Written by Thomas Duffy Thursday, 04 June 2009 11:29
On May 13, Farmingdale’s Matthew Lowe attempted to make history by becoming the youngest golfer ever to qualify for the U.S. Open.
The 13-year-old competed in a qualifying tournament held that day at Cherry Valley Club in Garden City. He was one of 144 pro and top amateur golfers who took to the field striving to earn a spot in the U.S. Open. Ultimately, he fell just short of that goal, but finished the day ranked 39th among his peers.
There were only nine spots available for players to move on to the next round. Lowe shot a 4-over par 76 – in other words, just four strokes removed from the score he would have needed to qualify for one of those spots.
In all, 9,086 golfers nationwide have applied to this year’s Open – a record amount. Only 156 players are allowed to compete in the Open, thus making this year’s series of qualifying tournaments one of the toughest in Open history.
Lowe is the youngest of all the golfers who applied this year.
Reportedly, Lowe first set his sights on this year’s Open seven years ago, when he was just 6 years old and after the Open had first been held at Bethpage State Park by his hometown of Farmingdale. Lowe declared then that he would try out for the U.S. Open whenever it returned to the park, which, as it turned out, will be this year.
When the time came to put in his application for the U.S. Open, Lowe said he felt no hesitation.
“It was like the easiest decision of my life,” he later said. “I knew it was going to be a lot of fun.”
There is no minimum age requirement for applicants to the U.S. Open. In order to be eligible for Open tryouts, an applicant must have a US Golf Association (USGA) Handicap Index of 1.4 or better (lower). Lowe’s handicap is plus 0.3. To put that in perspective, a player with a handicap around 10 is generally considered a good golfer, while a player with a zero or lower handicap is considered an expert or “scratch” golfer; a plus handicap is considered less than zero and thus is better than scratch.
“The fact that I’m eligible to do this has made me proud of myself,” Lowe said prior to the tournament. “I’ve been preparing so long, I just can’t wait to get out there and try my best and see what happens.”
Lowe’s effort at the Cherry Valley Club made an impact on many observers.
“I was just amazed someone that little could hit the ball that far and not be nervous,” said golfer Bob Caliari after watching Lowe make his first drive of the day. “I was nervous for him.”
“I was very impressed,” said another of Lowe’s competitors, amateur circuit veteran Adam Leon. “There were some holes where I was outdriving him by 100 yards and he didn’t let it affect him at all.” As it turned out, Lowe actually bettered Leon’s final score by a single stroke.
Lowe shot no worse than bogey – that is, one stroke over par – on every hole he played in the tournament. One of the most noteworthy shots he made that day came on the 4th hole, after hitting the ball into the rough about 30 yards behind a pair of trees – his only errant drive of the day. Rather than look to chip the ball out, he instead chose to use a 7-wood and attempted to hit the ball high up and over the trees in a single shot. His gamble worked, and he ended up returning the ball close to the green. As a result, he was able to make par on that hole.
“When you’re 13, you try those shots,” his mother, Carol Ann, later said of her son’s readiness to take risks.
“I don’t know how he does what he does,” said Lowe’s father, Michael, who served as his caddie that day. “He loves the pressure.”
When asked afterwards to describe how proud he was of his son’s performance, he said simply, “You have no idea.”
Despite achieving so much simply by playing so well on such a prominent stage, Lowe would not be satisfied with anything less than triumph.
“I was there,” he said afterward, lamenting of what he perceived as a missed opportunity. “There will be other opportunities,” he acknowledged, “but this was my dream.”
Adam Leon, however, pointed out at least a silver lining to Lowe’s cloudy situation.
“He was real broken up about it,” he said of Lowe, but noted that when the Open returns once again to the Farmingdale area, whenever that will be, “he’s still going to be young.”
Lowe’s parents are both avid golf fans. His father is a member of the Nassau Players Club and has a 5 handicap. His mother continued to play golf even while pregnant with him.
“I guess his love for the game started while I was pregnant with him,” she quipped. She also said that the family had set up a mini-driving range for him in their basement as soon as he was old enough to walk.
Lowe, who attends Howitt Middle School, also plays on the school district’s high school varsity golf team. With him on board, the team was able to win its first county championship title in 45 years. That triumph was then followed by a victory in the Long Island championship tournament. As of press time, Lowe was with his team competing for state championship honors.
Lowe’s mother said her son is scheduled to play in various tournaments throughout the summer. When asked what her son’s intentions are beyond that, she said simply, “His plan is to go all the way.”
Lowe cited his favorite golfers as Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
“They always just get out there,” he explained. “They are never afraid.”
The U.S. Open is scheduled to take place from June 18 to 21 and will be played on Bethpage State Park’s Black Course. The youngest person ever to qualify for the Open thus far was 15-year-old Tadd Fujikawa, who tried out in 2006. The youngest person ever to win it was 19-year-old John McDermott, Jr. way back in 1911.