Inside a broadcaster's attempt to play the 2019 U.S. Open, an event he will also call
Fox broadcaster Shane Bacon came one qualification shy of pulling double duty in June
Shane Bacon is a broadcaster for Fox who calls multiple USGA events every year -- most notably the U.S. Open -- and also happens to be the best amateur golfer with whom I've ever played. So when he advanced through his local U.S. Open qualifier and into sectionals last week, it wasn't a huge surprise even though it was the first time he had ever done it.
Bacon, a former CBS Sports golf writer, shot a 3-under 68 at Phoenix Country Club to qualify for a sectional in Dallas on Monday, May 20 that had 102 players for 10 spots. The field included a former Masters champion, multiple PGA Tour winners and some of the most elite amateur talent in the country vying for slots in the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach next month.
Considering the unique circumstances of his quest, I recently spoke with Bacon about the entire experience from playing his local to his potential broadcast scheduling conflict to what in the world he would have done if he played his way into the third major of 2019. Hope you guys enjoy.
So one thing I think people don't know is that you've been playing local qualifiers for a while. What number was this, and how has it gone leading up to this?
"I would say probably like seven, eight, something like that. I got close to a couple of years ago in Tucson. Probably missed a playoff by a shot. It was a real windy day. I think I might have shot 71 or 72. That was about as close as I'd come.
"It's the old adage [of] just catching lightning in the bottle, because there are so many people playing and so few spots. It's just something fun to do. I did it before I was part of the Fox team, but now it kind of like holds a little bit more weight just because it's fun to be a part of something like that. You feel like you're a little bit of a piece of the U.S. Open just by playing the local. My goal was just always just one time I wanted to get to a sectional. I wanted to get through just once to say I did it. I played really well in the local, and that was the number I needed."
At what point did you think or feel like you were going to get through?
"I've played in AJGA qualifiers and USGA qualifiers, little things like this before in different capacities. And you start to kind of like feel the number out, if that makes sense. You feel how the course is playing. It was kind of like that. It was my country club, Phoenix Country Club, which I've played a lot. It was three or four shots harder. I chipped in for eagle on seven to get to one under, and then I just made a whole bunch of pars in a row. I got on the tee on 14, which is probably the hardest driving hole at the club. I was standing on the tee, and I told myself, 'You birdie this hole a lot. You birdie 14 a lot, even though it's tough.' I smoked a drive and hit a wedge to 20 feet and made that to get to two. Then when I got to 2 under, I kind of started to think, 'You know, you know, you're in a pretty good spot here.'
"I hit this really nippy little pitch on 16 to about 8 feet and made that for birdie to get to three. I think probably 14 when I made that putt is when I kinda like started to get the feeling like I had a chance. I had a birdie putt on 18 from probably 18 feet and it just missed low to shoot 4-under 67. Then of course, my crazy brain, I was like, 'I hope 68 isn't a playoff. I really don't want to go back out there and have to play like some 18-year-old stud.'"
Were you hollering at yourself? Were you nervous?
"I was nervous over my third shot on 18. I had to lay up cause I hit my drive left, but it was actually probably a blessing in disguise. That was probably the most nervous I was during the day. I knew if I hit a good shot, I had a chance to get to four, and if I hit a bad shot I might make bogey."
So you go out the week before sectional to call the Senior Women's U.S. Open at Pine Needles. Do you have a backup plan for logistics to get to Dallas on Monday?
"It was a lot of moving pieces around. My producer, Mark Loomis, I called him after and let him know that I got through. I was a little bit nervous -- he's an unbelievable guy -- I was just kind of nervous that it might mess up the schedule for the next few weeks. He was all in, he's like, 'We'll move this around and you can try to play in Dallas. Let's try to get you that field because obviously that's the one that's not during our show. We do that show on the Mondays [after Memorial] for the sectional qualifying for FS1.
"The player chasing at the end of the Senior misses a short putt on 17. So it was literally like 5 p.m. We go off the air, and I ran to my rental car and booked it to Raleigh. Takes about an hour and got there about an hour before my flight. If I missed a flight, there was a 6 a.m. flight out of Raleigh to Dallas. That would probably get me there about 7 a.m. My tee time was 8:10 a.m., so I mean, there was still an outside chance, but if I missed that first flight or if some people went to a playoff for a few holes, it was probably going to be a WD."
Monday morning, you're going out there. You've got a lot of family there, your buddy was caddying. Did you feel out of your world, or did it feel normal?
"You're still a little out of place. I mean, in a dream world, I would have played a different qualifier with less spots to get through, but maybe not as strong of a field. When you're on the range and you're hitting balls next to Cody Gribble and Brian Harman and all these like PGA tour players and you're paired with Martin Laird, who's won three times on the PGA Tour. That is a situation that I'm obviously not used to being in. The nice thing is I do play golf with professionals sometimes. I've got a couple of buddies that live in Phoenix who are PGA tour players. I play a lot with like mini tour guys and Web guys. So it's not like I was in there thinking, 'These guys are way better than me.'
"I mean, I know better than me, but it wasn't like I was intimidated in that regard. I think it was more just you're in a situation that's not like something you've really been in before. These guys are out there doing their job. It's a big moment for them, too. Getting to the U.S. Open is a big major championship, and they have a chance to, if they get through and they're playing really well, play well in the event and maybe top 10 or top five or get in the hunt on Sunday. So I think in that world it was a little uncomfortable for me early on.
"Martin was such a nice guy. His caddie, Sean, used to caddie for Justin Leonard and he's been with Martin for a couple of years and he was great. He was great with my friend, Rusty, who doesn't really know how to caddie. He's caddied for me a couple of times before, but it's not like he's a pro. It was more comfortable because the guys I was playing with were great. If it had been some pro that would've been kind of like nose up in the year, Why is this kid in the group? Why is this guy playing with us? Maybe it would've felt a little uncomfortable. The pairing made me kind of get a little bit more in my groove quicker than maybe it would have if it had been some other people."
Was there anybody that you saw there that was like, 'Wait, isn't that the dude who interviews me at the tournament?'
"Brian Harman and I were putting on the putting green. He's a lefty, obviously, and Titleist this came out with a new driver head and I've been trying to get it. Apparently, Brian's the only guy that has them right now. Like the only ones that are made and in existence. He's like, 'You can have one of them. I'll give you one. I've got one in the car.' I talked to Brian off the green at Erin Hills. That was not too long ago. That was I think maybe the coolest part of the whole thing was that you're actually in the mix, competing in that world. For one day I was kind of in their world for a little bit.
"You're grinding, you're playing the same holes, you're trying to hit these shots and you're playing alongside a three-time PGA Tour winner who's going through the same stuff you're going through. That was, that was probably the coolest part of it because for 364 days out of the year I'm an amateur golfer that hacks around with his buddies. For one day I got to kind of go out there and battle it out with those guys. I'm trying to do the same thing they're trying to do, the same kind of end goal."
So you go 73-77, told us you felt pretty good about it. How good was 10 under (medalist)?
"One of them was bogey-free, I think. It blew in the afternoon. It was gusting in Dallas like 30 miles an hour. There was a hole in the second round, I hit a good shot in the middle of fairway. I had 156 [to the] hole. The wind's kind of swirling, and I was going to hit a little chippy nine. Right when I hit it, this huge gust came in my back and it goes like 25 yards over the green. I mean, 10 under is so good. You're reminded, 'Yeah, I can go out on any given day on a golf course, and I can shoot a couple of under. And that's a great round, and I love when I'm able to shoot anything around par.' But those guys are doing it, they're in the arena doing it. They're in the arena pulling off these unbelievable rounds. You just kind of get reminded of like how good they are, they're just so good.
"There are so many pros that can do that on any given day, to go out there and shoot two solid rounds like that. One thing that I was surprised that is just how beat you are after. It's not necessarily physically beat but mentally. I woke up at 6 a.m. You get like an hour break for lunch and you're back out there. I was off the golf course at 6:45 p.m. Just 12 hours of your mind being on. The hardest sport to like wrap your mind around to begin with. I got on the flight home that night and I fell right asleep, and I don't sleep on planes that much. I was conked out."
Was there anything that Laird told you that sort of helped or calmed you down? I'm sure you were jacked up mentally and staying at that level is just, it's impossible. So is there anything that like he talked about with you that helped out?
"We talked kind of a lot. I was actually surprised at how much we conversed throughout the day. I talked to him like about the grind, how many weeks in a row do you play with your schedule, family, all those types of things. That was kind of a little bit more of what we talked about, but not so much about like the day. He's done that before. He's gone through these things before. We were just kind of shooting it about that. When you watch the caddie-player analysis in person on the PGA tour level, it is wild. The words, the way they say things, the confidence of caddies have in it. It's like bang, bang, bang, swing. Me and my friend are like stumbling, What hole is this? You're looking through the book, making sure you're on the right hole."
What's the thing that you'll take away that will make you better at broadcasting the U.S. Open?
"Reminding yourself of how good these guys are at a regular level. And how great you have to play to play golf for four days at a level where you could compete and possibly win. Where you're taking yourself in a mental state to do that. These guys that play 72 holes of the U.S. Open and make three or four bogeys or they're under par. We've seen obviously seen scoring records that have been broken lately at some of these things -- thanks a lot, Brooks Koepka. I'm so impressed with how these guys can do this and how they can rarely, if ever, make a mistake when they're in that zone. I kind of want to bring that up a little bit more.
"I'm not going to sit here and fawn all the pro golfers because they obviously make mistakes at times, but just to be so confident in what you're doing on the golf course is something that's very foreign to me. It always has been. When you get to this level on a golf course like this, it's a good reminder. That to compete and to get a U.S. Open field and then to get close to winning or finish top 10 is an unbelievable accomplishment. One day, 36 holes and I was mentally washed. Think about four days of the U.S. Open to try to win. You've got to be just beat by the end of it. For whatever reason, it doesn't seem like it affects them that much. It's almost like they're expecting it to be like that."
Was there a moment like when you had your family there that you're like, 'Man, this is pretty cool. I may get to do this again. I may not.' What was that moment?
"Probably the third hole of the first round. We were walking up, and it kind of started to drizzle and I turn around, and a friend of my wife's came out. He's out there, which I thought was, you know, it was just cool. Take time out of your Monday to come out there and watch some schmuck play golf. Then looking at one point and seeing him walking with my dad and my mom and my sister, and my aunt was out there. On the eighth hole, the par-3 it was 240 into the fan, I hit probably the best shot I hit all day at a 4-iron to like maybe 8 feet. One thing people that maybe don't know about pros is they rarely say good shot. You know, like you've got to hit a good golf shot to get a reaction out of professional golfers.
"That was the one where Laird was like, 'Man, great swing there.' I knocked it in and behind the green, my uncle Bennett -- he's 6-foot-7 -- raised his hands in the air. You just have all these people rooting for you. The love and support from family and friends and then even on social media.
"I would love to know what it's like to be Max Homa and win a PGA Tour event because I can only imagine the love is like 50-fold or 100-fold of that. It was emotional, honestly. There was a moment where you're kind of looking around and realizing that all of these people have decided to drive two hours or fly in from Denver like my sister did. My aunt Diane, she doesn't know anything about golf. She doesn't mean she probably doesn't even know what a 5-iron is compared to a wedge or a driver. She's out there walking.
"It's why we have family. It's why we have friends is for those types of things. It's like a wedding and everybody comes, and it's love all around. I felt like a little bit of that. It was like so much like love and support from the people in my life that I love and support so much. It was probably one of the coolest things that I've ever been a part of in my entire life.
"The highlight was the last hole, my buddy Rusty again. Been my best friend since we were teenagers. The 36th hole, a par 3 and wind was blowing 40 miles an hour again. We're exhausted, we're sauced. I hit it to like 55, 60 feet. I had a pretty good shot that just get it on the green and he goes, 'Hey, let's knock this sucker in.' I made it right in the middle, and he was so pumped. It didn't matter. But the last hole you make this huge putt for birdie to kind of finish the day and finish the week and cap it all off. It was a moment in my short golfing career that I will never, ever forget. That's for sure."
I have to ask what you have done if you'd gotten through, would you have broadcast from your bag?
"I told Loomis that I would politely ask the USGA for a really early time on Thursday and a really late tee time on Friday. Go out early play and then go straight to the booth after I got done playing and then flip it the next day. Broadcast in the morning and then go out in the afternoon. It would've been a good problem to see how they handled it. It'll be a fun storyline going forward. I'm sure it'll be brought up at some point in the next couple of weeks."
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