U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying, also known as “golf’s longest day,” begins today at sunrise and finishes close to sunset at eight sites in the U.S. and one each in England and Canada.
Every contestant is hoping to gain a coveted spot for this year’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, which tees off next Thursday.
But what’s the exhausting day like for a caddie?
“From a caddie’s perspective it can be a grind, honestly,” Clay Duerson, Billy Hurley III’s caddie said. “It’s a long day. You know you’ve got 36 holes and you’ve got to be ready for it because it can wear on you. Fatigue does play a factor in it and you’ve got to persevere and stick it out because you never know what’s going to happen out there.”
Duerson figures he’s caddied for six sectional qualifiers, all at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Maryland. It’s a place his player Hurley knows very well because he lives only 44 miles away in Annapolis, Maryland.
Hurley and Duerson successfully got through at Woodmont for three straight years from 2014-2016.
Knowing that it’s a 36-hole day, they sometimes don’t bring the normal Tour bag.
“It’s up to Billy,” Duerson said. “We’ll find out when he shows up. Last year he brought a lighter bag and I was like, ‘man this is great.’ I think if you’ve been out caddying for a long time you’re sort of used to the staff bag, but when you have a light bag you’re just like ‘man this is just so nice.’”
The two are meeting at Sectionals in Maryland today coming from two drastically different spots.
Hurley is driving from about 45 minutes away, while Duerson drove seven and a half hours on Sunday from his home in Lexington, Kentucky.
Duerson’s game-plan, even though he knows the course at Woodmont, is to always arrive mid-afternoon on the Sunday before and walk the course and reacquaint himself with the holes.
“When you see course after course week after week I think it’s good to walk out there, remind yourself of where you’re at, look over your yardage books and think about what you’ve done in the past on each hole,” Duerson said.
Thankfully he’s got some positive experience to draw back on, especially 2014 when Hurley rallied for a few late birdies to make it through to that year’s U.S. Open.
“That was probably one of my favorite memories in golf in general, Billy making those three or four birdies late,” Duerson said. “It was such a long day and I knew both of us were tired, but it was nice to see him persevere.
“I remember telling him, ‘don’t forget this round and what you did, it’s something you can draw back on, especially out on Tour, that you’ve got this in the tank and can press on at the end and do something special.’”
There are usually no leaderboards on the course, so players are often uncertain of what needs to be done to qualify until they get back to the clubhouse.
“Out on the course you just don’t have an idea of what it’s going to take,” Duerson said. “You have a semblance of an idea from years past, but sometimes it can feel like you’re out of it, but really you’re only one or two strokes back.”
Early June means temperatures will be soaring at most qualifying sites and that’s something, in addition to the long hours on course, the caddie must be aware of and plan for.
“You have to be mindful that you and your player are drinking enough water,” Duerson said.
“(Woodmont in Maryland) really can be one of the hottest areas in the country. When you see water on the course you’ve got to be proactive. At Tour events we get water on almost every tee box, whereas at sectionals you might only have water every two or three holes.”
Another factor that makes the day a challenge is coming off a four-day tournament just the day before (if your player made the weekend).
“It definitely is exhausting when you come into sectionals after playing in a tournament, especially after four days,” Duerson said. “You’re drained after that Tour event, then you have to do it again Monday. That is usually a travel day or off day, so you’re used to having that rest, to go back out for 36 can be grueling.”
This year, Hurley and Duerson will enter coming off a rest week.