. He’s not going to smoke my ass or do anything troublesome. So I really want to get out.”
Gerard hopes that having a familiar face will help keep him grounded in his first race.
“He knows how far I hit, he knows what shots I like to take, he knows what I’m good at and how I can play to my strengths here,” Gerard said. “Sometimes you get lost in it when he gets overwhelming.
“This is my first time playing in front of big crowds, lots of cameras, lots of cool stuff. But at the same time, all that cool stuff is just extra noise that you have to block out. And the more you can help me do that, the better off I’ll be.”
One of the best stories of the week will be the Quinn family from Holden. Fran Quinn, a 57-year-old member of the PGA Tour Champions, became the oldest golfer to advance through the rankings since the US Golf Association made his regular caddy.
Lori caddyed for her husband at the final qualifiers in Rye, New York, and was going to caddy for him again this week, but she made an audible call after Monday’s practice round. Her son, Owen Quinn, 23, took the call in her place after she missed the cut in the Rye qualifier.
“He’s played here so many times,” Lori said, referring to the 2019 Massachusetts Amateur and the 2017 Francis Ouimet Memorial. “I told him, ‘You should be here, not me.’ She just made more sense.”
Owen was in his father’s bag the other time Fran qualified for the US Open, in 2014 at Pinehurst, when Owen was just 15 years old. Now, the father and son duo are teaming up again, in a field in their backyard. They have the first tee time of the day on Thursday at 6:45 am on the 10th hole.
“The 2014 championship was probably the best week I’ve ever had in golf, I was just between the ropes at the US Open, playing on Father’s Day Sunday,” Owen said. “This week is much more special.
“I’m old enough now to appreciate it more and provide more information about everything. If we can play on Sunday, I think it would be one of the greatest days of my life.”
Ben Volin can be reached at [email protected]