How hard is it to qualify for the U.S. Senior Open?

Monday, 81 players with handicaps of 3.4 or less teed it up at the Highland Country Club in Fayetteville for the chance to earn only two spots in the U.S. Senior Open this July in Omaha, Nebraska. Our own Kelly Mitchum was in the field, just having turned 50 — the eligibility age.

Mitchum is a Southern Pines resident and lead teaching pro at the Pinehurst Country Club. A standout player at NC State, he has been with Pinehurst for the past 23 years and has won the Carolina PGA Player of the Year for eight years. A distinction only he holds.

At 34 sites across the county, 2,999 players entered their names to be selected to play in the 42nd U.S. Senior Open, won last year by Steve Stricker. The field will include 156 players, 84 of whom are exempt. Long odds.

So it was with this in mind that Mitchum, together with his son Ethan as a caddie, stood on the first tee of the Donald Ross design golf course. Hopefully optimistic and very focused, as is his normal demeanor. His drive on the uphill first hole was high, straight and long. Seemingly without effort from an athletic swing. It would be that way all day.

At the end of 18 holes, Mitchum would shoot even par. An excellent score, but that would not be good enough to make it.

Steve Isley (-4), from Oak Island, and Dean Channell (-2), from Pinehurst, earned their spot and now will make their plans to travel to Omaha.

The USGA conducts 14 championships a year, including the U.S. Open slated for Pinehurst in 2024, and the U.S. Women’s Open to be played at the Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in Southern Pines in 2022.

Feature photo: Kelly Mitchum, of Southern Pines, at the Highland Country Club in Fayetteville on May 24, came up short to qualify for the U.S. Senior Open this July in Omaha, Nebraska.

Sandhills_Sentinel~Article and photo by Sandhills Sentinel Reporter John Patota.

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