Hochman: After his US Open berth, St. Louisan Chris Naegel pursues his golf dreams at the John Deere Classic | benjamin hochman


He is a professional dream catcher. And here’s the thing about that calling: It can sometimes seem fruitless even to the intrepid, but if you’re really going to chase a dream, well, it just makes you want to start chasing it all over again.

Such is life, and such is life, for Wildwood resident Chris Naegel, who golfs on lower-tier courses named after odd sponsors but occasionally qualifies for an event on the PGA Tour. He is like Kevin Costner’s character in “Bull Durham”, with traits of Costner’s character from “Tin Cup”.

And when the chase turns good, every now and then he will fulfill a dream, like playing at the US Open.


He did it in 2018 and also, at 39 years old, this June.

“The perseverance part, and how he stuck it out, makes you want to support him even more,” said Paul Resner, the professional golfer at Meadowbrook Country Club, where Naegel plays in town. “We see how good a player he is here, how hard he works on his game. (In tournaments), he’s a 39-year-old player who competes against, sometimes, kids who are fresh out of college or whatever. … And now he’s seeing him have some success and some fruit of the process that he’s put into it.”

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Just like in 2018, Naegel made the cut at the US Open. And just like in 2018, he finished tied for 58th. It earned him about $36,000 this time.

So he went to chase another dream this week. He finished 6-under in Monday’s qualifying for this week’s PGA Tour event. He got it. So at 8:35 am Thursday, Naegel will tee off at the John Deere Classic, the sixth time he’s played in a PGA Tour event.

“Golf is a game of confidence,” Resner said. “It’s a lot for Chris, how’s his putter? Roll putts and make putts. He always hits her really well. So yeah, when you’re kind of on a hot streak, it’s the same as any other sport: when you’re playing well and full of confidence, that’s when you want to play. . …

“He’s a great player, but he’s a great player playing well.”

Originally, the pursuit of dreams burned him. When he was a child, Naegel said that he “liked baseball a lot.” He played so much that it brought out the best in him. He stopped playing his freshman year at Marquette High. He picked up golf. I picked it up pretty easily, too. He went to the University of Mississippi. Later, he returned to his hometown to play for Missouri Baptist.

He is now married and has three children, ages 8, 5 and 2. He doesn’t have a second job. The pursuit of dreams paid the bills and laid the foundation for a good life. But it’s exhausting, sometimes. Humiliating, too.

“He’s a great father, a great husband,” Resner said. “He’s a great member here, he doesn’t have that air about him that he wouldn’t want to play someone because he’s not good enough or whatever. He is just a great person. And so you want to support him in that regard.”

Over the years, he has played on the eGolf Tour, the Hooters Tour, the Adams Tour and the Korn Ferry Tour.

“I played Korn Ferry forever,” Naegel said.

This year, the pursuit of his dreams took him to the Lake Forest Country Club in St. Charles.

“Anyone who wants to try, can try for the US Open; I think they get like 10,000 tickets a year,” Naegel said. “So, they had a local qualifier in Lake Forest. I went through the premises, I think there were four or five places in the premises, and that brings you to a sectional. They have I think eight sectionals across the country. It’s 36 holes in one day.

“And then my site had like 13 places: 105 people for 13 places. I was able to sneak through the sectionals.”

He made just two bogeys and scored 11 birdies over 36 holes in Columbus, Ohio. This earned him a place in the 122nd game of the US Open, played this June at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts.

“I think I was more excited that my guys came to see me play at the Open in my country,” said Naegel. “I was more excited about it than maybe playing just for myself.”

The St. Louis golf community got dizzy. And, of course, so did the people of Meadowbrook. A Twitter feed was even created. Similarly to @GCTigerTracker, who tweets Tiger Woods’ every move on the pitch to 427,000 followers: @NaegelTracker he gained 919 followers as he regaled fans with tweets and photos from the Open. And how Naegel birdied No. 18 in the first round, and in the second round! — There was a tiger roar in Meadowbrook from his “Tiger”.

“The St. Louis golf community is a pretty close-knit group,” Naegel said. “I get a lot of support from St. Louis, it’s amazing.”

After this week’s John Deere Classic in Silvis, Illinois, Naegel will travel 488 miles to pursue another dream.

“If I can get in the top 10 this week, I can get into the next one,” he said, regarding automatic qualification for the PGA Tour’s Barbasol Championship in Nicholasville, Kentucky. “But if I don’t, I’m going to go to Kentucky and play the qualifier on Monday to try to get in.”