PINEHURST, N.C. --When Ryan Blaum drove around the circle on Monday and headed down the entrance into Pinehurst Resort and Country Club vivid memories of many trips to this golf mecca began to fill his mind.
He first visited Pinehurst and played the famed No. 2 course when he was 12 years old in the North South Junior Championship, then made numerous visits to play in the North South Amateur or just to play the course with his Blue Devil teammates.
But this visit would be different. He would have his wife Ashley with him and be preparing to play Thursday in the 114th U.S. Open – America’s golf national championship.
“There are just so many good things about playing here,” explained the Blue Devil All-America. “It’s North Carolina, it’s Pinehurst, its right down the road from Duke and I love playing on Bermuda grass.”
In order to qualify for this national championship Blaum fired a two-under 140 to tie for 14th in sectional qualifying at the Brookside Golf & Country Club and Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio. He opened up on the Scioto course with a one-under 69 taking advantage of three birdies over a four-hole stretch on the front nine. In the afternoon round at Brookside, Blaum birdied No. 2 and No. 3 to climb to two-under. He added a birdie on the par 4 12th hole to put himself in solid position to advance with six holes remaining. Blaum suffered setbacks with bogeys on No. 14 and No. 18 to close with a one-under 71.
With 16 players advancing out of the 120 player field, Blaum entered a five-man playoff for the final three spots in the U.S. Open field. He quickly recovered from his sluggish finish to the second round and secured his spot in the Open field with a 30-foot birdie putt on the first hole of a 5-for-3 playoff.
Blaum will be playing in his second U.S. Open after also appearing in the event in 2009 on the Black Course of Bethpage State Park on Long Island.
Blaum, the most decorated collegiate golfer in Duke history, was a three-time All-America selection earning honorable mention honors in 2004, first team accolades in 2005 and second team honors in 2006. The Coral Gables, Fla., native was also named ACC Player of the Year in 2005 and 2006 in addition to grabbing ACC Freshman of the Year recognition in 2003.
Blaum won four individual tournament titles (three of which came in the state of North Carolina) while in college including the 2005 ACC title when he also led the Blue Devils to the team championship. He is one of just six Blue Devils in school history to claim medalist honors at the ACC Championship.
The Duke single-season and career records books remain littered with Blaum's name as the former Duke standout holds eight school records including career stroke average (72.16), rounds in the 60s (34) and even-par or better rounds (71).
As a professional, Blaum has mainly played on U.S. mini-tours although he did make occasional appearances on the PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour with a best finish of tied for 15th at the Puerto Rico Open on the PGA Tour in 2008. He also played sparingly on the Challenge Tour in Europe in 2010 and 2011. His best finish was tied for second at the 2010 Allianz EurOpen Strasbourg.
In 2012, he played on the PGA Tour Latinoamérica, with his breakthrough season coming during the 2013 season when he put together victories at the Dominican Republic Open and the Aberto do Brasil. The two victories combined with five top-10 finishes helped Blaum to finish in first on the PGA Tour Latinoamérica Order of Merit for 2013, a ranking which earned him an automatic place on the 2014 Web.com Tour.
This year has been a very solid year for Blaum on the Web.com Tour – “steady” in his words. He has played in 11 events making 8 cuts, earning just a little over $81,000. His best finish came in North Carolina just north of Raleigh at the Rex Hospital Open at TPC at Wakefield Plantation. He currently stands 21st on the Web.com money list with the Top 25 players receiving their PGA Tour cards at the end of the year.
Many in the golfing world felt Blaum would already be a member of the PGA Tour, but hand and neck injuries and a battle with mononucleosis have slowed that planned entry to the big stage.
“I really thought that getting to the PGA Tour would have happened in half the time that it has,” said Blaum. “When I went through the low point of my career I really had to believe in myself and believe in the process and believe in what I was doing as hard as I could.”
The belief seems to be working as Blaum is now in great physical shape, has his wife Ashley by his side and a very familiar person in his younger brother Brent on the bag this year, giving him both golf and friendly brotherly advice.
“On the Web.com Tour having great knowledge about the course isn’t as important as it is on the PGA Tour, so it is really important to have someone that knows me and to have my brother on the bag has been very important to me,” explained Blaum. “We get along really well and we don’t fight too often.
The younger Blaum does bring a special knowledge of the game having played four years of college golf at LSU as well as a number of tournaments on his own.
“It helps from the point of view that I have confidence in a decision that we may make because of his knowledge of the game,” added Blaum.
The brother combination will be playing a Pinehurst No. 2 that will look very different from years past. Gone is the rough, replaced with natural areas and a lot of tall, thick and wispy love grass. The fairways are thin and fast and the greens are rock-hard firm.
“I love it, just love it,” explained Blaum as he walked down the fourth fairway. “It reminds me a little of Merion, the natural beauty and I have always thought Donald Ross was the “man” when it came to golf architects. I grew up on a Donald Ross course in Coral Gables, The Biltmore Golf Course so I know a little about Ross courses. This has always been one of my favorite courses, it has always been a shot maker’s course, but now it may be just a little bit more of a shot maker’s course, with your short game being very important since you’re not going to hit every green, unless you really have it dialed in.”
Hopefully Blaum will get it “dialed-in” with two more days of practice prior to teeing it up on Thursday afternoon at 2:20, starting on hole No. 10 and on Friday morning at 8:35 off hole No. 1.