by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Clayton Rask has tried for a decade to get into the U.S. Open, and, now that he’s made it, is making sure to enjoy it.
The Otsego native and former Gopher shot three-over-par 73 on Thursday, tying for 68th among 155 players, as he took his place alongside the greats of the game in the 114th annual Open, at Pinehurst, North Carolina.
“It’s a blast,” said Rask, contacted by the Star News. “I’m surprisingly calm.”
He’ll be back on the Canadian Tour next week but right now he’s in the big leagues.
“It’s so exciting to be here. Usually when I make a good shot or good putt, I’ve got maybe 15 people cheering. Here it’s like 500 or a thousand. It’s awesome. It’s what I’ve always dreamed about and now I’m here.”
Rask got off to a good start, two-under-par after five holes, before slipping back with back-to-back three-putts, and a double bogey, on No. 16. His nine-hole scores were 34-39.
The tournament continues through Sunday, but there’s a cut after Friday.
The 29-year-old former Elk, who helped the Gophers place fourth in the nation one year, has played on minor-league tours since then, currently the Canadian Tour. He has entered Open qualifiers each year since college, reaching sectional qualifiers four or five times, and once got within two shots.
Two weeks ago, Rask finally broke through, in a section qualifier in Eugene, Ore., when he shot 69-72 to grab the second of two Open slots.
“It felt surreal. I didn’t know what to do next,” said Rask, who was accompanied by his fiancé, Gina Bishop, and another former Gopher, Josh Persons, in Oregon. “I had no time to celebrate. We had to pack the car and drive to Vancouver (B.C.) for the next (Canadian Tour) event, and get some sleep.”
At the U.S. Open, Rask has a gallery of about 15, including his fiancé, his parents, brother and uncle, and several friends. Rask currently lives in Plymouth after being based in Georgia for a time.
Prior to the tournament, he had practice rounds with tour regulars, including Sergio Garcia, and met golfers he’s only seen on TV. He also got a nice writeup in the Star-Tribune by Jim Souhan on Wednesday.
The Open leader is Martin Kaymer, who shot 65 for a three-stroke edge over Kevin Na, Graeme McDowell, Brendon De Jonge and Fran Quinn.