Jimmy Ellis (L) and Jason Li (R) are among four who advance to U.S. Open Second Stage Qualifying

Four advance in qualifying for the U.S. Open Championship
By Mike Dudurich • May 9, 2021

Mike is a freelance writer and host of The Golf Show on 93.7 The Fan Saturday mornings from 7-8 AM. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeDudurich.

Imagine getting yourself prepared to participate in an event that could lead to realizing a dream, showing up and finding out Mother Nature had created an overnight nightmare, causing a one hour and 45-minute delay. And then came another two hour and 15-minute delay.

Four hours after the scheduled start of the U.S. Open Local Qualifier at Butler Country Club, the first tee ball was struck signaling the start of a long afternoon and early evening of wet golf.

And when darkness fell to end the day, the competition was almost complete. But not quite.

Jimmy Ellis finished his day with a 3-under 67, the only player to break par all day.

Jason Li and Ben Huber, teammates on the Carnegie-Mellon University team that will compete this weekend in the NCAA Division III, each posted 70s. Rob McLellan and Louis Olsakovsky each shot 71s, but their participation wasn’t over.

Because only four players advance to Sectional Qualifying, a playoff was required to determine if the fourth would be McLellan or Olsakovsky. Under quickly darkening skies, the two parred the first extra hole but the proceedings were halted at that point.

The playoff resumed the following morning with Olsakovsky winning on the third playoff hole.

The loser of that playoff becomes the first alternate with Mike VanSickle in as the second alternate.

Ellis had a one-over par 36 on his opening nine but caught fire on the back with four birdies for a 31.

“It was hard as heck out there,” Ellis said. “There’s not a sure-fire birdie hole out here. The par-4s are all like 440 [yards], 450. It might be the hardest course around here.”

The Peter Twp. resident knows a little about hard courses, having won the Pennsylvania Open at Oakmont, a place that has something of a reputation for being a bit difficult.

Li, who advanced to the sectional qualifier as a first alternate and got to play four years ago, put up a pair of 35s for his 70 with five birdies, 3 bogeys and a double bogey.

“This round had a little bit of everything,” Li laughed. “Missed shots, chunks into the water, wacky putts. I knew it wasn’t going to take a super low score because of the conditions. Even after I made the double on 10, I chipped in on the next one to get back on track.”

Li always enjoys going back to Butler because that’s where he was the West Penn Junior in 2015.

“This place is always so fun to come back and play,” Li said. “Good memories here.”

This qualifier might not have been such a good memory without a little help from his CMU teammate, Huber. He was in a good place coming to the 17th tee, but a bogey there and a double at the 18th dropped him to 70.

“He had a tough finish for sure, but I think playing well here will be a confidence booster for him going to the nationals this weekend,” Li said.

About the WPGA
Founded in 1899, the Western Pennsylvania Golf Association is the steward of amateur golf in the region. Started by five Member Clubs, the association now has nearly 200 Member Clubs and 33,000 members. The WPGA conducts 14 individual competitions and 10 team events, and administers the WPGA Scholarship Fund.